Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bathing in orange juice Day 7 of 7

Wow, what an incredible challenge! I'm about 2 hours shy of completing my 7th day of 7 on the Hunger Challenge, should I order a pizza? Juuuust kidding, well, sort of. I told myself that I won't be one of those Hunger Challengers that counts down the final hours. But guess what, I am feeling more blessed than ever for what I have.

If you are still reading, thanks for listening to my highs and lows all week. The rants. The raves.

I've learned a lot and will never think of poverty and hunger the same. I had a captive audience at my hair salon tonight so as I told my hairdresser about it, of course everyone was eavesdropping and it was fairly quiet as I spoke - I think that's a good sign.

I've kicked my morning caffeine habit, my afternoon caffeine and sugar habit, and can't remember the last time I had this few sweets in an entire week.

But speaking of something pretty sweet. This fabulous tangerine/orange (it's one of those hybrids I think) that my boxing gym boss and friend gave me last night. Oh my - it was from a new market in town with good produce, and oh how good it was! I ate it this afternoon, at work, and it tasted so good that I was drenched in orange juice by the end. I had it on the tip of my nose, all over my paperwork, and was so happy from devouring a simple orange! Now I know why my Dad would get an orange on Christmas morning in his stocking from Santa - something so simple and sweet, but out of reach for people living in poverty, is truly a gift!

Today I spend $4.40: oatmeal, banana, apple, spinach salad x2 with salsa, tomato, and black beans. At the salon I had 6 mini (tinier than mini) cookies with a cup of tea, + the other 2 cups of tea today. Plus the delectable orange!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Acceptance Day 6 of 7

I woke up today with a "let's do this" attitude. That's what I told myself to get myself going, not only with the Hunger Challenge but my own tiredness from a short night's sleep. It was also the first morning that I woke up without a headache or feeling fuzzy in my head, take that caffeine and sugar addiction!

I ate very basic today and didn't think too much about it. I finally accepted that this was what I could have, when leading up to today I was thinking about what I couldn't have, feeling sad that others didn't have, etc. It's that whole stop looking at what you don't have and start appreciating what you do have.

Coworkers and friends continue to give me food. My office mate had a box of peanut butter granola bars that she offered that I passed on, and my friend/owner/boss at the boxing gym gave me a tangerine that I will eat tonight or tomorrow, some leftover chips (I told her I had to count them but she said since they were already open, and leftover, that they'd go in the garbage if I didn't take them) and a yummy chocolate bar that I will save for after the Hunger Challenge. She said that the tangerine was this month's bonus, so it's actually a part of my pay. Since I've been coming in under the $4.72 almost everyday, I figured if I charged myself or not that I'd still have wiggle room.

During my workout tonight I had less energy than normal, probably from fewer calories. I haven't been able to tell if my overall tiredness is related to no longer self medicating with caffeine/sugar, or if the fewer calories are causing me to be tired. I am going to bed a little earlier and when tired, instead of caffeinating myself, so that's a positive thing I think.

Food for the day: Oatmeal, banana, 2 cups of tea, zucchini, beans, rice, whole wheat pasta with spinach tomato sauce, broccoli, leftover chips. $3.65 spent today

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rough day with a capital R, stress eating. Day 5 of 7

Back to work on a Monday, for a long 16 hour shift, starting off the day with no coffee. I decided over the weekend to ween myself off of coffee and sugar as much as possible since I'm eating less of it anyway. It seemed like the natural thing to do since I wanted to kick those habits. Even though there is added sugar in inexpensive pasta sauce for instance, I don't have the cash to buy a Starbucks drink, a chocolate chip cookie at work from Mrs Fields, or any of those sweet treats. So while I can chose to use more expensive pasta sauce with less sugar and still be on budget, I simply don't have enough for extras.

Day 5 has been stressful and rough for me. I'm not hungry, but wanting to eat and drink a soda or a coffee to just keep myself busy, and emotionally eat.

