Hunger in America: Have You Ever Gone Hungry?

Did you know that 16 million children live in households that struggle to put food on the table?

Put another way, that’s 1 in 5 kids.

It’s absurd isn’t it? The number confounds with its profundity. It feels so big as to be out of reach.

It requires a groundswell of people involved to make their voices heard, to shout if necessary, to keep eyes open for the invisible hungry in our midst and see how we can be the change in our communities and by urging our senators to hear us and reverse this disturbing trend through legislation and programming. It needs all of us to get involved and share our strengths to end hunger in America.



Food Bloggers Against Hunger
Today’s kind of a special day. My friend Nicole Gulotta, who you may remember a few weeks ago, contributed a guest post for Sesame Crackers with Smoked Salmon and Chive Creme Fraiche along with the food poem that inspired the recipe has done something kind of wonderfully grassroots. It’s even gotten the attention of the New York Times. Over 100 food bloggers today are dedicating their blog post and recipe to talk about hunger and how together we can make a difference and bring hunger to the forefront of peoples’ minds. After all, have you ever gone hungry? Have you ever questioned where and when you would find your next meal? This intrinsic need isn’t something a lot of us have to think about. I hate wasting food and yet find myself guilty time and again. Addressing and curing hunger is not about pointing fingers, but about finding sustainable solutions.

Share our Strength / No Kid Hungry
The past five years, I have volunteered with No Kid Hungry, a national non-profit with the belief that if each of us shares our strength, together we can eradicate hunger among America’s children. Working with them, I have advocated as a sponsor for their Taste of the Nation San Francisco program, helped lead the marketing initiative for Taste of the Nation and finally gotten into the kitchen, teaching cooking classes as part of their Cooking Matters classes, teaching nutrition and cooking to kids in low income communities. Hunger is something I have seen firsthand, working at the Living Room, a homeless street-kid drop-in for three years. It is something I hear about through the hunger cycle of community plays in Cornerstone Theater’s current run of Lunch Lady Courage in L.A.

What Can I Do?
This is a question I ask myself often. The enormity of the problem makes me creative to find ways I can help. Here’s the good news, you can dive in and help too.

Hunger in America- A Place at the Table

  • PARTICIPATE IN YOUR OWN HUNGER CHALLENGE: Subsist on the California daily SNAP budget of $4.72 per person for a week. Write about it. Share your experiences with others. And if you decide to go this route, let me know so I can cheer you on!

The Hunger Challenge
Two years ago, the San Francisco Food Bank invited local food bloggers to live for a week on a SNAP budget and blog about their experiences. My husband and I took their hunger challenge, made more challenging in that we were trying to do it gluten-free. If I was to attempt it again, I would also put an added challenge of making it GMO-free. What we found through our experience is that it is doable to live off of $4.72 per person per day on a SNAP budget, but requires a helluva lot of planning, prep and cooking that a mother working two to three jobs to pay rent may not easily be able to master.

Hunger in America: Assembling Your Hunger Challenge Provisions DAY 1: Time and Shopping List
Hunger in America: Lemon Pepper Tuna with Apple SlawDAY 2: Lemon Pepper Tuna with Apple Broccoli Slaw
Spinach Quiche CupsDAY 3: Cravings and Spinach Quiche Cups
Hummus Veggie TostadasDAY 4: Support and Hummus Veggie Tostadas
Green Smoothies 
DAY 5: Fatigue and Green Smoothies
                                DAY 6: Getting By
Hunger in America: Black Refried Beans DAY 7: Take-Aways and Black “Refried” Beans


Sharing our Strength Spirit

Hunger Challenge Day 1: Time & Shopping List

Beck and I are living off of $4.72 per day per person this week as part of the SF Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. This includes  preparation and time…


Preparing to nourish yourself and your loved ones on a restricted budget takes time. Trolling the SF Food Bank FAQs brought me to their suggestion of doing all the shopping in one place and at one time.

Instead, my inner scavenger is coming out.

Like a barracuda circling the waters looking for its next kill, I approached grocery shopping for the week. It became a game. I kept a meticulous record of expenses so as not to get off course. From Safeway, I purchased broccoli slaw at an incredible deal. From the local bodega in West Portal, an eggplant and salsa. After flying in earlier than anticipated on Sunday, we hit up Trader Joe’s for dairy, proteins and some produce. Later in the evening, I wended my way over to Chinese grocery stores squeezing produce at one store and evaluating the red bell peppers at another, all the while sniffing out the best deals. Tucked into these aisles with calculator and notebook in hand, I sought to leave no detail unattended. I can safely say I have not put this much time into trying to get it right. And by “it”, I mean feeding, food, the act of nourishing.

Canvas bags packed with our excursions’ findings, we now had the semblance of the black lettering of a menu laid out in ingredients on our counter top. Up an hour before usual, I whisked together the quiche cups for our breakfast, then chopped and assembled the Lemon Pepper Tuna with Apple Slaw.


