Yesterday, the United Way of King County kicked off Hunger Action Week, an exercise in empathy where the community is asked to try to eat on just $7, the maximum daily benefit for a person on food stamps. KEXP DJ’s and staff are taking the challenge, and they’ll be posting their experiences here on the KEXP Blog all week long. You can read more about it, and see the rules here.
Today, we have a report from our DJ El Toro:
I went grocery shopping on Sunday night to lay in supplies for the Hunger Challenge. My budget was $42 (i.e. six days of food at $7/day). Here’s what I got:
Old-fashioned (i.e. whole oats) oatmeal
Bread (“baked with” whole grains)
Red beans (dried)
Pinto beans (dried)
Peanut butter (crunchy, all-natural)
Carrots (big bag)
Dried cherries *
Apples (Granny Smith, 4 total)
Bananas (one bunch)
Garlic (one bulb)
1 lb can of diced tomatoes
1 box dried pasta
Frozen collard greens
Total cost = $39.78
I plan on using that remaining $2.22 to buy a little more produce later in the week. Asparagus is on sale right now (99 cents per lb.), but I can already feed my body craving cruciferous vegetables, so I’ll probably just go with cabbage or broccoli.
I made a lot of choices at the store based on cost (i.e. tea over coffee, vegetable oil over olive or canola, cheap bread). Sad to be reminded that processed foods are cheaper than “whole” foods. I’m not too concerned about starving, but it’s pretty hard to achieve anything like a balanced diet on $7/day. And I’m basically a vegan. I have it easier than most. I don’t know what I’d do if I was trying to keep meat and dairy in my diet on a budget this slim.
Of course, the way I’m eating this week requires an definite investment of time, even more than I usually invest in cooking. Oatmeal, dried beans, rice… these are all things it takes a while to prepare. I imagine time is not a luxury most people receiving SNAP have in abundance. The sort of conscious eating our grandparents practiced — using as much of the plant or animal as possible, stretching cheap, flavorful ingredients, etc. — involves a skill set that the industrialized food complex has done its best to erode.
* This is not something I’d normally buy. But they were marked way, way down, priced to move, and much cheaper than anything else in the way of dried fruits or nuts. I figured they’d add some variety to meals if used creatively.
And we also have a check-in from Programming Assistant, Janice Headley:
When my boss, Kevin Cole, told me about the Hunger Challenge, I thought, “$7 a day? Piece of cake! Mmm… cake…” I’ve had a lot of experience as a “starving artist”-type, and during a particularly lean time living in Brooklyn (“lean” both financially, and, uh, physically), I was living on $7 a week. I would buy a loaf of bread, and eat a slice for breakfast, a slice for lunch, and so on. So, in contrast, $7 a day seemed easy!
But, sadly, the Sunday before the Hunger Action Week began, my beloved cat unexpectedly had to be put to sleep. On Monday, I was too depressed to eat, and then by that evening, too depressed to leave the apartment, and so I ordered a pizza to be delivered, and it cost way more than just $7.
At first, I was ready to give up on the Hunger Challenge, but y’know, I’m going to keep going. Not only does food nourish us, but it can also comfort us when we’re feeling sad. And someone on food stamps doesn’t have that luxury of ordering a pizza when they’re going through hardships. So, instead I will look at other ways to comfort myself, and will work on getting back to the $7 a day rule.
If you’d like to take the Hunger Challenge, you can sign up here at the United Way website. And share your experiences online at the United Way Facebook page, or on Twitter, using the hashtag #hungerfreeKC!
DJ El Toro hosts the variety mix show on Wednesday nights from 9 PM to 1 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His weekly rant, “Weird At My School,” appears infrequently on the KEXP Blog. Please follow DJ El Toro (aka Kurt B. Reighley) on Twitter and/or Tumblr!