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Planning…and worrying a little…

The first person I outed myself to was my coworker, Kim. “This is going to be like a Lent to you,” she said.

“It is going to be like Lent,” I said. “Only possibly worse.”

Just days after I publicly stated my outrage at food access injustice in downtown San Francisco, my friend Amy Sherman included me on a list of food bloggers she was emailing about a the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge, a blog event dedicated to raising awareness about poverty, food access and hunger in the city and beyond. The central piece of the challenge? Keep a $3/day ($21/week) food budget. That includes all meals eaten at home or out, and all beverages. No freebies, no allowing others to buy me a meal. This is approximately what someone who gets food stamps and has no income gets to spend at the grocery store—those who actually earn some income get even less money with which to work.

As someone who spends an extraordinary percentage of her disposable income on food, coffee and alcohol, whether that’s at home or out, this was going to be really tough. I do a lot of my shopping at farmer’s markets, but I go on impulse-purchase-ridden shopping trips to Whole Foods more often than I would like to admit.

“You’re going to have to go to Grocery Outlet,” said Kim. “You’re going to have to eat a lot of ramen.”

But I wanted to do this without ramen, if at all possible. So I began doing the research and the legwork. My goal? To go to the store with a very specific shopping list. Without that, there would be no way to stay on budget and actually fed over the course of a week.


A note on the event: That graphic above? It’s not just a random badge–it also links to a donation site where you can give to the San Francisco Food Bank. And, thanks to Amy Sherman, the SFFB is giving away a review copy of a cookbook to the first 12 people who donate more than $50 as a result of the Bloggers Hunger Challenge.

To be eligible, you must follow these instructions:

  1. Click on the link above to go to the donation page.
  2. Fill out the necessary info and make a donation of $50 or more.
  3. About 2/3 of the way down the form, look for a header that says, “Food Drive/Event Information
    (not required)”
  4. Use the drop-down box to select “Bloggers Hunger Challenge,” so we’ll know you are participating.
  5. Be one of the first 12 people to donate $50 or more and you’ll receive a free cookbook (sorry – no choice of title) as a thank-you! 

The cookbooks Amy is donating as gifts include the following:

  • A16 Food + Wine
  • My Love for Naples
  • Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Cookbook
  • Grill Every Day
  • Flavorful India
  • The Spice Merchant’s Daughter
  • A Man’s Place is Behind the Bar
  • Coffee Creations
  • Summer Gatherings
  • WomenHeart’s All Heart Family Cookbook
  • Frozen Desserts from the CIA
  • The Sweet Melissa Baking Book

So what are you waiting for? Go! Donate! Read! Cook!




18 Comments on “Planning…and worrying a little…”

  1. #1 Michelle
    on Sep 19th, 2008 at 7:01 am

    Genie, I would encourage you to look at women all over the US who are playing the grocery game. For a great overview visit It is a small time investment but it does allow you to stretch your budget in amazing ways. There are some sites that want you to pay for info but there are plenty, like this one, that are free.

  2. #2 inadvertentgardener
    on Sep 19th, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Michelle, that’s a great idea — thanks for that link. At the end of this week of posts, I’m going to post a whole round-up of resources for folks interested in either trying the same thing, or just saving a few bucks.

  3. #3 Alanna
    on Sep 19th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    What a terrific project –

  4. #4 Amy
    on Sep 19th, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    My shopping trip was a wake up call. I went to a conventional supermarket and it wasn’t pretty. Staple items like potatoes were $1 a pound! I have learned something about cooking, shopping and eating everyday from this challenge.

  5. #5 Mathilde
    on Sep 20th, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Maybe you would find my software Shop’NCook Pro useful for planning your week. With it, you can easily cost your recipes to make sure they meet your budget and make your shopping lists. It is a commercial software, but it comes with a free 45-day trial and you can use it for free for the duration of this challenge.

  6. #6 inadvertentgardener
    on Sep 20th, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Alanna, it’s definitely been interesting…

    Amy, mine was a wake-up call to me, too! It’s amazing how quickly food costs add up.

