Hunger Challenge: Preparation & Day 1





The San Francisco and Marin Food Banks issued a hunger challenge for September 11 – 17, 2011. The challenge is simple: each person signs up to live off a food stamp budget for one week at $4.72 per person per day.  On the SF Food Bank site, they share that 1 in 5 children, seniors and adults in the Bay Area struggle with hunger everyday. The issue of hunger is one close to my heart and I signed up pretty much immediately, thanks to Amy for tweeting about the challenge and Mel for joining me! Without any cajoling, dear sweet Beck agreed he wanted to participate. And to up the ante for health reasons, we are going into this challenge gluten free and loaded with as many of our regular creature comforts (goat’s milk yogurt / natural chicken) as the budget permits.


We began plotting the menu out a full week in advance. Then we tweaked the menu and then we tweaked it again. Note to self- write your menus in pencil or dry erase marker… While the “official” hunger challenge started on 9/11, I happened to be traveling and in no condition to start the challenge at an airport or en route. I found an earlier flight arriving in the afternoon to spend extra time with Beck and do more shopping and mapping of the week. This week will be a stretch to the usual rote happenings in my kitchen and I am not so brash to start something until my head is in it 100 percent. So much of life is played in the mind, isn’t it? In preparation for this week, Beck and I are starting Monday, the beginning of the work week.  For this challenge, we wanted to make the food prepared tasty and nutritious as well as sticking to the monetary daily goal, but found several other “rules” cropped up that needed to be reckoned with:

What to do if invited to a friend’s house for dinner or a party? Would someone living on a food stamp budget be in a similar position?

  • The SF Food Bank suggested in their FAQs to bring your own food. Two parties with people I want to hang out with came onto the radar. In one, I declined the invitation letting them know about the hunger challenge, (since we all went to a high school with a focus on volunteerism, I figured they would get it). The second party is still TBD. Rather than play the part of the legalist, I’m considering going and circulating among party-goers with a subtle water glass in hand. If I go, I’m going for the people and not the nibbles.

Working at a food company where there are ample options for breakfast and snacks, to nosh or not to nosh? What about coffee and tea?

  • Ah, this question is one my boss and I talked about round and round last week. He was intrigued by my latest challenge (and refused to buy me organic chicken at Costco because the membership fee would have to factor in. You’ve got to love accountability like that.) Given that the likelihood of free breakfast or free snacks abounding at the workplace of a person on food stamps is not very high, I decided to forgo all of the usual eats and drinks. I see this as an opportunity to drink water.

What do we do with food from the previous week that will go bad if not eaten this week? Is it better to let it go bad, throw it away or engraft it into this week’s menu? What about spices in the pantry?

  • Beck and I hate to throw away food. And as he pointed out tonight, it doesn’t make sense to let perfectly good food go bad if we are trying to understand hunger. This too is a bit of legalism on my part. So those two bananas mottled and mushy- they’re getting substituted in for two new bananas that will be just fine next week. And so on. There’s a tub of organic blueberries and Black mission figs that have jam written all over them. Heirloom tomatoes ready to be roasted and canned. They will make it into our pantry without “falling off the wagon.” All those great spice bottles that meander into my cooking usually are staying off the counter this week, with the exception of salt and pepper.

Would someone with food stamps be able to shop here? Would there be access to the produce and foods for them?

  • This is one I struggled with internally because I know that what is accessible for me might not or is not accessible for someone living on food stamps. At the same time, the idea of doing all our grocery shopping for the week in a convenience store also did not work for me, as I’m trying to see and show that this can be done healthfully. So, in earnest, I completely recognize that access is an issue, but it’s one I grappled with and decided needed to work with what was readily accessible for us.

And so there you have it.

We begin today thinking of preparation and the idea of being set apart for a purpose. We begin today thinking of our neighbor and wanting to pull up a chair at the table for them and another two for Beck and me. We like a good conversation and hearing other people’s stories, being storytellers.

Have you ever lived on a restricted food budget? How did it work for you? How did you prepare yourself physically, mentally and spiritually to carry it out?





  1. You are impressive and amazing for doing this. I thought about it for about half a second, and then realized I just do not have the time or wherewithall or family buy-in to attempt this at this point. But I am cheering you guys on! You are fantastic. And I can’t wait to hear what you learn. And eat.

  2. Love your post and your thoughtful approach to the Hunger Challenge! Looking forward to seeing how the week goes for you. Thanks again for taking on the Challenge!

  3. I’ve lived on a restricted food budget before (young family of three living on a one stripe airman’s salary). It sucked but it also taught me how to prepare simple, healthy, cheap meals. I bought a book called “More with Less” which is religion based (and I’m not) and it really educated me on how to use things like dried beans and how to pair complimentary foods for the highest nutritional value.

    Also, I don’t think food stamps = shopping at a convenience store. There are all sorts of places that take food stamps now (including my local mom and pop corner produce store). 🙂

    Good luck on your challenge!

  4. Thanks Amanda for your response and sharing your story! The convenience store example came from a conversation with a blogger who lives in the 9th ward of New Orleans at a recent blog conference in which she said the nearest store to them was a convenience store with only 2 aisles of food. I am grateful for mom & pop stores and corner markets that cater to low income as well as food stamp amounts. That conversation with Tanya in Nola though, that’s what started me actively looking for ways to find a challenge like this. What is your favorite budget-friendly meal (or the one your family of 3 loves to see on the menu?)

  5. Interesting post…but I was struck by your decision to forgo free food. Never passing up free food is high up there in the rules for being poor and not starving. At one point I was a single mother with two kids, one of whom is autistic and could not be left in daycare. Poor people have friends, too, and sometimes they throw parties. And also, they often have jobs (low-paying, but still) that have coffee pots. I worked for an attorney at one point who brought in bagels for his staff everyday.

  6. When you let me know about this challenged I scoured their web-page. This is something I’m planning on doing in the new year (work is way too crazy now) but think it’s a great aspect of reaching to others by understanding where they are.

    I love your decisions to not stick with convenience store only, although it maybe the only option for some. Our food budget is tight and we comparison shop and buy things on sale often. My pantry was stocked recently when canned tomatoes were 2 for $1. They’ll last until the next sale.

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