Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 7 and the Final Day of the Hunger Challenge

Today came in at $2.65. Three cups of coffee (pure indulgence) and oatmeal for breakfast, no lunch, and a turkey sandwich and some fruit for dinner.

For the entire week, I spent $23.83 on food, with $4.17 left in a budget of $28 for the week.

It wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t buckets-o-fun either. The only thing I would have done differently was pricing the oatmeal and not buying that box of cold cereal. I’m looking forward to having a more varied diet (like some fruit in the oatmeal).

Packing a lunch every day, washing the containers every day, eating the same thing every day took some things away from my day (less time in the morning to relax before work) and were mildly irritating. Some good things though were that I lost one pound in weight and learned something about portion size/control and when I feel full versus eating everything on the plate.

I think I’ve developed at least an inkling of what it must be to face the supermarket with a strict budget, trying to plan meals around that, and then making it all work. Week after week. Some people have mentioned that they think the farmers’ markets accept food stamps and will often provide a better price for people using food stamps. It that is so, that’s a great resource in addition to the food banks.

I estimated that in a normal week, I probably spend around $77 on food and beverages. Rounding down what was spent this week, it comes to a difference of $54 (yikes!). So I will donate that amount to the San Francisco Food Bank for providing this challenge.

Day 6 of the Hunger Challenge

I came in at $4.37 on Friday. I decided to loosen up a little bit, especially since I won’t be eating much on Saturday, so felt there was some wiggle room.

Had a nice pumpkin muffin for breakfast ($1) with a cup of tea (free at the office). Lunch was a small lettuce/bean salad for $2.00 (just sheer luck that it came out to that) and more pasta salad for dinner.

I’m glad this is coming to an end. While it’s certainly possible to eat relatively healthily, with some variety, it is also dull and thin and bland.

Day 5 of the Hunger Challenge

Today, I said the heck with it (to a point). I wanted a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. The boxed cereal that made me feel like crap was not a contender (and now a complete waste of money and food) and a peanut butter sandwich and banana just wasn’t cutting it. Hunger would set in just a couple of hours later.

So, I made a bowl of McCann’s steel-cut oatmeal. I figured this would completely blow my budget and leave something like a dollar for the rest of the day.

First, oatmeal vs. boxed store brand: the oatmeal left me with a healthy feeling of being full. Not the mildly-crampy, gut clenching feeling from the boxed cereal. (For the record, I do enjoy cold cereal and prefer it in the summer.) God! So much better and no hunger pangs until around lunch time.

Second, price-wise, the McCann’s came out at 1¢ per ounce more than the store-branded box o’ sugar. This was a surprise – a good one, but unexpected.

Now this is an issue for the consumer. First, the hot oatmeal products are shelved separately from the boxed cereal – sometimes in the same aisle, sometimes in another one altogether, depending on the store. There’s also the quantity and appearance. A “little” can of McCann’s would appear to make small amounts compared to a large box of cereal. The cost for a can of oatmeal is also “more” per unit - $6 versus the $2.39 for the box of cereal.

Lunch was something of a moral dilemma. It was a lunch meeting that I was required to attend and lunch was provided. After going back and forth over whether to count this in the budget, I decided not to. It didn’t come out of my bank account, so it was fair game. But moderation was observed. While I probably ate well over $4 in terms of cost, in terms of quantity, amounts were comparable to other lunches this week.

Dinner was pasta salad again. Warmed up because the night turned pretty chill, and it warmed up quite well. Can see the bottom of the pot!

Day 4 of the Hunger Challenge

Wednesday was OK. I came in at $3.90 for the day – found a place that had 50¢ bananas. Otherwise, the same as Tuesday. Except I’ve discovered that I hate blogging worse than I hate eating the same thing twice a day for a week. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 3 of the Hunger Challenge

The third day of the Hunger Challenge was a challenge. And I came in at $3.99. Which, while under the challenge amount, was over what I’d anticipated.

But boredom (both during the day and with the food), some variety, and some sneaky store marketing all contributed. My staple for lunch/dinner is the pasta salad, which is mostly starch. Not a horrible thing. But, as with any food type, it shouldn’t be the mainstay of one’s diet – it should be a part of one’s diet.

Not able to face another breakfast of that cereal (stomach would clench up just thinking about it), I opted for half of a peanut butter sandwich at home and buying a banana on the way to work. The sign at the store said “Bananas – 2/$1”. 50¢ for a banana (since I was only buying one) seemed high, but I could make it work. The price for one banana, though, was not 50¢ - it was 59¢. Which I confirmed by returning this morning and checking the sign. In smaller print it said “59¢ each or”. While not a case of lying to the public, when you’re in a hurry, you won’t notice it. And that extra 9¢ (when you’re looking at spending $4/day) is substantial.

I also really, really wanted some variety with lunch, so picked up a bag of chips and ate about 1/3 the bag. In the afternoon, I really, really wanted some chocolate, so picked up a candy bar and was able (with lots of will power) to only eat one-half of it.

Distaste (or envy?) cropped up during the lunch hour while watching people walking along with boxes of pizza slices, bags from fast food restaurants, or containers from take-out places. I’d think “Do you know how much money you’re wasting on that stuff?” while, secretly wanting to chuck it all and go get something else. Even after a few days, the same food (even if tasty) becomes boring, hauling around your lunch becomes tedious, being constantly reminded that “you can’t afford it” becomes burdensome.