I was thrown off by a mandatory work meeting to interview someone in which lunch was a part of the round table interview -- I was going to bring my lunch, but with the formality of it being an interview, it wasn't the appropriate time to talk about why I was eating my PB&J sandwich. (Most of my coworkers know that I'm doing the Hunger Challenge) After a bit of wrangling over it in my mind with the rules (not to accept free food at work, if you eat out for work to take out the amount of an allotted lunch, etc.) I decided to just go with it, and subtract out what I would've eaten had it not been an interview. I wanted to be a Hunger Challenge purist by sticking to the rules exactly, and although this lunch interview wasn't in a restaurant, it still had unwritten rules of it's own that I had to go by.

I talk to a lot of people in my work, from different backgrounds, but often, many people living in poverty. I spoke to another person today telling me how they don't have food in their fridge and can't feed their children. Feeling especially weak from caffeine withdrawl, food addiction withdrawl really, and eating a basic food stamps diet, I was almost brought to tears listening to this person's current situation. On top of not having food, this person had MANY other awful things happening to them in life. As if not having food wasn't enough! I gave them information and referrals though about food stamps, the local food bank, and local churches for free meals. But I will never hear "I hardly have enough money for food," in the same way again. I instantly become even more empathetic when hunger is an issue.

I have also received contact from people, some that I know pretty well I thought, some that I don't, that have been on food stamps themselves in the past or currently. Not much surprises me but I am surprised that I didn't think of this outcome of doing the Hunger Challenge. That people around me experience hunger in their own day-to-day. There is so much judgment by the "haves" against the "have nots" that if you are a person that has always had, then you may not know that the have nots and the hungry are right in front of you, in your own friend circles, in your own families, or with people that you work beside everday.

All of this has me feeling pretty heartbroken and sad for others. I'm certain I'm more emotional partly due to the lack of caffeine, the lack of crutches like sugar, and just my regular eating patterns, and a long stressful day, but I keep reminding myself, how does that person that has literally no food in their house cope tonight without a crutch, or even a basic something to eat? I went for a brief walk to get some fresh air and try to decompress. I talked to a loved one. And here I write down my thoughts and experiences which also helps.

I've spent $3.44 so far today. Oatmeal. PB&J x 2.5 (yes 2 and a half sandwiches - but one that I didn't eat went towards my lunch cost). Apple x 2. Cup of tea.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ongoing adjustments & a bedtime snack

I think a common newbie error is not knowing exactly what and how much of it to buy. I bought a 6 pack of ramen for emergencies, but will likely only use half of the pack. Same with jam and peanut butter, I likely won't go through all of it in one week. In other words, I'm breaking down my usage of such items such as 1/2 pack of rice, etc. I have been figuring out how many servings I can get from something, and breaking down the daily costs in that way. Today I figured that I'd buy a few more items, technically putting myself over by $3 for my weekly budget of $33.04, but with that I will have a lot of leftover (beans, rice, ramen, jam, PB, etc.) If I was on food stamps, I would be on food stamps for the month, not just a week, allowing a person to buy things that might last them 2 weeks, not just one, during a grocery shopping trip.

Tonight I bought almond milk, fresh spinach, salsa, seaweed snacks and a tomato.

I was feeling the day 4 slump, and I've had an "extra" serving (which was really a small half serving) of pasta and spinach tomato sauce in the fridge that I've already figured into days 1 & 2 costs. So I ate that and was feeling full, but then I was getting greedy knowing that I had bought the almond milk, and bananas, and had bought the frozen strawberries on day 0.

I love smoothies and had this strawberry, banana, almond milk smoothie for a bedtime snack. Yum-o!

$0.87 smoothie + previous day 4's costs = $3.51 for day 4

Fresh salads are possible Day 4 of 7

Today is 9/11 and there has been a big push for people to do something good today, whether it be volunteer work or being extra nice. I try to live my life graciously and generously ever day, some days I'm don't do as good of a job but on days like this you really realize how lucky you have it as others have lost so much. What would all of those souls lost on 9/11 want for this world more than anything? I think they'd want people to be kinder to one another, to be empathetic and giving. So that's how I am remembering, by doing the Hunger Challenge, and my volunteer work.
I did some more volunteer work with the Red Cross this morning with a meeting for a couple of hours. It's not in the Hunger Challenge rules that you can't accept food at your volunteer work, so I decided to enjoy the food offered at my volunteer meeting. I didn't pig out or anything! I ate half of a scone and some melon, boy it tasted good! I also had some lavender black tea, also delish! I didn't count on food being there, and I ate a banana during my walk to the meeting on a bright, beautiful San Francisco day. I had a headache from caffeine withdrawl and likely sugar withdrawl and who knows, maybe I'm starving and don't know it. I AM losing weight. It's probably just not eating all that sugar.

