Bloggers Take Food Stamp Challenge To Raise Awareness of Grocery Costs

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This week, for the fourth year in a row, bloggers around the country are taking part in the Hunger Challenge. They are eating on a food stamp budget—just $4.72 per person per day—to get a better sense of what life is like for the many people in the U.S. who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to put food on their table.

There are now more than 44.6 million people on food stamps in the U.S., according to the San Francisco Food Bank. That's up 10 percent from last year and up 60 percent from before April 2008, when the current economic recession really got underway.

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Hunger Challenge participants got underway with the project over the weekend—the challenge runs from September 11 to 17. The Wearer of Cardigans from My Life in Cardigans chose the cheapest grocery store near her, and had to make some less-than-ideal choices:

For my Hunger Challenge, I headed to the decidedly not luxurious Grocery Outlet around the corner. Wise move! You can buy a LOT there with not so much dough. But I have to say—it was hard. Spending just $35 for the week on my pretty much only greens and proteins diet was limiting and, well, boring. And, I bought things that I would never ever in a million years buy normally. Like frozen chicken breasts and canned vegetables. I reached for my typical and delicious fake meat products but their price was precious indeed compared to regular ol' chicken.

"The cheaper food is not necessarily the healthier food," Juliette Goodrich of CBS 5 San Francisco reported after shopping for the Hunger Challenge with Amy Sherman of Cooking With Amy.

To be successful at shopping cheaply, participants found, required a lot of planning. Stacy of Hello Cupcake spent three hours on a Friday night planning and shopping for the week. Anneliesz of La Vie En Route and her partner began strategizing early, and were determined to eat healthily and stay gluten-free all week.

We began plotting the menu out a full week in advance. Then we tweaked the menu and then we tweaked it again. Note to self—write your menus in pencil or dry erase marker…

Emily of Spoonful of Something is taking the challenge a step forward: she is taking the challenge for a full month, and using the Indiana food stamp budget of $4.46 per day as her allotment:

When I first learned of this concept, I was intrigued. Frankly, a food budget of four dollars a day didn't sound all that hard. It wasn't until I really gave it some thought that I realized what a challenge this could be. I quickly figured out two things. First, eating cheap for a week has its difficulties, but a month would truly force one to figure out how to make a food stamp budget work. Second, I realized that while four dollars a day didn't seem too low a sum, for me it would be a 24% reduction in my grocery budget every month.

The author of PlentyOfWordsForYou wrote about how cranky she was likely to be while on the challenge. She pointed out that crankiness (as a result of lack of nutrition) could even cause someone to lose their hard-won job. Though she's only at the beginning of the challenge, she is already convinced by the need to support local food banks:

Hunger is all around us, people. Your local food banks need love YEAR-ROUND, because there are grumpy, lunch-less people year-round. Donate food, if you want. It’s been my experience that most food banks have negotiated with major distributors, so your dollar will go much further with them than it will on your own. So, if you don’t have an opinion on the matter, give money, if you can.

Listeners in the Bay Area of California can participate in a Hunger-A-Thon on Friday on KGO Radio 810 AM.

Have you had to eat on a limited budget in the past? Are you currently restricted to a tight food budget? What are some ways you've tried to keep costs low while maintaining good nutrition for you and/or your family?

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also the Food Section Editor for BlogHer.

Image Credit: luvsickmedia on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.

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