More than 100 San Diegans will spend the weekend making preparations to participate in the CalFresh Challenge an annual event that asks participants to spend a day or a week living off the average budget for food stamp recipients, currently $4.18 per day.
Anahid Brakke, executive director of the San Diego Hunger Coalition, who has participated in the week and will do so again this year from May 8 through 12, says the options are basic.
"You can't buy local, organics are out of the question," Brakke continued. "No more chicken breast – at best maybe you're getting a pack of thighs or leg quarters. Maybe you get a big pack, stick the meat in your freezer and pray nobody leaves the door open.
The Hunger Coalition has posted the blogs of past participants:
"It is striking how natural it has been to ration my food in order to protect my children from experiencing the effects of a limited food supply," writes Heidi.
"Serving larger portions to them and setting some aside in case they are still hungry, waiting to see what they eat, and only eating more if they are done, eating their leftovers or saving them for the next day."
"It’s really hard to change up the meals enough to get interested in eating at all," Diane laments. "I’ve had a total of twelve meals and eight of those meals have been pasta."
"I figured I could stomach eggs for every meal if I cooked them differently," reasoned Miranda. "For breakfast, I had a fried egg sandwich. I boiled a few eggs and put them in the fridge for later in the day. At work, I had the banana and canned oranges for a snack. Lunch was cup of noodle soup. I tried not to think about how much sodium I was consuming. I just reminded myself, 'This was only 33 cents.'"
"When you are single and not restricted to a very limited budget with your food, you can afford to be somewhat lazy and rely on more prepared foods. I am guilty of this in a big way. You can’t do that on $4.27 a day," Diane discovered.
Jen chose a cup of coffee over a chance to buy some calories.
"I’d have more going for me if I hadn’t purchased my regular coffee this morning, but I had to be able to function today. The rice will give me volume and the eggs will give me protein, but the broccoli is most likely barely one serving. I’m going to be hungry and sad at the end of the day."
Devon tried to boost his budget by clipping a $5 coupon to use on groceries – but it wasn't good until the following week.
"I was so embarrassed. I tried to explain to the cashier I was confused and misread the dates, asking if I could use the other coupon now. She responded by asking if I 'just wanted to buy some gum or something to bring the total up to $15.' It made me realize how privileged so many of us are to be able to flippantly spend $5."
Mia, meanwhile, was one of the several admitted failures during last year's challenge. Each day presented a new reason sticking to the budget wasn't feasible.
"Monday - I was in meetings all day at coffee shops.
Tuesday - I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. and the extra long day made this difficult - especially without coffee.
Wednesday - Overslept and didn't have time to go to the grocery store and plan out my meals.
Thursday - Bike commuting a long distance for work made me super hungry.
Friday - Laziness."