NAPAWF*Sacramento Hunger Challenge: June 11-15, 2012

Could you live on a food budget of $22 a week or just $4 a day?  NAPAWF*Sacramento is joining Assemblymember Yamada and the California Association of Food Banks in the annual Hunger Challenge 2012 from Monday-Friday, June 11-15, 2012 to promote awareness of hunger and promote enrollment for CalFresh benefits.  California has the lowest CalFresh enrollment rate in the nation.  In Sacramento County, we have over 45,000 eligible individuals who are not enrolled which results in $109 million loss in benefits.  The great majority of recipients are from communities of color and are from families with women as the head of household.  NAPAWF*Sacramento is inviting you to take this challenge with us and post your photos, write your reflections and share your resources on our facebook page or with the hashtag #Hunger2012 and #napawf. We will compile each day’s posts here on our NAPAWF*Sac website!

Background:  

California has the lowest CalFresh enrollment in the nation with just over half of eligible Californians accessing this benefit.  CalFresh is formerly known as the Food Stamp Program and is federally named Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Through this program low-income individuals and families receive a monthly monetary supplement so that they may purchase nutritious food.  Approximately 75% of CalFresh recipients are women who are the heads of households and the majority of recipients are from communities of color.  Sacramento County’s enrollment rate is higher than most counties, but there are still more than 45,000 eligible individuals who are not enrolled in the program resulting in roughly $109 million in lost benefits.  CalFresh is an important program that supports our low-income families as well as bolsters our local economies.

Goals:

1)   Raise awareness regarding hunger and food insecurity in our communities

2)   Promote CalFresh enrollment and other local food access resources

Reflections on Day 1: June 11, 2012

It’s about dinner time on Day 1 and a couple of us have already had to face the temptation of free food.  One of the rules of the Hunger Challenge is not accepting free food since that is a luxury and probably does not happen very often for CalFresh/SNAP recipients.  The following are some reflections from NAPAWF*Sac sisters so far:

The first post comes from our very own fierce sister in the State Assembly, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada.

This is the 5th year in a row that she’s participated in this challenge.  It is crucial for our policy makers to understand how critical the benefit is for our low-income individuals and families and that cuts to programs like these would be detrimental.  We’re so proud that Assemblymember Yamada is leading the charge among her Assembly colleagues in raising awareness around food insecurity.  Assemblymember Yamada is blogging mainly at the Food Bank of Yolo County Blog.  Here is a re-post of her blog (with permission from the Assemblymember):

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge for the 5th year in a Row

Today marks Day 1 of my 2012 Hunger Challenge, my fourth consecutive as a state legislator. Thanks to the few hardy souls who have joined me in living on a “food stamp budget” of $22.30 for the week. While we will end our food insecurity in five days, millions of Californians do not have that luxury.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) did not fare well under the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee’s 2012 Farm Bill mark-up. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has offered an amendment to restore the proposed cuts. The inevitable complications of an election year point to the final Farm Bill details to be worked out later this year, placing millions of hungry Americans and the farmers who feed America in the balance. The fight to protect SNAP can and must continue as we continue to make our way back through tough economic times.

Closer to home, this Friday, June 15, is the state budget deadline. I am calling it “Cut-Mageddon”. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), over 19 percent of Californians are unable to afford enough food to eat. Despite this widespread hardship, the Governor’s 2012-13 budget calls for more than $2 billion in health and human services reductions. SNAP remains a 100% federal benefit–but federal reductions could devastate the California program, CalFresh.

Stay tuned.

 

Day 1 Reflections from NAPAWF*Sac Board Member, Sondra.

Sondra's Hunger Challenge Groceries - $19.59

I went shopping at the Midtown location of Grocery Outlet. Unfortunately, I was in a rush so I’m not sure how carefully I thought my groceries through. Anyway, I ended up spending $19.59 on these lovely items (image attached). I felt that my big splurge was the bag of apples, which came out to $3.99. However, it also means that I get to eat 2 apples a day (extra insurance to keep the doctor away)! I picked up thin-sliced porkchops (6) for $3.09. I’m hoping to prepare them in different ways throughout the week so I don’t get too sick of them. Considering I have $2.41 left to burn, I was going to bargain with my mom and buy some butter and olive oil off of her. I think my best deal was on the loaf of Texas toast. Grocery Outlet was selling them at 2 for $1! However, health-wise I probably should’ve spent my last couple of bucks on some whole wheat bread. 