During my run yesterday and again during my walk today, I noticed a man digging through the trash to get recyclables to cash in for money. These men both looked to be in their 40s, not homeless, and thin. I thought about them both, my first thought was to give them money, maybe $2-$3, even though they weren't asking, so that they could eat today. But I hesitated because I didn't want to embarrass them, or offend them. They likely have families at home, and rummage through the trash for cans and bottles for a little extra money. And like any father or husband, doing whatever it takes to feed your family. I empathized with them, and later wished that I had told them about the Food Bank.

During my walk home, I walked by a tea cafe where you can have an English tea, high tea, etc. I thought that I need to do this sometime soon with my girlfriends! I love those little sandwiches and pastries. Lunch was PB&J which I cut into small tea like sandwiches. I've been eating my food sloooowly, which helps me get full and appreciate each bite, even if it is a basic PB&J.

I had to run more errands at the mall, I swear I only go to the mall 2-3 times per year because I'm not a fan, and Trader Joes was next door so I could pick up more 19cent bananas and a few other things. At Ann Taylor Loft, my first stop (where I did buy some things for work) they offered me Izze Grapefruit soda, yuuuuummy! I took a 2nd one for the road.

I was starving by the time I got home, and bought ingredients to make this tastey taco salad: spinach, tomatoes, black beans, and salsa.

So far today, I've spent $2.64, but I have a special snack in mind for later if I'm hungry!

Veggies never tasted so good! Day 3 of 7

I woke up today craving veggies, so I made a big lunch. I must have ate too fast though because I was hungry all afternoon. I ate an apple and went for a run. Dinner was a warm bowl of ramen noodles, 1/8th ramen seasoning packet (to keep sodium lower), broccoli, bell pepper (I needed to use up/had before the challenge but charged myself for it), onion, zucchini, and carrots over brown rice. It tasted pretty plain, more of a vegetable broth type soup, but it was the first time that I almost couldn't finish a meal because I was full.

I responded to a call for some volunteer work that I do, so was busy most of the evening with that. When I got home I craved something sweet, and ate a mini-Snickers that I had picked up for free the other day, as well as the free Goldfish crackers. I am getting tired earlier in the evenings because I am not drinking caffeine or eating much sugar as normal, which is a good thing for my health!
I also ate a banana today, no coffee, and my total spent for day 3's food was $4.29

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Difficult no matter how you slice it. Day 2 of 7

The rules to the Hunger Challenge do allow you to use things that you have on hand already. I am using spices, sugar, and oil that I already have on hand, and after checking prices of spice blends, etc. I am deducting 30 cents each time I cook with spices or oil. But, you can also use food that you already have on hand, which I may do a little bit.

I have a whole vegan lasagna with good quality ingredients sliced in individual portions in my freezer for instance. I did price it out, even with the higher quality ingredients, and it comes out to 92 cents a slice. Inexpensive when you break it down, but I think even if I had a monthly food budget of $132 it would still make me a little nervous to allocate $12 to making a whole lasagna. The difficulty would be, which week do you buy what? You couldn't buy all of the ingredients in one week, I couldn't even figure out how to buy 2 ingredients for a fresh salad for this week, but with some planning and time you would be able to adjust your budget and shopping habits.

This challenge has definitely shown me how difficult trying to be economical with shopping is another barrier to a person on food stamps. I mean, you can buy huge quantities of things at a cheaper price at Costco to save money! But a person on food stamps can't afford the membership for Costco. You can save money by going to different stores that have different specials for the week, but who has the bus fare, the time, or the gasoline to get to all of those different stores?

I am trying not to use too much of what I have on hand, like coffee for instance, because the taste and quality of food stamps food is much different. And boy, am I already noticing some of the differences. The instant coffee that I am using (Nescafe) is actually pretty good, better than Starbucks coffee! But I don't care for Starbucks.

I do notice the extra sugar and salt added to things like pasta sauce and oatmeal. You can buy cheaper oatmeal with 16 grams of sugar, or spend a little more for some that has just 4 grams of sugar. Or buy plain, which would be the healthiest thing to do! By last night,however, I was growing tired of the lack of fresh foods and the higher sugar and salt in cheaper, processed foods.


