This week my husband and I will be participating in the Food Outreach Hunger Challenge. Inspired by my husband’s Aunt Judy and Stefani of the Cupcake Project, we will attempt to eat nutritious vegetarian and gluten-free meals for $29 per person for the entire week.
Why $29? That is the amount one person would receive in food stamps per week in the State of Missouri. Twenty-Nine dollars.
I’ve followed along as other bloggers share their Hunger Challenge stories. I’m broadening my shoulders and stiffening my backbone for the backlash of negative comments, from folks telling me I don’t get it, that I don’t really understand hunger. They are right. I’m blessed with an ample food budget and while I’ve experienced financially lean times, I’ve never been on food stamps or gone to bed hungry. I’m participating in the Hunger Challenge to learn, to gain understanding. I also hope to prove to myself it is possible to eat gluten-free on a very tight budget.
As I planned the week’s menu, I decided to make use of coupons and a Living Social deal to Whole Foods. I thought I would use public transportation to get across town to Whole Foods and had my first eye-opening experience. To get from where I live, on the north end of Kansas City, to Whole Foods in the south part of the city, would require me to ride my bicycle 6 miles, transfer 3 times on the bus and spend a whole lot of time waiting on said buses. The total travel time from my home to Whole Foods and back would be almost 12 hours. There will be no Whole Foods shopping this week.
Instead, I chose to shop only at places within 3 miles of home or those places that I work nearby. I shopped at Trader Joe’s and Cargo Largo when I was within 3 miles of them due to work, no special trips to shop. I also used lots of coupons and asked for a bit of guidance from fellow KC Blogger Kelly of Kansas City Mamas. I combed the grocery store ads, took advantage of Hy-Vee’s One Day Sale, planned for an entire week in a way I never have before,knowing last minute trips to the grocery store could compromise the budget.
It was stressful, I worried a lot about having enough food, being able to afford food that would nourish us and provide enough energy for our physically demanding lifestyles. I spent time being angry, a waste of energy, because I could have bought cheap boxed mac & cheese for a quarter at the one-day sale if I were able to eat gluten. If I would just budge on my no-HFCS rule, we could save $1.50 on jelly, $1 on spaghetti sauce. Just in planning the meals and shopping, I was learning so much, experiencing so many emotions related to both a limited budget and food restrictions. The overriding feeling is that I’m pissed that anyone goes hungry in America, I’m angry that buying healthy food is so expensive. I had no idea this would be so emotional.
I’ve already made mistakes in shopping. I bought one too many bags of rice, $0.62 gone from the budget. It was such a great deal, I thought I should buy two. If this were my reality, I could save it for the next week, but it could run the budget short. I made a large error related to a coupon. I had a terrific coupon for one free Amy’s item. I chose a gluten-free, dairy-free pizza that was $9.35. At the cash register, the coupon only scanned for $5. I neglected to read the fine print on the coupon and spent $4.35, a whole day’s food budget for one of us, on a frozen pizza. Instead of telling the cashier I needed to put it back, which is what I should have done, I paid for the pizza and now we have to deal with my expensive mistake.
In buying produce, I’ve struggled with knowing who offers the best price. Trader Joe’s sells by unit and there is no scale to weigh the items to know how the price compares to stores that sell by the pound. On a limited budget, I couldn’t drive back and forth across town several times to research who has the best price. I’ve stressed about buying something and then discovering it was cheaper elsewhere. I stressed about the clerk at one store not giving me my nickel in return for me bringing my own shopping bag.
Tomorrow we start eating the meals I’ve planned for the week. While technically our week on the Hunger Challenge hasn’t started, I’ve already learned a lot. What I’ve already experienced has inspired next year’s blog project at 52 Sweets (more on that at the end of the week) and showed me how lucky I am to eat the way I do. Feeling extremely blessed…
Photos of this week’s meals will be shared in this Facebook album.