Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day Seven

"Simplify, simplify," read the words on the mug in the picture of my breakfast on Day Seven of the Food Stamp Challenge. This advice, offered by Henry David Thoreau in his immortal classic Walden, may represent a survival strategy to those who are actually dependent on food stamps. But to the rest of us, it should serve as a reminder that there's a price to be paid for our excesses, and that price will be paid, not only by us, but by future generations as well. My decision to switch to a vegan diet ten years ago was based in large part on the connection between meat consumption and world hunger. Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge helped to remind me that hunger is not just a global issue, but a local concern as well.

This message is especially significant as Thanksgiving approaches. During the month when we express gratitude for all of our blessings, it's a good time to reflect on those in our region who experience hunger on a regular basis. According to an article in the February 23, 2012, edition of the Sacramento News and Review, approximately 178,000 Sacramentans received CalFresh benefits in 2010. And as hard as it may be for people to feed themselves and their families on their minimal food stamp allowance, there are tens of thousands of people in Sacramento who don't even have the safety net of food stamps.

There are many ways that those of us who don't have to worry about hunger can help those who do. The most obvious way to help is to donate food or money to your local food bank. Two of my favorite food banks are:

River City Food Bank -- To make it even easier to donate food, River City Food Bank has partnered with Goodwill Industries so that each Goodwill Xpress location in the Sacramento region also has a bin where people can drop off food for the food bank. And if you'd like to know which nonperishable food items from their wish list are on sale at your local grocery store, River City Food Bank has a list of sale items, updated twice weekly, at the following link: They've also started a new program called Virtual Food Drive so that you can shop online for groceries to donate. Check it out at

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services -- Registration is open for their Run to Feed the Hungry, which takes place each year on Thanksgiving morning. Other ways to donate to Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services can be found at

I'll be writing a check to Alchemist Community Development Corporation ( to help them as they continue to find ways to make fresh, local produce available to low-income families. Whether by making it possible for people to shop at the farmers' market using their CalFresh benefits, setting up farm stands in low-income neighborhoods, or encouraging convenience stores and corner markets to offer fresh produce, Alchemist CDC is always working to put healthier foods on everyone's tables. And to cap off my participation in the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge, I'll be attending an Alchemist CDC fundraiser tomorrow night, featuring a six-course vegan dinner prepared by traveling vegan chef Joshua Ploeg. It will be a welcome change after seven days of my own cooking!

At this point, the recitation of what I ate today is pretty anticlimactic, since I'm mostly finishing up leftovers. But to round out the week, here's what I had:

My breakfast, shown above, was rice with vanilla rice milk and cinnamon sugar, apple slices, and tea with lemon.

For lunch, I had leftover pasta with mushroom sauce, finished off the last of my oranges, and ate my last carrot. (Wow, that's a really orange lunch!) To drink, I had iced tea with my last lemon wedge.

Dinner was my last potato, baked and stuff with leftover chili, the last of my cabbage, sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and the last of my apples. Once again, my beverage was ice water.

Thanks to everyone who has followed my experiences this week. Monday, Sacramento Vegan will return to its regular function, informing vegans what menu options are available to them in local non-vegan restaurants.


Anonymous said...

7 day challenge? Yeah, heck, I could literally not eat any food for a week.

Want a REAL challenge?

Here's what you do.

1. call PG&E and have them shut off your gas.
2. Call SMUD and have them shut off your electricity.
3. Call your internet provider, cell carrier, cable TV and shut them off.
4. Don't drive your car.
5. Take your credit card and debt cards and NOT USE them.
6. You can only wear the clothes on your back.
7. You have to throw out ALL of the food in your house for this challenge.
8. LIve without NOTHING and try to do anything for 1 month, then after one month, do it for ANOTHER month, and then when you're done with the third month, keep on doing it for a year. And then think about those that have been living like that for 2, 3, 4 years.

This little Challenge is one of those challenges that's for wimps.

Pam said...

You're right -- as challenges go, this one wasn't particularly difficult, and people who are receiving CalFresh benefits face even greater economic difficulties than just figuring out where their next meal is coming from. I think the value in the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge is that it gives people who are leading comfortable lives a greater understanding of the difficulties faced by low-income families, which may then lead to increased action to try to address those difficulties.

FranchescaS. said...

This would be a challenge. I shop pretty frugally but I don't think I get close to this. Will have to do some analysis of my food budget to see what it works out to.
For further reading check this out: This man continued the $1 per day process and even got so good at it that he began adding organic products and donating food and personal products to local organizations. And I think he did it without a car.
A very interesting article, thanks.

Pam said...

Thanks for the article, Franchesca -- I'll check it out. I think what helped me during the challenge was the meal planning I did before I went shopping. Rice and oatmeal were cheap breakfast items, and I made pretty good-sized quantities of the chili, minestrone soup, and pasta, so I had plenty of leftovers. Other than that, I just filled in with whatever fresh produce I could afford. My November 5th blog post shows the groceries I bought for the challenge.

Andrea said...

Thank you for completing this challenge and blogging about it. You have confirmed what I have always believed: Getting public assistance isn't at all the breeze some state it to be.

Imagine the widowed mother of two, working a minimum wage job, trying to make healthy, affordable meals after an exhausting day.

Pam said...

You're absolutely right, Andrea. This challenge wasn't particularly difficult for me because I'm retired, which means I have plenty of time to plan, shop, and cook, and I have a car so I can choose where to buy my groceries. In addition, I was cooking only for myself, not for a diverse group of people with differing appetites, food preferences, or food allergies. As the anonymous commenter above pointed out, people living in poverty have additional obstacles to overcome, with eating on a food stamp budget only one of their daily challenges.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed following this process. And while I understand that different people have different perspectives, I think that the idea that this is meant to be a safety net, not a lifestyle, has somehow slipped by the wayside. It is tremendously important that we have a safety net, but we are selling these programs as long term solutions, not as "get you through a rough patch". By not making it too cushy, hopefully people see it as an incentive to get to self-sufficiency.

Pam said...

Thanks for your comment. I checked the CalFresh website to see if there was any information about the average length of time that people receive CalFresh benefits. I couldn't find that specific information, but I found a fact sheet from 2007 that indicated that the percentage of CalFresh households that had received CalFresh benefits for five years or more was only 14.5 percent. So it may be a myth that the majority of people who receive these benefits become dependent on them indefinitely.