On day 2 I had a bit of a stressful day. My routine was thrown off visiting a friend at the hospital, which also delayed my dinner or making dinner. I did munch on free saltine crackers and free coffee in the hospital waiting room, but felt pretty weak by the time I ate dinner at 9:30 p.m. Luckily I had pasta leftovers and zucchini leftovers from the night before so I didn't have to spend time making rice, and beans, both things that take a bit of time to make.

Coworkers and friends are all being very supportive. When you don't eat with others, go to lunch, or you are eating a simple meal, people start to notice. Plus, I've been telling people that I work with and friends about the Hunger Challenge. Most feel bad for me and bring me food or offer to make me a meal! But the reality is that if I was on food stamps, most of my friends and coworkers would be too, so they likely wouldn't have much to give. I likely wouldn't have the job that I have, and would be more likely to be working a minimum wage job, if I had a job at all.

Day 2 I spent $4.72 (really $4.22 but I had to account for pretzels, two mini-candy bars and a mini-cupcake that was at a work meeting - in which my coworkers shouted "there's food for you, for free!")

Oatmeal, coffee, sugar & banana $0.81
PB&J and apple $1.23
"free" pretzels, candy & mini-cupcake $0.50
Ramen $0.30
Whole wheat pasta with spinach & sauce, spices/oil, side of zucchini, baby carrots $1.88

$4.72 per day

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pasta sauce for $1 + free jar! Food prices

A person really needs to know which stores have the best deals when shopping with a $4.72 per day budget. This is what I've found in local stores for this week, which may save some the time of going to different stores to find out who has the best prices. I realize that many discount grocers may offer better deals for some of these things, I did the best that I could shopping at 3 different stores in the last couple of days. It took a lot of time! But if you find a better deal on one of these items, please share! I've not listed everything that I've purchased and am eating for the week, but these are the main items!

Whole Wheat Pasta (whole wheat being a splurge for something a bit healthier)
Target (sale): $1.16
Trader Joes: $1.39 (3 oz. more)
Safeway (sale): $1.50

Pasta Sauce
Target (sale): $1 (I purchased 2 jars and received a $1 off coupon i.e. free jar at checkout!)
Trader Joes: $1.79 (3 oz more)
Safeway: $1.74

Bag of 7 Fuji apples
Trader Joes: $2.49

Peanut Butter
Trader Joes: $1.79
Safeway: $2.50

Strawberry Jam
Safeway: $1.99

Black beans (dry)
Safeway: $1.29

Baby lima beans (dry)
Safeway (sale) $0.79

Brown rice
Safeway: $1.79

Oatmeal (indiv. packs - large containers are a better deal but cost more for an individual and I couldn't afford to buy one with my $33.04 for the week)
Target: $2.34
Safeway: $2.50

Baby carrots
Trader Joes: $1.49

Onions (bag of 7)
Trader Joes: $1.69

Frozen broccoli
Trader Joes: $1.49
(other stores had smaller bags for less, but I didn't see much difference in pricing)

Frozen spinach
Safeway & Target: $1.09

Instant Coffee (individual packets becauseas an individual I didn't have enough in my budget for a larger jar, etc.)
Safeway: $0.99 (for 10)

Multigrain, high fiber bread (a splurge for something healthier)
Trader Joes: $2.59

Zucchini (4)
Trader Joes: $2.29

Spice blends at Safeway are $1.79 for Italian blend to $1.99 for other blends. I am using spices, sugar, and oil that I already have. Spices, sugar, and oil that I use in cooking this week cost me about $0.30 per day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Humble pie and pearl earrings. Day 1 of 7

Today was the start of my first Hunger Challenge. I packed my breakfast and lunch, and headed out of the door to work. The first thing that I noticed is how much lighter my lunch cooler was and I thought "uh-oh!" When I arrived to work, I looked inside to make sure that I had brought everything.

