2011 Hunger Challenge Day 7: Why I Do the Hunger Challenge

I’m taking the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge for the fourth year – trying to feed my husband (the Bottomless Pit) and myself for just $4.72 each per day. The 2011 Hunger Challenge is over, and I’m back to my regular (at least my version of it) life. I went to a potluck dinner with 10 people Sunday night, and everyone was asking how the Hunger Challenge had gone. Then there was a surprise. Two people revealed that they had been on food stamps at some point in their younger days, and talked about their experiences. One of the two is a good friend, and he’d never before mentioned that he’d once relied on food stamps. Fortunately, their lives are in better places now – but it’s a reminder that hunger is truly pervasive, and that far more people than you’d expect need help temporarily. Some critics of hunger challenges have commented that participants can’t begin to approximate the real conditions of someone dealing with hunger on a daily basis. Absolutely true. But I’ve seen how the Hunger Challenge does get people talking. It does raise awareness about hunger. And, for those who take it seriously, it really does make you reflect on what a life struggling against hunger must be like. On Saturday, I bought some strawberries at the farmers market, to eat after the Hunger Challenge was over. I was cutting them up to macerate them and no, I didn’t pop a single one into my mouth. Of course, I knew – lucky me – I’d be able to dig in the following day, but as I worked, I considered all the ill-paid people in the food service industry. Busboys, dishwashers, prep cooks – they’re around food they can’t eat everyday. Quite often, these are the sorts of people who show up at San Francisco Food Bank grocery pantries – those who have jobs and work hard, but don’t earn enough in this costly city to make ends meet. The unexpected benefit from doing the Hunger Challenge every year is a great sense of gratitude for my good life. I don’t eat lavishly, and we mostly cook at home. But I have never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from. And believe me, I want to keep it that way. GET INVOLVED! ♥ Take the Hunger Challenge yourself. Sign up here. ♥ Read blogs by people taking the Hunger Challenge. There’s a blogroll here. ♥ Follow the Hunger Challengers on Twitter. There’s a listing here, or search for the hashtag #HungerChallenge. ♥ Learn more about the San Francisco Food Bank – and make a donation. For every $1 donated the food bank can supply hungry people with $6 worth of food! ♥ Follow the San Francisco Food Bank on Twitter or visit their Facebook page to see how they’re fighting hunger every day.

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2011 Hunger Challenge Day 6: Slow Food vs. No Food

I’m taking the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge for the fourth year – trying to feed my husband (the Bottomless Pit) and myself for just $4.72 each per day.

Although I applaud much of Slow Food’s work and have been a member for years, I find it ironic that they are coincidentally holding their $5 Meal Challenge on the last day of the Hunger Challenge. Slow Food is challenging people to cook “a fresh, healthy meal” for $5 or less – yes, more than the total amount I have to spend for an entire day on the Hunger Challenge. More than the average California food stamp recipient has to spend for an entire day, for who knows how long.

The Slow Food chapter over in Berkeley is doing a pig roast with $5 portions. Since the Bottomless Pit practically teared up at the thought of missing a pig roast, I considered saying we could go and share a single portion, since $2.50 is more like what we’d have to spend for dinner on the Hunger Challenge. But there’s also a side-dish pot luck involved – and there’s no way we could afford to contribute a dish. Still I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we did show up and started a discussion. Would we be chased off by irate diners wielding fearsome legs of heritage-breed pork?

In San Francisco, 18 Reasons – another good organization – is doing a $5 soup dinner. Soup! $5! Could it perhaps be topped with gold leaf?

I finally found a chicken I could afford – and roasted it with onions, carrots, cherry tomatoes and garlic.

As for those of us temporarily with less than $5 to spend on a meal…I went to Trader Joe’s and was able to get a whole chicken that fit within our budget – but not the free-range type I usually buy (yes, Slow Food, I do care about that – when I can afford to). I roasted it with onion wedges, carrots and cherry tomatoes. It was definitely the best meal of the week.

Having done the Hunger Challenge three times before, I knew that I needed to save something good to get us through the home stretch. If I were trying to make it through an entire month on a food stamp budget, I honestly don’t know what would happen. At Trader Joe’s, I also bought some food for next week. It was a weird feeling not to have to add up the prices and worry about what I was putting in my cart. As always, I am very, very grateful that I have the luxury of just doing this challenge for a single week.

GET INVOLVED! ♥ Take the Hunger Challenge yourself. Sign up here. ♥ Read blogs by people taking the Hunger Challenge. There’s a blogroll here. ♥ Follow the Hunger Challengers on Twitter. There’s a listing here, or search for the hashtag #HungerChallenge. ♥ Learn more about the San Francisco Food Bank – and make a donation. For every $1 donated the food bank can supply hungry people with $6 worth of food! ♥ Follow the San Francisco Food Bank on Twitter or visit their Facebook page to see how they’re fighting hunger every day.

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2012 Hunger Challenge Day 5: Chickening Out

I’m taking the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge for the fourth year – trying to feed my husband (the Bottomless Pit) and myself for just $4.72 each per day. Today was the day. I’d planned to use some of our remaining Hunger Challenge funds to buy a whole, free-range chicken, on sale at our local market for $1.99/lb. I’d scouted earlier in the week, and the person behind the meat counter had told me the chickens were running about 3 lbs. Perfect. $6 was almost exactly what I could afford to spend. So this evening I stopped by, pointed to a bird and asked the woman to weigh it for me. Just over 4 lbs – but way over my budget. “Hmm, that one’s too big,” I said, offering no explanation, and asked her to weigh another one. Just under 4 lbs, but still way over my budget.

Like eggs, the best-laid plans often crack.

“Thanks, but that’s not going to work,” I told her. “I’m going to have to do something else.” It was a weird moment, made even weirder by the fact that I turned and walked out of the store. A quick glance had told me that I couldn’t afford four decent portions (what I’d intended to get from the chicken) of anything in the case. I had just experienced a little of what people living in poverty must come up against all the time. I could have fought my way through rush-hour traffic to a Trader Joe’s or Safeway store and probably found something meaty within my budget. But I was tired and frustrated and didn’t feel like dealing with it. And if I’d had kids at home, I certainly couldn’t have chased all over town looking for a bargain – even if I owned a car. So, it’s more pasta again tonight. As has been the case the past three years, Thursday is definitely the toughest day of the Hunger Challenge. Not helped by little surprises like the Bottomless Pit mentioning as he darted out the door this morning, “I ate a banana – hope that’s OK!” Um, no. You were only supposed to have half a banana per day.

Combo leftover pasta. Again.

Imagine if you had a teenaged boy in the house and were on food stamps! That’s the case with this food bank client. (For more real client stories, go here.) As with many of those who take the Hunger Challenge hoping to gain a little understanding about what it’s like to live on a food stamp budget, I’ve also ended up being very thankful for my life – and very aware of all I take for granted. I’m indeed lucky – except with chickens. GET INVOLVED! ♥ Take the Hunger Challenge yourself. Sign up here. ♥ Read blogs by people taking the Hunger Challenge. There’s a blogroll here. ♥ Follow the Hunger Challengers on Twitter. There’s a listing here, or search for the hashtag #HungerChallenge. ♥ Learn more about the San Francisco Food Bank – and make a donation. For every $1 donated the food bank can supply hungry people with $6 worth of food! ♥ Follow the San Francisco Food Bank on Twitter or visit their Facebook page to see how they’re fighting hunger every day.

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