It’s that time of year again! For the fourth time, I am participating in the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks’ Hunger Challenge, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I know, I know, it’s an odd thing to be happy about, this surviving on just $4.50/day. But over the years this has become an integral part of my PGEW experience, as it helps me really practice what I preach while I regain some much needed perspective. This has been one absolutely horrendous year, so I’ve been feeling much more down and out than usual. Participating in an exercise like this helps me A) remember I’m not all alone in this, and B) remember that I still have way more than a lot of other people who face similar struggles. We all need a wake up call now & then; this is one of mine.
They didn’t hold one of these last year, much to my chagrin, so I was very pleased to see the Hunger Challenge was back in action for 2013. Through the participation of community members, food bloggers, media personalities, and even celebrity chefs like Tyler Florence, we are able to raise much needed awareness to the hunger epidemic that too many Americans face right now.
This year is a little different, as they’re offering a two-pronged approach to the challenge. One is to stick to the $4.50/day budget, which is the amount an average SNAP recipient receives; the other is a “Pantry List” which mirrors items that are commonly found in the grocery bags that SFMFB distribute to their clients. This includes things like basic fruits and veggies, and is supposed to supplement the SNAP budget in the same way the food bank would help a client in need.
My goal is to do this “old school” and stick with just the $4.50 daily budget, but it’s nice to know I have some wiggle room for an extra onion or two. I also need to keep this wiggle room in mind for my health, as I’m in the middle of yet another shingles attack (hooray! not really) and need to make sure I’m nourishing myself properly. I’m fully aware that I’m a lot less healthy than I was back in 2011, which was the last time I did this, so if I need to stop because I’m getting worse, I will do so.
Then why do it at all if you’re so sick?
Because I kinda live like this already.
Right now I make too much on paper to even qualify for SNAP (but cannot live on what I bring home… ah, the irony), so the $10/hr I make at my part-time job has to cover everything, including food. That alone has made this year one of the most financially impossible years to date, as in the past I have either had a full-time job that pays more, or the ability to receive benefits from the county. It’s the reason I eat so much kale with eggs these days – I honestly can’t afford that much unless I’m lucky enough to receive gifts or donations from friends, family and readers. With SNAP, I was at least able to keep more food around and not worry about taking X-amount out of my rent money, just to be able to eat.
Now, I’m lucky enough to be a pro at this by now, and know exactly what to buy, as well as when and where to buy it, in order to feed myself so I don’t get sicker than I already am. But that’s not always easy to do, and it’s not always an option for others who also have health issues on top of financial ones. Being broke is hard; being broke and sick is a million times harder. I have a big blog and a loud mouth (er…. fingers?), so if I can raise awareness about these difficulties with it, then so be it.
So that takes care of the why… now let’s get to the how. How the **** am I going to survive on just $4.50/day? Especially when I can’t even go out and buy a few key ingredients I would otherwise buy in preparation for this week?
Very carefully. Very carefully, indeed.
Now, I have some incredibly generous, kind-hearted readers who have bailed me out of some tough spots recently. One of these amazing souls sent me not just the funniest “hang in there” card ever, as well as a gift card to Trader Joe’s. I used it last week and scored some great items, so I was able to shop from my kitchen for the hunger challenge. With some Bare Bones staples and some items from the Grocery Outlet, I came up with the following items for this week:
- 3/4 head of cabbage
- 1 bag baby spinach
- 1/2 bag fresh kale
- 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
- 5 Roma tomatoes
- 2 bananas
- 4 apples
- About 10 tortillas
- 2 onions
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 package of corn pasta
- 1 lb turkey sausage
- 1 bag frozen mixed veggies
- 1 bag frozen peppers
- 1 bag split peas (I have great plans for these little buggers)
- 2-3 cups uncooked quinoa (of course)
If I’d prepped ahead of time, the quinoa would already be cooked and ready to go, but honestly, who has the energy to cook when down with shingles? I hope to muster enough strength to do so today – wait, scratch that – I NEED to muster the strength to do that today, because quinoa is one of the backbones of my successful hunger challenge days. I’ll definitely come up with some new dishes this week, but I’m going to make use of my baby blog and prepare some of the dishes from past hunger challenges. The biggest problem for me with these exercises is a lack of variety, so I want to make sure I leave myself plenty of options.
Keep in mind that the $4.50/day budget also includes beverages, so that can be difficult for some folks who are used to their sodas, juices, or Starbucks. I drink water like it’s going out of style, so that’s not usually a problem; but my occasional hot-chocolate-for-dessert or herbal tea will have to wait for now.
The last thing I need to remember to do is to either eat breakfast before I leave for work, or pack it up along with my lunch and eat it there. See, where I work we get Family Meal everyday (a nice giant meal made for the restaurant staff by the restaurant staff). One of the “rules” of the challenge is that you can’t really accept food from coworkers or things like work potlucks, etc., the reason being that most people who rely on assistance like SNAP don’t often have jobs or work at jobs where potlucks and other goodies are routine. I actually love that rule because it gives me a chance to talk about the challenge when folks ask me why I’m not eating. It’s going to be easier said than done because we have some extremely talented chefs whipping up all sorts of home-cooked goodness, but I’m committed to doing this right.
So, wish me luck, PGEW readers! I’m a little out of practice and a little unwell, but I’m determined to give this an honest try. I hope my body will allow me to get through the whole week, but if it doesn’t, I’ll still come up with some new recipes that will help all of us stretch our food dollars as much as we can. : )