I spent $3.77 today for 3 meals and snacks, but I ran into pure luck when it came to the snacks. (including a "free" pear & candy gift aka +$0.60 included in this total)

Breakfast: Oatmeal, coffee (with regular sugar, not my normal agave), and a banana

Morning snack: 4 baby carrots (I wouldn't normally count, but today I only had a few - maybe 8 or 9 and wanted to save some for later)

Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly

Afternoon snack: Free pear and free 2 pieces of chocolate. 5 more baby carrots.

Early evening snack: Free Pinkberry frozen yogurt with raspberries, mochi, and kiwi, free lemonade, free Goldfish crackers, free glass of white wine, free cookie.

Dinner: Whole wheat pasta with sauce and spinach, sauteed zucchini.

Leftovers that I didn't eat: Apple, free cookie, free Goldfish crackers, free flavored water.

Overall: I worried most of the morning that I didn't have enough food and I'd get hungry at some point. Then I worried about timing out my meals and also drinking enough water. I already drink a lot of water but I was gonna drink more to feel full. I felt sick right before lunchtime because I was thinking about my PB&J for so long and holding off eating it. I ate especially slow so it would fill me up.

I wanted caffeine and/or sugar in the afternoon after a busy day. My colleague must have been able to see it on my face, she gave me a pear from her backyard tree. Then a patient brought our office 3 boxes of See's candy. I know that I should count the cost of the pear and the candy into my total if I was being strict - so likely 50 cents for the pear and 10-20 cents for the two pieces of chocolate, still under budget.

I stopped at the mall to buy some makeup and as I walked out of Bloomingdales no less, (on a food stamps budget and getting makeup at Bloomingdales! I NEVER shop there but what can I say, it was Clinique Bonus Time), there was a festival like atmosphere setup with vendors handing out free samples! It was Fashion's Night Out, a night of giveaways, modeling, makeovers, light bites and drinks!

I compromised and let go of one of my ideals for healthy eating. I decided in that moment to eat dairy, just this once this week, and I beelined it to the Pinkberry vendor, delicious frozen yogurt with fresh toppings! Veganism went out the window. I thought: I'm on food stamps, I'm poor, it's a lot of FREE food. I munched on a free, freshly baked cookie as I waited in line. And it's fresh raspberries! And kiwi! Things that a person like me can't buy on my budget! I got in the next line where I received a yummy lemonade. They had PRIME RIB appetizers, I could've had 8, but I didn't partake in any meat. I scanned the flyer where it listed every store and what they were offering. I played a ping pong game, throwing a ping pong ball into a fish bowl for a cup of free Goldfish (and to enter a raffle for a gift certificate). The store clerks thought I was just being enthusiastic about it all and they smiled and laughed, I brought them more business and attention by playing the silly game, but I REALLY DID WANT THE FREE CUP OF GOLDFISH CRACKERS! I went to another store, perused the shoes, and helped myself to a cookie to save for later.

As I was walking around store to store, the local Maserati dealership had 3 beautiful sports cars on display. Tesla also had a car out. The Maserati cars must have been over $200K, they were amazing! It was a weird place to be, amongst all of this wealth, and to be in the mindset of accepting the free samples of food and drinks because I was on a food stamps budget. As I waited in one of the lines, a Mom with her nicely dressed son who must have been around 7 years old also waited in front of me for a few minutes. Then, she left her son in the line, and tried to sneak up front. She did and waived him up to her, as she cut in line and was munching on the free prime rib and grabbing as much swag that she could. I thought to myself: 1. What an awful lesson to teach a kid, to cut in line. 2. She should be doing the Hunger Challenge with her kid!

When I got home tonight and unpacked the uneaten food that I had saved, I came across another gift. A beautiful pair of earrings that are white and pearlish looking, by a designer called Sheyna.

I felt so incredibly lucky and humbled, not only to happen upon this free event with food (which actually monies from the stores profits went to the Children's Hospital - and I had bought my makeup tonight from one of the participating stores), but to also have a kind colleague give me a pear from her backyard tree. For a patient to bring in chocolates for everyone as a thanks. There was a lot of gratitude in the air and I feel like I've already learned a lot, not even 24 hours in.

I also realized that I don't have to travel all the way to Tanzania to see poverty and hunger. It's right around us always, right here in our own community. I worked with a person today who told me that they live paycheck to paycheck, and a couple of times a year they have enough money to take their spouse out for a meal. As I listened I started to feel for the first time what it really means to not have enough money to buy food.