Going back to another question, the one of access, a person on food stamps probably does not have the time to make it to three, four or five stores to scour for deals. More likely, they are working hard to keep a roof over their head and easy is the name of the game when it comes to food. For some reason, I have a single mother in my mind working two or three jobs to make ends meet. We’ll call her Valerie. I see her rise in the dark and I see her wearily work her way home after the sun has set. Can nutrition be easy and affordable for her?

I still have so much to learn.


  • Eggplant (1)——————- $1.39
  • Ginger (1 piece)————– $.12
  • Corn Tortillas (80)———– $3.80
  • Eggs (1 dozen)—————–$1.69
  • Plain Goat’s Milk Yogurt (1 tub)—- $5.49
  • Salsa (2 cans)—————- $2.18
  • Garbanzos (1 can)———– $.89
  • Garlic (1 bulb)————— $.72
  • Olive oil (1 bottle)———– $4.99


  • Lemons (4)——————- $1
  • Spinach (1 bag)————– $1.99
  • Kale (1 bag)—————— $1.99
  • Bananas (5)—————— $1

drygoods_oats n fujis

  • Fuji Apples (12)———— $1.69
  • GF Oats (1 bag)————- $3.99
  • Almond Milk (1 carton)– $2.99
  • Natural Whole Chicken (1)— $8.24
  • Potatoes (2)—————- $.53
  • Organic Carrots (5)——- $.79
  • Celery Hearts (1 bag)—– $1.69
  • Onions (2)—————— $.61
  • Peanut Butter (1 jar)—– $1.79
  • Mung Bean Noodles (1 bag)– $.69


  • Cucumber (1)————– $.69
  • Red Bell Pepper (1)——- $.37
  • Canned Tuna (2)———- $3
  • Brown Rice (2 lb)——— $2.99
  • Organic Black Beans (1 can)— $1.19
  • Organic Pinto Beans (1 can)— $1.19
  • Tomatoes (2)——————– $.40
  • Broccoli Slaw (1 bag)———– $1
  • Cilantro (1 bunch)————– $.39
  • Rice Vinegar (1 bottle)——– $1.99
  • Green Onions (1 bunch)——- $.35
  • Cabbage (1 head)————— $.64
  • Lettuce (1 head)—————- $.69
    Total: $65.15  for 2 people for 1 week ($32.57 per person)

Tomorrow, catch the shopping list make its way into recipes and meals.

Sharing our Strength Spirit

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?




Sharing our Strength Spirit

If these doors could speak- a photo essay & a challenge

When the devastation of Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury upon the city of New Orleans, I watched on like most of you did, to the TV reports and the flood of articles inundating the web. The same convention center I had visited for a coffee and tea show mere months before became home and unruly hearth to oh-so many displaced New Orleansians.

This past weekend found me in New Orleans on the sixth anniversary of hurricane Katrina at a food conference.  One morning, I spent an hour walking the French Quarter, marveling at the architecture and the details in the structures that remind me of our charming gingerbread Victorians in San Francisco. The bulk of the weekend was spent in seminars and meeting incredible people with a passion for food and stories like myself. But I had to wonder, apart from this section of the city reveling, how much of the city still lies in ruin? How much of it still grieves the vacancy of its former spirit and verve? Chef John Besh talked to our group about staying in New Orleans and about rebuilding. As he talked about his community, his city trying to find its footing again, it led me to think aboout what commitment to your neighbor and neighborhood looks like truly.

Late into the first evening of the conference, I conferred with Brona, a gutsy woman also in the food industry if it would be feasible to eat fresh produce without GMOs on a welfare budget.  At lunch one day, I chatted with a food blogger named Tanya who lives in the 9th ward. She told me that residents in the 9th ward shop for groceries in a convenience store where two aisles are earmarked for food. You can imagine with me that the bulk of the food available is highly processed and missing the nutrients originally in the food. She told me about traveling 30 minutes on the train to go to an uptown market for fresh vegetables. I sat rapt and horrified. There is something so disconcerting and wrong about access to fresh food versus targeted marketing of fast food restaurants when thinking of lower income neighborhoods and families.

I think of Mama and her family, Mexican immigrants eking out a place for themselves in a hostile South Texas town during a time when ethnic diversity was not cool or eagerly accepted. I think about her stories of making do with what they had, about Tita, my grandmother making feasts out of next to nothing. As a wise person said at the conference this weekend, “deprivation breeds creativity.”

I signed up to participate in a hunger challenge September 11-17 and would invite you to join me. Did you know 1 in 5 children, adults and senior citizens in San Francisco and Marin struggle with hunger everyday? For seven days, Beck and I will be living off a food stamp budget of $4.72 a day per person. I consider this venture with a mite of trepidation. Will I be hungry in the evening? Will I be able to balance the meals with all the good knowledge gleaned about proteins and nutrients from vegetables and grains? I consider this challenge with knowing if I feel hunger pangs in my overindulged body that week they will be prayers of solidarity for my neighbor.

I want to believe there is a way my neighbor can live healthfully on little.

I’m going to post the week’s menu after it’s over and check back in with a report, but seriously give it a thought. There are far too many hungry people in the world and though I can only feed some, I want to learn what it is to love my neighbor as myself. And perhaps let that involve an organic apple.

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors

French Quarter Doors