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!


I just spent 43% of my monthly food money on day one – am I worried?

2 Feb


YES! There it is, the fruits (and veg) of my profligacy. I have $194 total for the month and I spent $83.72 in the first hour of my challenge. Do I have a spending addiction or is there a method behind my madness?

I’m hoping there’s method. I would say that 60% of what I spent were on items that will help me eke out the month, like my precious oatmeal and other staple items. I went to Trader Joe’s, because I know I can get a better price and quality on some key staple items. This is not a completely unrealistic scenario for our food stamp (aka CalFresh) recipient, because they will get a lump of money at one time on their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. This situation is also similar for many food insecure people who have money to spend on food earlier in the month, before medical, rent and transportation clean them out and they struggle to get enough healthy food to eat toward the end of the month. Will I face the same problem.

Now looking at the picture you would probably start criticizing some of my choices. Smoked salmon? On food stamps? Cue quotes about Marie Antoinette and letting them eat cake. It’s tough when you’re on food stamps because people criticize you for buying junkie food or soda, then they criticize you if you slap down a ‘high class’ product.

I’m too old and tetchy to worry about the criticism, I want the highest amount of protein and nutrients and smoked salmon can be a good deal. I have it in with eggs, with salads and on bagels. I can provide the protein for 6 meals with my $8.49 salmon. That’s a good deal.

Let’s hope I don’t have to switch to hot dogs by the end of the month!

Here’s the full breakdown of what I spent.



I’ll be back…and I am

2 Feb


Welcome to my 4th semi-annual Food Security Challenge.

That makes it sound like a golf tournament, when in fact it is a tournament of focus and endurance. To see whether a well-fed nonprofit CEO can actually live for a whole month on the money that we expect millions of extremely poor people to live on.

To be exact, in my state of California, that is $6.46 per day, about the price of that ridiculously expensive coffee-like drink that you’re swilling as you scroll down this page.

Gwyneth Paltrow made it 4 days before consciously uncoupling from the challenge. Cory Booker made it a week and now he’s a senator. So in 30 days I’ll be in elected office or thinner, wiser and a little more understanding of what millions have to tackle.

This time, the focus is on senior citizens, and in our County of Santa Barbara, we have about 30,000 seniors living on an average of $900 per month. That doesn’t buy you much in the way of housing and medication, let alone nutritious food.

Last time I did the challenge, I subsisted on both the food stamp money as well as additional food that I could get at distributions local to my house on SB’s Eastside. I quickly realized that I couldn’t make it without the additional food that the Foodbank provides people through our programs and those of our 300 plus member agencies.

So I must be crazy to think I can make it work with $6.46 and a single burner with one pot and one frying pan.

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Thanks for stopping by.


Ps – I discovered yesterday that Johnny Depp is getting by on $2,000,000 per month. How will I get on with 0.002460024600246002% percent of that for my month? Now to be fair to Johnny he has to cover his other living expenses too, shelter, Gulfstream Jet, whereas I am just covering the cost of my food. So lay off Johnny!