Can I really do this? Day 0 of 7

I've spent no less than 5 hours thinking about my plant based nutrition on $4.72 per day CA Food Stamps budget. Sure, many of us *think* that we can shop and eat on a budget like this, I mean, we're smart and have good bargain shopping skills, right? I've been making lists, checking prices on, and obsessing about what I am going to be eating over the next week. This doesn't include the time shopping for the food, which takes longer in some aspects to find the items that I can afford this week, but also shortens the shopping time because there is SO much that I passed up because I knew it was over that $2 an item magic number. So here I am, beginning my Hunger Challenge a few days early since I will be out of town at the end of next week. Others beginning The Hunger Challenge begin on Sept. 11, 2011, but maybe my early start will inspire you to see if you can do it, too?

I hear a lot of people criticize those that rob the system and "take" from social programs. I am doing this in part to have a better understanding of what it really feels like, because I think sitting back and judging vs. actually putting yourself in someone's shoes, even if it is just for a week, makes a huge difference.

I went shopping for most of my food tonight at Trader Joe's. I went there because I know that they have bananas for 19 cents (realizing now that there are surely much cheaper bananas somewhere, I just don't know where! many on Food Stamps don't know where the cheapest prices are either though), and I know that they have some healthier foods without a lot of junk added like high fructose corn syrup. But in reality, on $4.72 per day, you don't have a lot of wiggle room to add much to your food, even if it is cruddy ingredients. But high fructose corn syrup along with salt is obviously something that is added to a lot of cheap foods to make them tasty but cheap, and something that I'd like to try to avoid.

I had it in my mind that I could buy some of the basics; frozen veggies, pasta, pasta sauce, beans, rice, bread, peanut butter and jelly, as long as the item wasn't over about $2. Once you get over $2, your overall budget takes a big hit and it had better be a worthwhile item.

I have never in my life had to go grocery shopping with this mindset. I do comparison shop, comparing organic vs. nonorganic, what's on sale with what's not, etc. But I sorta, kinda, try to make money saavy decisions, but it's really based on personal preference, health, and taste, not truly on the amount of money in my pocket. Sure I've had ramen for a week in college here and there, but I knew that it wasn't going to be a lengthy, being-hungry-and-poor situation.

I arrived home with $29.06 worth of groceries. I have almost $4 left, total, for the next 7 days and frankly I dunno how I'm gonna make it. I'm kicking myself for "splurging" on whole wheat, high fiber bread that was $2.59. I may need a second loaf of bread by week's end! It was the cheapest bread at TJ's, but I could've easily gotten a Wonderbread type loaf for $0.99. I didn't want to compromise on unhealthy things, and I'll see if it makes me go hungry later in the week. I also splurged on zucchini, onions and whole wheat pasta instead of plain pasta. Like the bread, I went with a healthier version of pasta for $0.39 more. Zucchini seemed inexpensive for what it is, and onions are inexpensive and add a lot of flavor to things - however looking at the receipt, anything over $2 gets scrutinized.

I'm challenging own ideas around healthy eating, which includes a vegetarian, mostly vegan diet. I will be eating 100% vegan this week. No eggs. No dairy. Definitely no meat or fish. I keep thinking to myself, this would be SOOOO much easier if I ate eggs! Protein, cheap, filling, can be added to any meal. But then I think, this would be SOOOO much easier if I ate from the $1 menu at McDonalds. And it would be SOOOOO much easier if . . .

It's no coincidence that our Nation's poor have higher rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. I am already seeing the whole blame the victim in a different light. Take this challenge for a week, and you eat things that wouldn't make you at higher risk for disease! It's difficult, and would you have enough willpower to stick to your ideals of healthy eating? To avoid that $1 cheeseburger? (I actually don't know if you can still get a burger for $1 but I assume that you can at some fast food place!)

The Food Bank supplements food for a lot of people in our communities. This often includes fruits and vegetables, which is awesome. But I think of the strain on our local food banks with budget cuts, and times during the year when donations to the Food Bank are running low.

I am beating myself up over bread, zucchini, onions and pasta. Which with looking at overall health, the stress related to worrying about your next meal and how much money you have left in your pocket for the week takes a toll on your health too.

Stress. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Worry. Let the Hunger Challenge begin!