The Hunger Challenge: How Powerful is a Rumbling Stomach?

Day two of living on a food stamp budget of $4.46 a day prompts reflection about the myth that America is a land of abundance.

Hunger puts things into perspective. That's the reason for taking this challenge — not for its novelty, or to mock those who live on a restricted food budget. I know that at the end of this week I will be able to escape and return to my more comfortable lifestyle — the thought is in my mind constantly. I am reminded at every turn of what I cannot have; it's clear from the billboards, the restaurant windows and the passersby flaunting their afternoon treats. Even after two days, I am beginning to experience the power of a rumbling stomach. 

A rumbling stomach makes it hard to concentrate. It makes you tired. It makes you think about food all the time.

A rumbling stomach is depressing. It makes you bitter about the food-oriented culture we live in, and the over-indulgence that has become part of normality. 

A rumbling stomach makes an orange taste like it's never tasted before. You savor every bite and experience the fullness of the flavor, knowing that there are no more in the fruit basket. It makes you chop vegetables to the very stem, striving to get as much as possible and waste nothing. It makes you afraid to wander into town with your bottle of tap water on a sizzling hot day and face all those people drinking smoothies that cost the same as your entire day's budget for food.

As Lisa Sherrill from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano describes in a recent blog post, hunger isn't a game. Food is celebrated all around us — from the giant billboards depicting triple-stacked burgers and subway sandwiches the size of a forearm, to the plethora of restaurants serving portion sizes that could feed a family. The implication is that there is abundance for all, and yet millions of adults and children in California struggle with rumbling stomachs every day. 

My own has taught me that I can live on less, and that food is not to be taken for granted — a thought I will continue to savor.

Below is a dinner recipe I came up with in desperation, after destroying two artichokes by burning them into a chewy mess.

Tofu and Eggplant Kebabs (Serves Two)

1/2 a pack of firm tofu, cut into large cubes
1/2 an eggplant, cut into large pieces
Pepper, ginger, garlic and soy sauce for marinade

  • Combine the pepper, ginger, garlic and soy sauce in a bowl
  • Add the tofu and eggplant cubes and pieces
  • Cover and leave to marinade for 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Arrange the cubes on a kebab skewer
  • Place on a greased or oiled baking tray and grill, turning every 5 minutes
  • Serve

To follow along with my experience of The Hunger Challenge, read:


