One Night Free from Food Jail

16 Feb

When I agreed to undertake my third food challenge, it was with the understanding that I was only going to utilize the equivalent of food I could buy with my food stamp allowance (as opposed to what I could get at additional Foodbank distributions). This meant I would probably be living on half the food I did last time.

However, I did negotiate the luxury of a single ‘night off’ from my challenge – Valentine’s Day evening. The last two times I undertook the challenge (both during February), I could not enjoy a Valentine’s Day dinner with my wife, Mari.

This year I decided to ensure that I at least keep in the running for the Marriage Security Challenge, by going out on a nice romantic dinner with my beloved.


The Happy Couple. Watch out, Erik is reaching for your dinner, so he can eat it tomorrow!

We went to the Scarlet Begonia on State Street – so all you people who are convinced that you caught me cheating, I hereby wave my Get Out of Food Jail card.

After two weeks of virtue, I decided to go for the most sinful option on the menu – the rack of lamb. Forgive me little lamb, the food stamps made me do it.

It did bring home to me how lucky I was to have to the option of a delicious meal that ended up costing almost exactly what my whole month’s allowance of food stamps were. I feel guilty just typing that.

Now after my wild night, I am back on the (chuck) wagon and have about $ 37 left to make it through two weeks. I will have to focus some dream time on remember that meal – as well as my lovely companion, of course!

As I have suggested previously, it is the monotony of eating multiple meals of the same thing which can get to you over a period of time. And because this challenge is focusing on seniors, it is a reminder that loss of appetite and desire to eat can be a key indicator of poor health in an aging population.


Chili – Meal #1 = Yummy, Meal #2 = Even Better, Meal #3 = Hello Old Friend, Meal#4 = I think we should see other meals…

Remember, the average recipient of our Brown Bag program is a 70 year old woman living on a fixed income of $900 per month to cover accommodation, medical, food and transport.

That increases my gratitude and my desire to ensure that all the seniors who need help in our community get enough good food to keep them healthy.

I know we can do it.


Kids Helping Seniors

13 Feb


On Day 11 of my Food Security Challenge, I got the opportunity to spend Saturday with my five year old daughter Mia and sixty other parents and kids at the Foodbank’s monthly Family Day.

This is an opportunity for families to find out more about the Foodbank, do some volunteer labor and to encourage the philanthropic bent amongst their offspring.


Team Mansbach (From Right): Jacob, Mike, Joseph and mystery friend rocking the candy cotton. (Jen not pictured)

For the Family Day at our south county warehouse off Hollister Ave, we are lucky enough to have the Mansbach family to coordinate the proceedings. The family’s connection to the Foodbank began when 12 year old Jacob ran the SB Triathlon in support of the Foodbank and his family’s involvement grew from there. Jen and Mike Mansbach, Jacob and brother Joseph are there once a month to inspire and direct a small army of youthful food bankers, as well as, last weekend, a grizzly CEO and his ‘miracle’ offspring.


The Foodbank increasingly operates as a conduit to help the community itself solve community problems, and Family Day is a great way of seeing this in action. Who better to help seniors – by packing bags of groceries for the Foodbank’s Brown Bag program than children? We like to say that children are the seniors of tomorrow, so the more they help seniors now, then good karma says they will be helped in return by Foodbank 2067 or whenever it is.

Mia’s only 5 but good junior food banker that she is, she got to work filling bags with a mixture of pasta, rice, beans, protein item, soups etc, along with a truly impressive group of adults and kids who built an amazing production line, filling hundreds of bags in just a couple of hours.


Meanwhile outside, some furious carrot and orange sorting was taking place. The Foodbank purchases a lot of ‘seconds,’ these are the less attractive pieces of fruit or vegetable, which are deemed not suitable to appear on the produce shelves of California supermarkets. While this might be sad for a Strawberry who had hopes of being ‘Strawberry of the Year,’ it is great for food banks, because it allows us to purchase produce for pennies on the dollar, and working together to ship it to food banks all over the State. We weeded out the carrots who were not fit – with the simple criteria that the Foodbank uses for all our food decisions: Would you eat it? If not, don’t expect anyone else to eat it.


I don’t want to be a strawberry, I want to be a butterfly!


There was a great spirit amongst kids and parents, grateful to get away from the entertainment screens or the structured activities that take up so much time. You could sense the realization that doing something to help others felt a lot better than doing something to help yourself.

Family Day always leaves me refreshed and inspired – even when I’m living on food stamps.

Meanwhile on the home front, I made another big purchase of meat, fish and staple items, which I am hoping will allow me to get through the next 17 days with only the purchase of fresh produce and a few other items. It is a big gamble, but it feels like the less I shop, the less opportunity there is to steadily fritter away my money on non-essentials. (And yes I did buy a jar of capers, which might count as non-essential, but we all have our foibles)


Let them eat Capers

So, where does that leave me, and more importantly, my piggy bank? In the previous episode I was down to $100.67, and with my new splurge, this leaves me with a measly $63.40 to eke out my remaining 16 days. That’s an unspectacular $3.96 per day, nearly half of what the daily food stamp allowance should be.

