My experience was part of a story on the KMSP News and was included in Minnesota Public Radio's Mid Morning-Show yesterday (around 25-28 mins into the program). MnPublius.com also posted about a few of us taking the challenge.
Some repeated but needed basic resources about the Food Stamp service:
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a lot of State-by-State Information.
The U.S. Food Policy Blog has a good post about Orgeon Governor Ted Kulongoski's experience on the challenge, too.
Now, to Days 4 and 5:
At this point, it seems hard to remember even a few hours before, let alone a day or two ago. I can very much understand why undernourishment leads to underperformance in school and on the job.
I started yesterday and today with the same big breakfast as Wednesday: 2 tortillas, 3 scrambled eggs (no milk, of course), and some beans or rice. I think I could settle into this breakfast 3 or 4 days a week easily, although some salsa, meat, or other addition would get tempting (or a tasty treat!) after a while.
Thursday, I had to leave my morning commitment early enough not only to drive back to a 12:30 meeting, but also to stop at home and cook up a double-pack of Ramen noodles. It took about 13 or 14 more minutes, although I am sure I could have microwaved it at the meeting location, too. I slopped the noodles and canned corn into a portable container and brought it to the meeting, where of course, sitting on the table, were 3 full plates with a heaping pile of cheese, crackers and fruit.
Because of the quick sugar in the noodles, and the sodium, I was fine for about 1.5 hours, but near the end of the meeting, I started thinking longingly about those grapes. I also realized that I hadn't had any real dairy all week. Those cheese curds would sure have been good, but I tried to stick to my guns.
After the meeting, it was clear that the leftovers would have been left for anyone to take, I did grab two cheese sticks, 6 small chocolate chip cookies, and 2 tiny bunches of grapes. My head said - "Save the cheese for breakfast, on those eggs. Leave a few cookies for after dinner."
I was shocked at my hunger once I unleashed myself on those cookies. I thought about saving a few only after the last one was in my mouth. It literally took 2 minutes. The string cheese was gone, too. And the grapes - a bit dried up, a bit sour - as they say in New Joisey - fahgettaboutit. All gone.
Dinner was that tuna, pasta and peas/corn I dreamed about earlier. My fiancee had a fudgesicle after her dinner, and I saw a small little bit on the stick before she threw it away. I grabbed it and licked off the last few globs. Yummmm. But those cookies from earlier would've been great, too.
I vascillate between desparation and a confidence that I could do this. After my 1/4-lb burger for dinner, with peas and some rice, my "carry-overs" would be:almost a full pound of rice
almost a full pound of black beans
1/2 jar of pasta sauce
2 or 3 ozs of spaghetti
1 smack ramen packet (unless that's a late night snack)
With almost 3 dollars worth of food assets for the next days ahead, I'd likely be sure to splurge on a gallon of milk. I'd get some cheap chicken, rather than ground beef. I'd also try some bread instead of tortillas, or even take the leap and see if I could get flour, yeast, and some honey to make 2 or 3 loaves of bread over the weekend. Rice and beans would stay a staple, as would my eggs, but I might make my own pasta (quick and easy, really) and I might grab that 1.29 head of lettuce I longed for all week.
In terms of strategy, I'd also hard-boil some eggs and take one or two along for a daytime snack. I'd also see if I could find some reliable sources of free food - like grocery-store samples, and maybe even some dumpster-diving.
One of the things that I've learned is how important relationships are, and how close one lives to real trouble. That condiment bar from which I snuck the mayo and mustard for my tuna pasta - what if the owner or manager said, "I can't let you steal all the time. You need to pay for that."
Or if the coffee shop I normally frequent wouldn't let me grab a glass of tapwater so I could read the paper for free, and sit in a comfortable spot with friends - what if the owners said, "Sorry, Bub - pay up"?
And early in the week, as I had a very busy schedule and had to crash in the Cities (45 miles from home) due to one late meeting and an early meeting the next morning, I had to bring several meals with me, and store them in a shared refrigerator. What if all those meals got stolen? What if just one meal got stolen? I did think about that, and stashed them in a less-visible spot. I also pledged that I would let myself just go hungry. Tough luck, I guess.
I have dinner tonight, then it's back to the luxury of a $10 daily food budget (on average). I love eating, and I love cookie, and it sure will be nice to go out for brunch and grab a meal out. But I am really chewing on some ideas about the lessons I am learning, and opportunities for policy changes that might improve opportunities for Food Stamp Recipients.
Over the next month, I'll be connecting with our local food shelf. I'll be sitting down with our county human services folks and connect with some neighbors who rely on food stamps to make ends meet. I'll sit down with a local school superintendent to talk about the free and reduced lunch programs, and their successes and challenges.
In all honesty, I am so hungry right now that I want to take time to carefully consider some of the lessons I've learned and the next steps.
Most of all, I am learning that going hungry - whether it means no food, little food, or just poorly-nourishing food - can severely limit one's quality of life, and daily quality of work.
The main question I have is: How can we best dramatically reduce hunger in Minnesota, and in America? Your thoughts?