I went shopping with my mom, which proved to be both a positive and stressful experience. She steered me away from the ground turkey (citing questionable sanitary standards when it comes to ground meat) and also away from the gray-ish chicken breasts, which apparently means that their lifespan is just about up. However, I did feel a bit like she was micro-managing after she suggested multiple times that I pick up a jar of jam for my bread. Overall, it helped to have a second pair of eyes to scope out the deals and bounce meal ideas off of (once she stopped referring to this as “The Hunger Games”).

This morning I enjoyed a fried egg with a slice of buttered toast for breakfast. The bread is incredibly fluffy so I really have no regrets about passing up the whole wheat. I seasoned my egg with salt and pepper. I cooked up my lunch last night — linguini with parmesan cheese and steamed broccoli and carrots (also topped with parmesan cheese). I ate a lot of pasta and broccoli in college, so I figured this would be a good way to ease myself into the hunger challenge. I’ve attached an image of my lunch. I cooked up one broccoli head (of 2 that I bought) and one carrot and was able to split the veggies and the noodles into a couple containers. Tonight I’m planning on frying up one of the porkchops to go with my leftover pasta.

Sondra's lunch for Day 1: pasta with steamed carrots and broccoli sprinkled with parmesan cheese

While this hunger challenge has proved to be a bit of a lifestyle change, I’m not so far from my college years that I’ve forgotten how to subsist on quick, easy and cheap meals made at home. I will admit, since I started working this year I’ve gotten awfully lazy and less careful about how I spend my money. A normal day would involve me dragging myself out of bed at the last minute, buying a croissant for breakfast at the deli at work (about $1.50) and then buying a lunch somewhere nearby, usually priced just under $10. At that rate, I burn through the $22 budget in less than two days. I eat dinner at home regularly, but I also live with my parents.  In college, I would often drag my feet when it came to making meals for one. For now, it seems to be working out but I’m only on day 1.

Musings from NAPAWF*Sac former board chair, Cat:

Cat's Hunger Challenge Groceries - $21.23

I went shopping at the Grocery Outlet in Davis. It was about 6PM on a Saturday and there were families, individual older adults and some students. Grocery Outlet and I are definitely not strangers. My mom frequently shopped at the one in Modesto for years when I was growing up. Most of the food has a quickly approaching expiration date which is why it’s so affordable. I worked at Safeway while I was in college and now I live right next to Nugget Market so I’ve grown accustomed to an abundant and flourishing produce section, but this was not the case at Grocery Outlet. It was a quarter of the size of the bigger supermarkets. I usually get a lot of fruit on my shopping excursions, especially in the summer, but this store didn’t have many options. Most of their fruit was sold in prepackaged bags instead of by piece which makes it more expensive for a single person. Made me regret not going to the Davis Farmer’s Market earlier that day. When I was in the check out, I had the moment where I nervously withheld the most expensive and the “luxury” item (drumsticks) until the end to see if I could afford it. I definitely kept a closer watch on the check out monitor to ensure everything was ringing up correctly.

I covet every single moment of sleep so I usually skip breakfast, but because this challenge doesn’t allow for skipped meals, I had to eat something in the morning. I decided to boil a few eggs as I got ready for work so that I can eat one on my way to work and then have some ready for the next couple mornings (yay for foresight!). I am usually rushing out the door for work so as I was doing my usual hurried morning routine, I almost forgot my lunch and started to think… What would happen if I actually did forget?! I would have to stay hungry all day. A new intern started in our office today and he was so sweet, he brought muffins and coffee! However, because of the Hunger Challenge, I couldn’t accept and neither could my co-worker who is also on the challenge. The result was a lot of left over coffee and muffins. Now our intern can see how seriously we take our work! Sondra also emailed later in the day to ask if she could indulge in some streudels her chief-of-staff brought in, I could feel her pain! Someone on the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano wrote that the Hunger Challenge is an “exercise in empathy”, such an accurate description. More musings to come!

 

Reflections on Day 2: June 12, 2012

We’re on Day 2, but we still have submissions from Day 1.  Our Hunger Challenge is definitely creating some dialogue which is great since this is budget week in California and all.  Luckily, CalFresh is a federally funded program so it’s spared from California’s infamous chopping block.  That’s why we want to boost CalFresh enrollment, the more people enroll, the more funds we get from the feds pumped into our local economies.  So where are we getting all these stats on under enrollment in counties?  From the awesome folks at California Food Policy Advocates!  You can look up your own county’s CalFresh profile and see what’s coming down the food policy pipeline in the legislature.  