Maybe I better get a copy of ’16 Dishes with Capers’ out of the public library…

One Week Down…

9 Feb

Welcome back to the Food Security Challenge, where I continue work on what has to be a very short book, entitled Doing Santa Barbara on $6.46 A Day.


Oops, the  period is in the wrong place, that should be $6.46 which will buy you a paper boat dropped into the run off to the ocean…

I am into a routine now, where my meals are very controlled. Here is my daily menu:

BREAKFAST: Oats with nuts and fresh fruit. This sets me up with the slow-release of energy of the oats, the protein and disease-fighting capabilities of the nuts and blueberries. I eat this after exercising, so it helps me recover from this too.

LUNCH: A salad with a protein. Sometimes a chop salad, sometimes more a lettuce-based traditional salad. The variety comes with what protein I pair it with – canned tuna, chicken, some of my infamous ‘how dare he eat it on food stamps’ smoked salmon or rice and beans (combining to make a complete protein). The dressing also stops it from being monotonous. I can include some soy sauce on one day, or fresh lemon or mustard. This all helps my olive oil and vinegar take on different faces.

DINNER: This is the main meal of the day, with fish or chicken, chili or curry or Chinese. Sometimes with rice and beans or with a tortilla or salad and another hot vegetable like broccoli. I might cook 3-4 times a week and the rest of the meals are leftovers.

SNACKS: I might have half an apple or a few Kitten Cookies if I am totally out of control.

This can be monotonous, however it also allows me to not have food as the focus of everything. I can’t always reward or punish myself with food if things are going well or bad. In theory it should be good for me to lessen the use food as an emotional crutch. Maybe this is the cheapest therapy session ever. (This challenge makes me want to perform ridiculous calculations, so I reckon I could get 3 minutes and 50 seconds with a reasonably priced therapist for my $6.46. I think i’ll take the food.


While we’re on the bean counting, I went shopping for only the second time in my challenge. I spent a very modest, very controlled $ 11.61, which with the $ 83.76 I spent in my initial splurge, leaves me $100.67 for the remaining 20 days of my challenge.


This means I am down to $ 5.03 a day instead of the $6.46 that the food stamp program allows – but with some major items that will last multiple weeks already purchased. I think I’m in good shape, but I know that as I get closer to the end of the month, that money will suddenly gurgle down the drain (or my gut) with increased speed!

My focus in this challenge is at looking at the challenges faced by senior citizens in our county and I had a great opportunity this morning to visit one of our 15 countywide Brown Bag program sites. Brown Bag provides staple grocery items and fresh produce to seniors twice monthly. Those who cannot pick it up receive deliveries.

I visited the site at Goleta Valley Community Center and chatted with lead volunteer Robert as well as a number of other volunteers who range from married couples having a date activity to UCSB students.


The quality of the food and the attentiveness of the volunteers created warm feelings all round.

An(other) Inconvenient Truth

4 Feb

Stockpiling my resources!

The Foodbank began its big push to increase Food Literacy (having skills of budgeting/meal planning/ preparation/storage) as a way of combatting the ‘food illiteracy’ that was running rampant in our society. Grandparents knew how to cook, but the skill was lost by many parents whether because they were too busy or just didn’t know how. That’s why our Feed The Future kids programs are designed to intervene and create a new generation of SB County children who will become adults who can be healthy with food whether they have a lot of money for food that week or not much at all. They should be able to whip up something tasty and healthy from modest ingredients and be able to make enough to create extra meals from the same cooking session.

I tell you all this now, because while I do my Food Security Challenge, I am up against the tougher part of food literacy – it takes time and effort to make it happen. Even if we are picky eaters or foodies, we still rely on a lot of convenient or pre-cooked meals. We expect to save time by eating out a lot as well.

On food stamps none of that is possible. There is absolutely no money for convenience foods and scratch cooking is the order of the day. After a busy day working a job or looking for a job, you don’t feel much like hitting the saucepans and chopping ingredients.

The inconvenient truth is that it requires a different approach – turning cooking into as much of a communal opportunity to connect as eating the finished dinner could be (if everyone was there at the same time). If no one is around to rope into chopping and conversation, you can also use the preparation of a meal as a kind of meditation, letting the physical work free yourself to clear your mind and enjoy being in the moment.

I’m feeling well prepared at the moment as I have prepared two large dishes in short order. Firstly a chicken noodle soup that should be good for five dinners spread across my month. The second is a turkey chili, which is also good for about five dinners. The pain now is allowing me to build up a stock of chilled or frozen left overs that I can have once a week so I don’t get stuck reverting to student days and eating the same thing meal after meal.


Leftovers are the new appetizers

Next week I’m looking forward to visiting some food bank programs like Brown Bag (senior groceries) meeting some senior citizens and getting some good tips on how to stretch my food stamp dollars.


I think my challenge is blessed, because I saw Santa Claus out on the streets of SB today!