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Cindy June 13, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Before someone start this challenge they need to box up all the extras they have such as spices, canned food and keeping a few basics such as salt and pepper. On such limited means a person will not be able to afford those extras. One bottle of soy sauce is more then the daily food budget. I have a vision someday that each community will have a center that stocks a pantry so families on limited means can have access to such basics as spices and basic cooking supplies. This pantry will be stocked by donations and ran by volunteers. Just imagine when someone goes to Sam's club or Costco and each time picks up a few extrax...salt, surgar, soy sauce, vingar, saltine crackers and drops it off at this community pantry. Available at the community pantry would also be receipes such as the one listed above that provides a healthy meal. It is a big vision but it starts with awareness and grows with compassion.
Emily Henry (Editor) June 13, 2012 at 05:15 PM
That's a good point, Cindy. The cost of condiments adds up, even though they don't count towards the daily budget for The Hunger Challenge. But I factored in the cost of those "extras" per use... so dividing the total cost of, for example, a bottle of soy sauce, per serving. That way it works into the $4.46 a day. Condiments are also available through food banks. My church has a pantry for families to donate, and pick up, food items as well as cooking extras like herbs and spices.
Rachel June 13, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Wonderful post, Emily! Cindy, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano would be happy to take donated spices from your shopping trips! In fact we have a Community Food Project coming soon, so you could be the spice captain of your neighborhood! Smaller bottles, like from Grocery Outlet or Target, are easier to distribute to the people we serve. -Rachel from the Food Bank. rbraver@foodbankccs.org
Emily Henry (Editor) June 14, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Thanks for the information, Rachel! I'll definitely pick up some extra herbs and spices the next time I go shopping. I think it's really important to have a selection to choose from so that you can avoid using salt when cooking. Is there somewhere they can be dropped off?
Hi Emily. Donations can be dropped off at either of our warehouses (I'll list the locations below) or at any of the community food drives happening year round. http://www.foodbankccs.org/docs-pdfs/Ongoing%20FD%20List.pdf Thank you, Lisa, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano The Food Bank can accept food donations as follows: Fairfield warehouse, 2339 Courage Drive, Suite F: Monday through Friday – 7:00 am - 3:30 pm; Saturdays by appointment Concord warehouse, 4010 Nelson Avenue: Monday, Friday – 7:00 am - 3:30 pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – 7:00 am - 7:00 pm; Saturday – 7:30 am - 3:30 pm
Dena R June 14, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Emily, I really do admire you for doing this! It's hard, but I do know it's coming from your heart
Chris Kapsalis June 14, 2012 at 02:02 PM
We are lucky to have space to grow food. Also raise food. Right now I am digging up tons of potatoes we are taking some to loaves and fishes who feed people everyday in Martinez for free.You can get free food in places. Day old bread from deli's, bags of it. People also take that to L&F's. There are places to garden for free. And even in a small space you would be surprised how much food you can grow. Pick fruit sometimes if you ask. Plums are coming very soon and fall frot he trees. If you have extra food please drop it off someplace, SW usually has a big can to donate canned food etc. So much food is wasted in America, we probably throw away more food than some nations eat. As for money. Rice, bags of frozen peas and carrots, buying a turkey on sale , Tuna. Eggs. They have these 99 cent loaves of Sandwich bread at SW, regular price. I would guess a tuna, turkey or egg sandwich to make would cost about 50 cents.
Dena R June 14, 2012 at 02:15 PM
We do have a garden, I want to get some chickens, but they cost $ to feed. Tuna is a good suggestion, but my daughter is allergic to fish :(
Chris Kapsalis June 14, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Seems what is healthy at the store always costs a ton. Should be opposite imo. We shoudl tax junk food more and lower the cost of healthy food. Tri tip was on sale a few days ago mama for more than half price at sw. You can make dozens of sandwhiches out of one tri tip.
Thank you Chris for all your great suggestions! Loaves and Fishes is a great organization! Mama, feel free to call the Food Bank at 676-7543 or 800-870-3663 if you need additional food resources. -Lisa, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Sherrie June 14, 2012 at 04:15 PM
There is a eWaste Fundraiser this weekend for Loaves & Fishes @ Lafayette Christian Church in Lafayette that will help provide money for the organization. They also will be collecting documents for shredding. If you have any electronics you dont use take it there it will also help from keeping the electronics out of landfills.
Emily Henry (Editor) June 14, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Thank you, mama! I am trying to be as genuine as possible throughout this challenge, which has renewed my appreciation for all the little "luxuries" I am blessed with in my life. I hope that you and your family find support and comfort through such a difficult time.
Emily Henry (Editor) June 14, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Tuna is actually fairly expensive... I can't seem to find a can cheaper than 80 cents or a dollar (I assume you're talking about canned tuna, not fresh?) — but I'd love to know if I can get it cheaper somewhere!
Chris Kapsalis June 14, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Is there a web site with best deals and where? I looked and couldn't find one really. I don't like these new sales where you have to buy 5 or 10 of something to get a huge savings. So the people who can afford it least cannot take advatage of the savings. A frozen turkey, would be an investment, but how many sandwhiches coudl you make and for how much a sandwhich if you bought one on sale? I think bread is key, cheap, then things to go on bread, and sandwhiches. Usually my pick when money is tight. One thing about a turkey or chicken is first you can eat turkey. Then sandhwiches. Then in rice and finally use the rest to make a soup. Very economical.
Chris Kapsalis June 14, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Also I wanted to say we trade like crazy around here. Tomatoes for eggs, corn for peaches and so on. The old way. Right now was have litterally tons of loquats, and it is a chore pickign them, but so good. Contact me if anyone wants to pick free.
Emily Henry (Editor) June 14, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Chris, what is a loquat? I would love to come picking! Please email me: emily.henry@patch.com. Thanks!
Chris Kapsalis June 14, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Loquats are orange fruits that grow on trees almost like grapes do, in clusters of 5 to 10, about the size of a walnut. They are delicous. You can juice them or eat them. I will email you. We have so many. I attached a photo I just took of them.
Dena R June 15, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Chris...I would love to trade you some oranges for loquats! let me know...:)
Dena R June 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM
or peas/lemons/blackberries!
Chris Kapsalis June 15, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Youre welocme to come by mama. You can write me at Stepsupagain@aol.com set up a time if you like. I'll be working the yard today all morning. I posted a picture of a caserole I made yesterday all from the garden, minus the cheese. It's so good!!
Rachel June 15, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Fantastic Chris! I would love to homestead more than I do (mostly herbs and cherry tomatoes). The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano also happily accepts donations of fresh produce to make available to our partner agencies like Loaves & Fishes. -Rachel from the Food Bank
Rachel June 15, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Oh yes! We grew up eating loquats from my grandparent's tree! Emily, try Berkeley Bowl. Their season is short (right now!) like apricots and pears had a baby.


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