Without further ado, a shot of NAPAWF*Sac Board Member Mary June’s groceries and her meals for today:

CLICK TO ENLARGE!

 

NAPAWF*Sac Board Member Cecilia writes about the value of having a nearby grocery store and not living in a food desert like so many of our low-income communities:

No, Grocery Outlet is not sponsoring our Hunger Challenge blog... They just have amazing deals!

As I went grocery shopping for items on my Hunger Challenge budget, I had to scope the entire store before even beginning to put things in my basket. I needed to make sure I made the most of the money. The thought process immediately was: What’s going to keep me full? The healthy nature of the food was really secondary at first thought. Meat and veggies were my biggest splurges and the majority of my basket were cheap but filling carbs. 

The result? Drum roll, please! 1 bag of spinach, a bag of soon to expire white bread, peanut butter, tortillas, a bag of shredded cheese, ground turkey, a package of hamburger helper pasta, 2 avocados, and a jar of peanut butter. The total? $19.12.

After doing all my shopping, I still realized that I’m incredibly lucky enough to live walking distance to a Grocery Outlet that gives it’s clients some decently low prices even though not all the items are fresh and most are generic, cheaper quality brands. It’s incredible to think about how others have to scrape by because of food deserts. I can’t even imagine trying to craft a weekly meal plan off of expensive and unhealthy food items from a liquor store on this budget.

Cecilia’s Groceries – $19.12

Assemblymember Yamada highlights the importance of continuing the school lunch program during the summer so that children have adequate nutrition while they’re on break:

Some may question the wisdom of taking on the Hunger Challenge this week, in the difficult run-up to Friday, June 15 constitutional budget deadline.  For those battling hunger, this is the perfect week to highlight that hunger doesn’t take a break. Monday’s meals were raisin bran and coconut milk for breakfast; yogurt and banana for lunch; egg salad sandwich, grapes, and a chicken drumstick for dinner.  Am drinking filtered tap water as I did not find a good deal on coffee this year.  I already warned my staff (smile). With summer vacation, many children who rely upon the free or reduced lunch program during the school year find themselves without basic sustenance.  See http://frac.org/pdf/summer_report_2010.pdf for more information on this important nutrition program. Tuesday is a difficult day, with committee hearings, Democratic Caucus where I will eat my chicken sandwich and grapes while my colleagues eat our usual nice catered lunch (which the legislators–not the taxpayers–pay for), followed by bill presentations in Senate Human Services and Senate Veterans Affairs. Additional briefings with staff will be followed by a quick dash to Woodland to attend the Yolo County Farm Bureau meeting recognizing the Future Farmers of America.  A perfect group to end the day with since we are focusing, after all, on food. More Wednesday.

Reflections on Day 3: June 13, 2012

It’s Wednesday aka Hump Day and it’s been a struggle to get over this week’s mid week “hump”.  It’s been especially hot this week and it really would have been nice to indulge in a popsicle or some frozen yogurt.  Summer is definitely upon us which also means that school’s out!  In yesterday’s blog, Assemblymember Yamada mentioned some school lunch programs that continued their meals throughout the summer.  However, since kids are home more and are probably more active, they need some extra nutrition.  Unfortunately, food banks see the lowest amount of donations during summer months, one of the times that they need it most!  Learn more and locate your nearest food bank at the California Association of Food Banks website.   Consider this when donating, meat provides a lot of nutrition, but is often not affordable for many people on CalFresh.

You don’t have a kitchen? California’s got you covered!  Assemblymember Mariko Yamada clues us in on the CalFresh Restaurant Meals Program

Long day Tuesday, but made it home and prepared “corn cakes” with fresh banana, and made a meal out of more chicken and sliced cucumbers.

During Democratic Caucus yesterday noon, a colleague said he would have joined me but did not have access to a kitchen. I didn’t say anything to him, but want to note here that thousands of CalFresh recipients are in the same boat. That’s why the CalFresh Restaurant Meals program is so important: http://www.ebtproject.ca.gov/restaurantmeals.aspx. Although this program is open only to the homeless, elderly, and disabled (although those on SSI are not eligible for SNAP because the benefit amount is “cashed-out” in the monthly grant–we can argue about that another time!), it is another avenue for the hungry among us.