A friend jokingly mentioned that she thought I was “playing at being poor”. At first, that stung. But she is right. At least subconsciously, I know that this isn’t permanent, that I can stop any time, and that even my reactions are based on a conceit. But I don’t think that invalidates them or lessens any lesson I may take from this exercise. Because, I imagine, I’d have the same (if stronger) feelings if I were in this situation in real life.

Some positive notes though, I have: become pretty good at portion control in terms of price, actually felt somewhat better since watching what the amounts and quality of what I eat, realizing that feeling hungry is not the same thing as “OMG I’m starving and will die if I don’t have [something]”.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 2 of the Hunger Challenge

Well, the second day went well enough and I came in at $3.46 total for the day.

Breakfast: cereal, coffee, soy milk
Lunch: 3.5-ounce serving of pasta salad, yogurt, and water with lemon juice (lemon tree at home)
Dinner: 2-ounce serving of pasta salad and 1/2 lunchmeat sandwich (for some variety) and water

The cereal was, once again, dreadfully awful - nasty taste, and that awful intestinal feeling that some might confuse with a feeling of being "full". I'm seriously developing a sense of dislike for whomever makes this nameless-brand crap and sells it. And I'm sorry that people even have to choose this crap as a meal.

But today brought some introspection with it. This was the first day of the Challenge where I was at work. Since work entails periods of boredom - periods often alleviated by going out and grabbing a snack that brought an awareness of everything that wasn't open to me: restaurants, pretty much anything from the nearby snack shop, and being in control of hunger.

Often, if I'm feeling hungry, a quick trip to the snack shop (or the cupboard at home) for a handful of nuts or some potato chips or a 3 Musketeers bar was all that was needed. Now, those things were all off limits. Instead: water, lots of water, and walking.

Friends and co-workers have been very supportive. Many of them not believing they could do it. But another thing this Challenge is showing me is that it is possible to live (fairly healthily) on much less than I thought. It does certainly eliminate many things - like lunch/dinner with friends.

First Day

Well, the first day on eating under $4 per day went well.

Breakfast was different. The store-brand "cheerio-type" cereal I bought is horrible. An overwhelming sugary-chemical flavor. Anyone who says "that store brand stuff is just the same as name brand" is wrong. Period. I got a nasty sugar rush from it and a little crash later on. Not to mention a vague stomach ache that lasted an hour or so. Coffee ate up a big part of the budget at $0.48 for 8 ounces of coffee. Limiting my coffee wasn't too much of a problem though.

Lunch was peanut butter on a slice of bread and lots of water. Water and being active helped me ignore any hunger pangs (and, honestly, I don't recall any).

Dinner was the pasta salad and water. Which was filling and fairly nutritious.

So, after the first day, it went well and I came in under budget at $2.52 for the entire day for food.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Did my shopping Friday night and spent $18.15. For what I hope will be most of my meals. There's some other stuff on hand for some variety (peanut butter, bread, lunch meat). Will have to break everything down for cost to be sure it comes out to $4 or less.

Had to get soy milk for morning cereal and got the cheapest cereal they had (that I would eat). Usually, I eat hot oatmeal but the weather is going to be hot next week - so cold cereal. My preferred cereal was something like $4.39 - and some of them were more than that. Christ, what a goldmine cereal must be.

The pesto sauce was expensive, but without the equipment to make it at home, needed to buy it. Hopefully, 1 lb. of pasta and 1 lb. of vegies and a diced up ham steak will get me through most of the week.

Shopping was frustrating - balancing the budget against wasting food. The fruit selection last night was pretty much nil, unless I wanted Fuji apples or pears at $2.39 a pound. Grapes were gone, bananas were green, and the apples weren't appealing. (Other things like a whole pineapple or melon would have probably ended up going bad before being eaten, so not bought.) Lemons or limes were a possibility, but I have a lemon tree (flavored water for me!).

The amount of "junk food" (outside of cold cereal) that would have fit in the budget kind of floored me. Soda, chips, cookies. All at good prices and a can of Pringles would probably last all week.

I should be able to add some fruit (and maybe some snack bars for sugar) and hopefully have a little cushion for an occasional treat.

Having done some "practice" eating, this will be tougher than it looks. I'm probably going to have to reduce portion size by 2-4 ounces. Some things (like coffee) bounce up the numbers pretty dramatically.

Good luck to everyone that participates. And thanks to everyone for their support.

Friday, September 18, 2009

SF Food Bank Hunger Challenge

Healthy food and nutrition for poor or at-risk families is a cause I support with a lot of fervor (donations, food drive committee at work, volunteer time, etc.).

The local food bank (The San Francisco Food Bank) is holding it's 2009 Hunger Challenge, in which I've decided to participate.

The challenge is eating for $4 a day, which is the average amount a Californian on food stamps has to spend on meals each day.

What does this mean for you? Not much. No donations, no begging for money.

But I do challenge anyone else to join me just to experience what it's like.

I've never tried living on $4 of food for an entire day. And am a little anxious about it. Given that I want to save money and need to lose a little weight (still), there's some motivation beyond the sense of empathizing with those less fortunate than me.

Additionally, I won't bore you with facts and figures (plenty of those on the SF Food Bank's web page linked above). But a lot of people have a very difficult time putting together nutritious meals daily for themselves or their families. It's worth walking in their shoes. Even if for a little bit.