(Belated) Hunger Awareness Month

Awhile back, I heard about the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. I was intrigued by the premise – for one week, trying to eat off the amount of money I would get from food stamps – but was irritated with some of the rules.

For instance, anyone on the challenge is not allowed to accept any free food. I understand the idea behind this, trying to make sure people don’t just mooch off others, but what about the free meals in my area? Those programs are available to everyone, not just something I get out of privilege. Also, the amount you have per month is divided up day by day, so that as a single person I would not be able to use more than $4 worth of food per day. This seemed a little misleading, since food is often cheaper in bulk so that the amount I might actually use in my meal could come under the $4 limit, but the overall cost would be over what someone on food stamps might have available (i.e. the price of meat per pound varies by how much is bought at one time).

A little later, I discovered that June is Hunger awareness month and a bunch of food bloggers had attempted to live off the amount they would have on food stamps for the month, but with guidelines much closer to what I think is reasonable. So, I decided to do that challenge, but a couple of months belated; for September, I set myself a budget of $100 for food, which is what California would give me for food stamps.

(As a small aside, I found out that the state will not give me food stamps because, as a full time student, there is a minimum requirement for how many hours I work every week. There are no such work requirements for part-time students.)

I have a night class once a week, so that became my weekly grocery trip. The first two weeks were the hardest; I realized that I had an innate urge to stockpile food, grabbing some because I thought I “might” use it and I had to really concentrate to buy only what I needed for that week.

Later on, I started using leftover canning jars to store my dry goods – not only does it look nicer than a bunch of plastic bags from the bulk section, but it gives me an automatic portion control (there’s no way a single person needs more than a quart of beans/rice/cornmeal etc in a week) to combat my pack rat urges.

After the adjustment period, I started looking much more at what was already in my freezer, fridge, garden and pantry to come up with what to eat, rather than going out and buying more. I’m a little embarrassed to say that’s a skill I didn’t possess before. It made my shopping much easier, just picking up things to add on rather than needing to buy all of the ingredients for many meals, and made for much less food waste. My last several weeks of shopping, I ended up with total bills of under $10 each, whooo!

It was hard to resist buying food at school on days when I hadn’t had time to make something from scratch to bring with me. But as I hit midterms at the end of this month and had plenty of leftover budgeted money, I was able to buy several lunches at school. And I did so without any guilt, because the money was already budgeted! Ahhhh. That is such relief.

I think I’ll probably stick to the $100/month food budget; if I’m ever going to save up for my student teaching year, I have to start somewhere! I may even lower it a bit more, but focus on getting more of my fruits and veggies – this has been a very starchy month. Though, to be fair, probably not more starchy than usual, I’m just paying more attention.

And not a single meal of box pasta in three weeks. Ha!

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