With the heat rising outside, I have been drinking only filtered tap water and coconut milk (which I confess is not a favorite but I put it in my grocery cart because I had a 75 cents off coupon). Wednesday is food ad day, so I will check the sales and see if I can afford a can of frozen orange juice with my $2.25 in reserve. Will attend Legislative Women’s Caucus “brown bag” luncheon with my real brown bag lunch of a tuna salad sandwich and grapes. The impending budget vote will affect women, children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor disproportionately…it saddens me to know that tobacco companies can spend $50M to defeat one ballot measure while millions of Californians are suffering daily from hunger pangs.

Cecilia contemplates the nutritional value of cheese powder

I’ve found myself eating a combination of things that I ordinarily wouldn’t consider eating. I’m not talking veggie overload or the good kind of “try new things” either. Today’s dinner consisted of hamburger helper, or pasta with a powder cheese mixture and ground turkey. I’m kind of sad I used my only meat product for this little mini-disaster.

Nutrient wise, I don’t think the cheese powder counted as dairy– I’m not really sure what food group it would fall into come to think of it. Taste-wise, it was kind of a processed, melty, salty concoction that I wouldn’t try again… except that I have to. Unfortunately, because I was banking on it being several servings that could last me a few meals, I will be scarfing it down for at least another 2 meals.

Another accident that I ran into was that the recipe called for some milk. Luckily, I had enough money left in my budget to get a very small carton of almost-expired milk. So I guess I did get some dairy in that meal after all. All in all, I’ve been noticing that the lack of nutrients in these meals have made me sluggish and tired when I’m not sluggish and tired from being hungry. Even when it’s filling, the lack of real health value leaves me low on energy.

Sondra, why are you on the Hunger Challenge?

   
day 1 dinner of porkchop, noodles, vegetables and parmesan    

The other night I found myself at the Davis Beer Shoppe, celebrating a friend’s homecoming and birthday. Despite (or as a result of) being unable to purchase or accept drinks, the hunger challenge served as a fantastic conversation starter. We had some great discussions about our ideas of healthy lifestyles and the reality of maintaining one as well as our own experiences with food insecurity. We also discussed our own privileges as far as accessing healthy food and health education. Some of the discussion also centered around why I chose to participate in this challenge. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and it wasn’t until I talked to different folks that I was able to really clarify some of my thoughts.

Part of my reticence about the Hunger Challenge is my own knowledge of my own middle-class privilege as someone who never feared that I would be without food. It’s a scary thought, confronting your own privilege, and I know that living on $22 for just five days is hardly indicative of the struggle that many Californians go through week. I was concerned that this was just an exercise in “slumming” or poverty tourism. What can I really get out of doing this for a week? How will this produce meaningful results?

To be honest, I don’t have a concrete answer. But what I’ve learned over the past couple of days is that this challenge has served as a forum, a space in which my friends, family and coworkers can pull together their experiences, knowledge, opinions and thoughts about the issue of food insecurity and the health of our state. There are so many conversations I wouldn’t have had if it hadn’t been for this challenge and, even if I am not experiencing everything firsthand, I’ve heard so many stories and learned so much from everyone’s shared knowledge. This has also changed the way I view my meals and grocery shopping and the complex and varied relationships other people have with them. Before the challenge I knew some of these issues from articles I’ve read and some stories I’ve heard, but the constant state of not-quite-full that I’ve been in for the past few days has really driven this information home. I’m looking forward to the end of this challenge when at least I can return to my normal levels of access and consumption, but I know that for many this week IS normal and I hope that I can use this knowledge in the future to inform my work and the impact that I have on others.

dinner of salad with boiled egg, carrots, apples and canned mandarin orange syrup for dressing

Reflections on Day 4: June 14, 2012

In case you missed it on our NAPAWF*Sacramento Facebook page today, we are highlighting this year’s Farm Bill that is being debated in the U.S. Senate this week.  An estimated $4.49 BILLION will be cut from the SNAP program and leave hundreds of Americans hungry!  DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano posted this handy blog about how to do some advocacy on this last week, read it here!  Thousands of people rely on this program, the great majority of SNAP recipients are women and children.

Assemblymember Yamada Expresses Solidarity with Her NAPAWF Sisters!

Stayed in my Capitol Office until nearly 9 p.m. last night to finish up an Op Ed and read additional materials and budget impact information coming in from many constituency groups in my district. I had not packed dinner so was pretty hungry by that time. To make matters even more interesting, one of our departing interns had graciously stopped by earlier in the day to drop off some delicious, homemade baklava (I know because she’s been treating us to her desserts for the past three years). Alone in my office with a plate of delectable sweets (and those of you who really know me understand where dessert ranks in my food pyramid!), I was sorely tempted to sneak one. However, as my NAPAWF sisters taking the challenge this year with me know, one of the rules of the Hunger Challenge is no “free food”. So, I brought my “share” of the treats home to my husband.

