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September 18, 2010
2010 Hunger Challenge: Day 6 recap

This is for Friday. I sauteed a chicken breast at lunch time using one tbsp olive oil and some spices, specifically, Lizzie's Kitchen Herbs de Provence seasoning. This cost $4.99, and according to the label it contains 45 servings of one teaspoon, for a cost of 11 cents per serving. I used one teaspoon, splitting it between the chicken and the eggs. No caloric value, but it easily provided me with at least $1 worth of culinary satisfaction.

For dinner, I met my family at a Chinese restaurant; a cousin I hadn't seen in 20 years was in town. I was pretty hungry but confined myself to a couple scoops of white rice. I forgot to look to see how much they were charging for the (communal) bowl, but I can't imagine it was more than $4 and I'd say I had maybe an 1/8th of the bowl, i.e. 50 cents worth. So I'm charging myself a buck for it.

Afterwards, we walked to North Beach where we went to a cafe. Everyone else had capuccino, cheesecake, cannolis, etc. It looked good, but I refrained, as did my girlfriend, in solidarity with me. When we got home I was starving, so I devoured six cookies, at a cost of 33 cents. Then I went to bed to dream of breakfast.

Breakfast: Oatmeal Squares cereal, soymilk, banana, apple: Cost: $1.37, Calories:550

Lunch: 2 eggs, 1/4 cup cheese, 1 tbsp olive oil, seasoning, chicken breast: Cost: $1.91, Calories: 408

Dinner: 1 cup white rice: Cost: $1.00, Calories: 203

Snack: Six cookies. Cost: 33 cents, Calories: 420

TOTAL FOR DAY: $4.61, 2147 calories.

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:37 AM
September 17, 2010
2010 Hunger Challenge -- Day 5 recap

I finally broke out the chicken I'd bought for the week yesterday, and it was great to actually eat some meat -- first time since Saturday. I also finally managed to go on a bike ride yesterday; I've been wondering about how plausible it might be to stay at the $4 limit while doing more than just sitting at my desk. For riding food, I bought a 99 cent pack of cookies from Walgreen's earlier in the week....the price ends up being 11 cents per 2 cookies, which provide 140 calories. A lot cheaper than an Odwalla Bar or Fig Newmans, but the downside is that the cookies contain a fair amount of palm oil and thus a lot of saturated fat. If I were to continue the $4 a day plan, I'd want to find a better solution.

For some perspective -- if I'm going on a hundred-mile ride, I'll typically bring at least 1000 - 1500 calories with me, and probably eat at least one bakery/cafe along the way. The calories usually come in the form of Odwalla Bars, at $1 a bar for 240 calories. So that's at least $4 to $6 for the bars, plus probably $2 - $5 more for baked goods along the way. With the cookies I bought, I can get 1260 calories for 99 cents, so it's not completely unfeasible that one could regularly engage in long-distance cycling on a Food Stamps budget. But you'd be eating a lot of those cookies.

Finding something that's cheap, healthy, and portable/small enough to provide at least 1000 calories per dollar while still being stowable in pockets or a tiny bag? That is the holy grail.

I also went to Smart and Final yesterday and bought a 5 lb. bag of brown rice for $3.69, or only ten cents more than microwave brown rice I buy at Trader Joe's. The TJ's rice is incredibly convenient, but a 2 cup serving ends up being $1.16. Meanwhile, a 2 cup serving of the bulk rice ends up being 28 cents. Takes longer to cook, but only a little more effort. Also got some macaroni and cheese (44 cents per box) and bananas (21 cents a banana), both for cheaper than what I paid for these items when I last bought them. Pretty funny what a sense of satisfaction this gave me. ("Damn! I'm saving 11 cents per banana! That's another two cookies I can eat!")

Also of note: Consumerist had a post on a woman who got approximately $150 worth of food for $45 through the vigorous deployment of coupons. The contempt in the comments section for her choices -- i.e. lots of junky, processed food -- was expected but pretty remarkable nonetheless. Interesting how much food has become a central battleground of the Culture Wars.

Now, the day 5 recap:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with 1/2 cup soymilk, cranberries, banana, agave syrup. Cost: $1.41 Calories: 560
Snack: Apple and Peanut butter sandwich. Cost: 60 cents, Calories: 451
Lunch: Mac and cheese with 1 tbsp butter. Cost 53 cents, Calories: 620
Snack: Four cookies. Cost: 22 cents, Calories: 280
Dinner: Chicken breast with rice and General Tzao's sauce: Cost: $1.61, Calories: 884

Total cost: $4.37, Calories: 2895.