    Mathilde, I appreciate the software offer — I’m actually writing about the challenge a week after I completed it, so I’m not in need of it. Sounds interesting, though!

  7. #7 Kathy
    on Sep 23rd, 2008 at 8:19 am

    I am wondering if the food stamp dollar amount varies by state, or even by county. Are any allowances made for food prices being higher in some localities than others? In other words, does everyone in the US needing the maximum amount of food stamps get the same $21, regardless of whether they live in a major metropolitan area or a rural backwater? And if they don’t, how can I find out what the dollar amount would be in my county?

  8. #8 inadvertentgardener
    on Sep 23rd, 2008 at 8:31 am

    Kathy, that’s a great question — I’m going to see if I can find the answer and post that up. I don’t think there’s any differential based on location, but I could be wrong. I do know that the $21 benefit per person is the highest possible benefit, and if you make more than a certain amount of money (I believe that marker is abysmally low), that $21 benefit is even cut further. But let me do some more salient research and put something out there so I can make sure I’m providing the most accurate information I can.

  9. #9 Hunger Challenge: Day Three – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Sep 23rd, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    [...] out to a restaurant and ordered a food pellet about the size of a jelly bean. At the very least, my Challenge dreams are keeping me entertained, even if they’re a bit torturous in the [...]

  10. #10 Hunger Challenge: Day Six – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Sep 26th, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    [...] Kim came into my office to meet with me about something that morning and shut the door. [...]

  11. #11 Kristeva Dowling
    on Sep 30th, 2008 at 11:38 am

    This is a very interesting project akin to mine but very different. I will think about what you’ve taken on and enjoy reading more of your blog. Thanks for posting!

  12. #12 End to the month…not the thinking – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Oct 1st, 2008 at 12:06 am

    [...] the month thinking about issues of hunger in this community, and then I heard about the challenge, thought long and mightily about it, accomplished it, then wrote about it for almost two [...]

  13. #13 inadvertentgardener
    on Oct 1st, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Kristeva, would love to hear more about your project — what have you been working on?

  14. #14 Telling stories with the Hunger Challenge bloggers – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Nov 6th, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    [...] the Hunger Challenge, I’m going to have to be honest…I had no idea what I was in for. I mean, I’m Catholic, and besides that, I have a pretty outsized ability to beat myself up and set arbitrary rules for [...]

  15. #15 Sharon Chen
    on Nov 12th, 2008 at 9:54 am

    So, did I miss this somewhere? What did you eat? I’ve never tried this myself but I have always imagined that if I were eating on a super tight budget I’d eat a lot of beans.

    Did you account for money spent on spices or did you make free use of whatever you already had on hand at home?

  16. #16 inadvertentgardener
    on Nov 13th, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Sharon, if you keep browsing forward chronologically from this post, it gives you the scoop on what I bought and what I ate. And yes…beans were a solid part! I did make sort-of free use of spices on hand, although I tried to be judicious about that. Mostly used salt, pepper and some oregano, and that was it. I figured the average person doesn’t have quite the array of spices that I have on hand…and it was only fair to be realistic and more average about their use…

  17. #17 2008 best of the blogoaksphere « Living in the O
    on Dec 31st, 2008 at 2:23 am

    [...] The Inadvertent Gardener – San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge Series: In September, Genie over at the Inadvertent Gardener took the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge, eating for a week on a budget of $21. She then blogged about the entire experience, from creating a shopping list to making it through the final hours of the challenge, feeling sick of rice, beans, peanut butter, and oatmeal. To follow this challenge,, start here and then just click through to each of the next posts. Her experience sheds light on food insecurity that is experienced by so many Oaklanders. [...]

  18. #18 Tips on eating more cheaply in 2009 – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Jan 19th, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    [...] reporter from the paper interviewed me, Amy Sherman and Faith Kramer about our experiences with the Hunger Challenge and our tips on eating more affordably. I encourage you to check out the article — after all, [...]

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