We are gearing up for an important week here in the Jolly Tomato household: We are taking part in the Hunger Challenge, an awareness effort put together by the San Francisco Food Bank/Marin Food Bank. The challenge is to live on what someone on food stamps would have to spend on food: $4.72 per day or $33.04 per week (per person).
Why hunger? Why now? Hunger is everywhere. There are now more than 44.6 million people on food stamps in the US — the largest number ever. That’s up 10% from last year and up 60% from before the recession starting in April 2008. Even if hunger seems far away from your family, someone you know could be suffering.
The Hunger Challenge goes like this: We have $132.16 to spend on food this week for our family of four. We have to stay within our food budget for the week, and that means no “rogue” meals dining out at restaurants, no free food given to us by other people, and no parties with free-flowing food and drink. In other words, we’re trying to re-create, somewhat realistically, the experience of a real family living on food stamps. (We’re going to keep our kids on the plan too, and we’ll try to make it an educational experience for them, but we won’t deny them treats from their soccer games, birthday parties, playdates, etc.)
Our first impression as we gear up for the week: This is going to take some serious planning. We can’t just run off to the grocery store if we suddenly have a hankering for a steak dinner. In order to make this work, we’re going to have to draw up a menu plan that’ll give us a road map for the week.
Our second impression: It’s going to be a challenge to keep it healthy. Sure, it’d be cheap to get our protein from hot dogs and to drink soda instead of milk, but we want to get the biggest nutritional bang for our buck. We’re going to focus heavily on standards like nuts and legumes for protein…and we’re going to be looking for bulk food, store sales, generic brands, and in-season produce.
Our third impression: We’re not going to do anything too fancy this week. Realistically, a person on food stamps is not going to be preparing many gourmet meals or even “slow food” – the kind of handmade meals that take all day to cook. So we’re staying away from foods that might be inexpensive but would call for too much of a time commitment, like homemade bread.
Ready for our shopping list? Here goes:
2 pounds beef cubes for stew (on sale)
1 loaf whole wheat bread
1 jar peanut butter
5 ears of corn
1 pound bag of carrots
1 bunch of celery
1 head green leaf lettuce
2 large onions
1 large bag frozen mixed vegetables
3 cans red kidney beans
2 cans black beans
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 dozen eggs
1 pack of bacon
1 bag of whole wheat tortillas
1 box of spaghetti
1 jar of pasta sauce
1/2 pound cheddar cheese
3 small cans of chunk light tuna
1 loaf olive bread
1 pound brown rice
1 honeydew melon
1 gallon milk
1 box Triscuits
1 box Puffins cereal
1 box granola
1 large container plain yogurt
1/2 pound thinly sliced deli ham
1 small container olive oil
We’re also going to add one small jar of homemade jam, which we’re giving an approximate market value of $2.49, and three ripe tomatoes (gifts from our neighbor’s garden) with an approximate market value of $3.00, and about a cup’s worth of brown sugar (for the oatmeal), approximate value of $.75, and a stick of butter, taken from a larger pack, approximate value of $1.00
Grand Total: $98.35
This leaves us a little bit of wiggle room in case we get to the end of the week and we’re completely stuck. Be sure to check in with us throughout the week to see how it’s going!