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:12 AM
September 15, 2010
2010 Hunger Challenge: Days 4 and 3

Unfortunately, I've been too busy to write much about what it's been like for the last couple days. But obviously I was pretty hungry yesterday.


Breakfast: Oatmeal squares cereal, soymilk, and banana. Cost: $1.15, Calories: 554
Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich. Cost: 38 cents, Calories: 370
Dinner: Spaghetti, sauce, parmesan. Cost: $1.06, Calories: 960

TOTAL FOR DAY: $2.59, Calories: 1914


Breakfast: Oatmeal w/banana, soymilk, and cranberries. Cost: $1.23, Calories: 504
Lunch: 3 eggs, 1/4 cheese, 2 slices bread, 1 tbsp butter. Cost: $1.93, Calories:615
Snack: Peanut butter sandwich. Cost: 38 cents, Calories:370
Dinner: Macaroni and cheese. Cost: 66 cents, Calories: 620
Snack: Oatmeal Squares cereal and soymilk: 82 cents, Calories: 475

TOTAL: $5.02, Calories: 2678

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:11 PM
September 13, 2010
2010 Hunger Challenge: Day 2

Once again, I managed to eat a lot of food for not much money, but I still felt hungry much of the day. I'm getting plenty of calories, and my diet isn't all that different than what it usually is -- a little less protein perhaps. And no Coke Zeros, which I am missing quite a bit.

When I started the challenge, my thought was that I'd be so hungry I'd want to devote every cent of every dollar to food, the more filling the better -- but today I've been contemplating getting a twelve-pack of Coke Zero, which I'm guessing would cost $3 - $4. In other words, a day's worth of food for twelve twelve-ounce pick-me-ups. Since I've been able to feed myself for around $3.50 a day so far, I could potentially work in the sodas without much sacrifice....but it's only day 2 and I'm also looking forward to the idea of having $5 a day to spend on food for a couple days at the end of the week, in case I really start getting hungry. So I think I'm going to hold off on the Coke Zero if I can and see how it goes. I'm hoping that as the days pass, both my hunger and my cravings for caffeine and delicious zero-calorie chemicals will diminish.

Today's box score:

Breakfast: Oat Squares cereal, banana, soymilk. Cost: $1.14
Lunch: Peanut butter sandwich, with only 2 tbsps peanut butter this time: 38 cents.
2nd lunch: Macaroni and cheese (box mix plus 1 tablespoon butter): 66 cents.
Snack: Apple. Cost: 22 cents.
Dinner: Spaghetti, sauce, parmesan: $1.06

TOTAL: $3.46, 2650 calories.

Posted by Greg Beato at 07:32 PM
September 12, 2010
2010 Hunger Challenge: Day 1

To prepare for the Hunger Challenge, I ended up buying food from five places: Safeway, Walgreen's, Trader Joe's, Noriega Produce, and Target. I drove to all of them, an advantage a person on food stamps might not have.

The goal for the Hunger Challenge is to spend no more than $4 per day, or $28 per week, on food. But since food stamps are issued once a month, meaning I'd have access to more than $28 at once, I decided I'd spend more than $28 to provision myself. This way, I'd be able to buy in bulk in some situations to get better deals, and also increase the variety of foods I could buy, which I think will make the process more enjoyable.

I ended up spending $72.03. Then, I broke down each item I purchased into a cost per serving and put that info into a GoogleDoc. For example, I bought a loaf of bread for $1.99. There are 16 slices of bread in the loaf, so each slice costs 12.5 cents. I included the calories per serving for each item in the table too, so it's pretty easy to keep track of how much I've spent and how many calories I've consumed as the day progresses.

Here's how it worked out today....

Breakfast: Bob's Red Mill products have long been a morning staple for me. Here's the oatmeal "recipe" that will serve as my breakfast most of the days this week.

1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill rolled oats (20 cents)
1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill Scottish oats (28 cents)
1/4 cup vanilla soymilk (9 cents)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (25 cents)
1 banana (32 cents)
1 tbsp butter (9 cents)
1 tbsp agave syrup (18 cents)

TOTAL: $1.41 Calories: 718

Lunch: Two peanut butter sandwiches and an apple. For each sandwich, I used two slices of bread (at 12.5 cents a slice) and three tablespoons of peanut butter (at 7.5 cents per tablespoon.) The apples cost $1.99 for a bag of nine at Target, or 22 cents an apple.

TOTAL: $1.02 Calories: 1010

Dinner: 8 oz. spaghetti (50 cents), 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce (33 cents), and 2 tbsp. parmesan (23 cents).

TOTAL: $1.05 Calories: 960

TOTAL FOR DAY: $3.48 Calories: 2688

Posted by Greg Beato at 07:29 PM