Experiencing this reminds me that food commercials frequently blare at us on TV, and we are surrounded by plenty in the Capitol community. For those whose access to food is restricted by income, transportation, and physical health, watching those food advertisements towards the end of the month when benefits dry up must be similarly challenging.

 On my way home, I spent $1.93 on a zucchini which I added to my baked chicken and tofu dinner and a single serving package of ground coffee–Double Dutch Chocolate. I am going to treat myself to a cuppa joe at the end of Friday when we are expected to vote for another ugly California budget.

Sondra Realizes that Breakfast Really is the Most Important Meal of the Day… Maybe.

Sondra's Fried Egg Sandwich Breakfast!

Participating in the Hunger Challenge has made me hyper-aware of how my eating habits impact other aspects of my life. To begin with, I am not usually a morning person. As I mentioned before, my usual routine used to be to skip breakfast in exchange for 15 more minutes of sleep, grab a croissant across the hall from my office and for lunch buy some meal around the Capitol. My energy levels would be a rollercoaster — tired in the morning, beginning to feel more awake around lunchtime, and then drop down again to food-coma-fighting levels post-lunch. The Hunger Challenge has pushed me to pace myself instead. My breakfast has to sustain me because I no longer have a large lunch or dinner to make up for it. I realized this after Monday breakfast, when I had a piece of toast with an egg and felt my stomach grumbling after one hour. On Tuesday I added an extra slice of bread to make a sandwich, which left me feeling fuller. I added lettuce to my sandwich from my mixed greens salad bag on Wednesday and this morning was one of my best mornings yet, despite getting less sleep than usual. I’ve been told many times how important a good breakfast is for setting the foundation for your entire day, but I only occasionally practiced that line of thinking (usually only for brunch on a weekend). After my mini self-experiment, I realized how I’ve been selling myself short. 

This isn’t to say that I have been enjoying a perfectly-portioned and balanced day, however. There’s the constant reminder of being not-quite-full that keeps me from forgetting about this challenge. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I could best invest my remaining $2.40 — maybe on more fruit, or juice, or dessert. I miss eating sweet things, and I’m reminded regularly of all of the other things I can’t eat, which are now so much more enticing and valuable. Not only are there things that I want to eat but can’t, but there are also things I need to better sustain myself that I have chosen to go without for this week. For example, I really cut down on my meat intake for the challenge, figuring this was healthier and all I do at work is sit at a desk, anyway. These little pork chops I bought, however, just aren’t cutting it. I know if my work was even slightly more labor intensive I would definitely have had to trade out the bag of apples or some vegetables for more meat. I should have shred my food pyramid from the start. Maybe tomorrow I will treat myself to something delicious with these last couple of dollars.

Cat LOVES her Coffee

mmmmm... caffeine....

Something that I KNEW I had to get was coffee during this Hunger Challenge.  I was determined to find cheaply priced coffee, but I remembered that I would probably have to buy filters, too.  Another cost burden. Then I stumbled upon these coffee pods for $3.49.  I was a Starbucks barista once upon a time and I still had some tricks up my sleeve.  I knew that iced coffee was packed with more punch than the average hot cup of joe.  My body is used to really strong coffee so I had to get creative with Folgers.  I threw three pods in a pitcher and poured hot water in and let them steep for about 15 minutes then filled the rest of the pitcher with ice (hooray for ice being free!).  Voila!  Caffeine every morning… I thought this would cure me of any fatigue, but I was wrong.  so. wrong.  I am definitely not consuming nearly as many calories as I am used to so my energy level took a nose dive.  With the lack of energy came some amount of irritability.  On the second day, I decided to go for a light run… you know, to create some energy?  distract myself from my growling stomach?  I don’t know why I did that… apparently being hungry also impairs judgment.  

Since Father’s Day is around the corner, I will dedicate this next part of my post to him– the most overly prepared, overly cautious and overly paranoid person I know.  These are some questions that were swimming in my mind over the last few days: 

What if I forgot to refill the coffee pitcher?  What if I faint while out running?  What if I forgot my coffee at home? Did I turn off the stove?  What if the chicken gets burned?  What if that’s not even edible?  Is that mold on the mushrooms?  What time should I eat so I don’t get THAT hungry again?  WHY DIDN’T I BRING A SNACK?