Hunger Challenge – Final Thoughts

We successfully completed the hunger challenge. We were never hungry as we predicted, but we did not expect the monotony we experienced with what we did have to eat, admittedly a small price to pay if you have few food dollars.

We mostly heard astonishment from people when we shared we were doing the challenge. “You can’t eat for $4 a day,” and not surprising it was new news that $29 is all that is allotted per person weekly for food while on SNAP (food stamps). Someone suggested eating from the McDonald’s dollar menu, which is not possible since SNAP cannot be used for prepared foods. People asked if we were eating a lot of pasta and rice, which may be a fill-up-you-belly option, but one that lacks vegetables, is higher calorie, and is hard if you are living with a disease like diabetes, prevalent with many Food Outreach clients.

The most arrogant, rude, and ignorant comment we heard was from someone who said that if people would just get a job they wouldn’t need food stamps. WRONG. An August 2011 USDA report stated 60% of those who receive SNAP DO have income, granted they have to earn below 130% of the Federal poverty line. For a family of four that’s a monthly gross income of $2,748. Trying to actually LIVE on that would make the hunger challenge child's play.

We’ve posted some lessons learned in prior posts, but to recap:

  • You shop somewhere inexpensive, close to your home, and infrequently. Most SNAP recipients shop monthly and then run the risk of not having enough food at month’s end. Hopefully they have access to other resources such as Food Outreach or a pantry that gets food from Operation Food Search.

  • Coupons are helpful in keeping food costs down, but a SNAP recipient may not have access to newspapers or the Internet/printer.

  • You eat inexpensive foods and have VERY limited choices. Fresh fruits and vegetables are infrequent. Ditto for low fat meats and fish (other than canned, fish is not likely in your food budget at all). And forget about a pantry of spices, which is an easy way to jazz up bland foods without a lot of added sodium (key for someone with hypertension, another secondary condition of some diseases such as HIV/AIDS).

  • Healthy eating is very doable, but it requires a lot of planning, time (e.g., dried beans are much cheaper than canned, lower sodium too, but must be soaked and take a while to cook), and discipline (you make your meal plan for the week and you stick to it).

  • Your social life does not revolve around food like ours does. Likely you eat to survive. Period. But it’s not joyful or celebratory. Certainly no nice dinners out – because you don’t feel like cooking (you don’t eat then!) – or even to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or graduation.

  • The simplest things, like a pot of freshly brewed coffee (or a second pot if you want more) or a mid-afternoon snack like an apple to combat a bit of hunger fatigue, ARE luxuries.
These few days have been a miniscule view of what it’s like to eat the way those reliant on SNAP do. An eye-opening experience for sure. We’re blessed that we have the choice to go back to our normal routine. The night after we ended our challenge, we had grilled grass-fed tenderloin filets, and organic red potatoes and corn on the cob (from our CSA box) with basil butter. Did we think twice about how lavish our meal was? YES. I really struggled in writing this post. We are so fortunate, and it was hard for me to really capture how this experience has impacted us. We already know we are doing the challenge for a full week next September.
We did end up finding a new black bean chili we really enjoyed and will add it our ever-expanding chili recipe collection.

Hunger Chili Challenge Recipe
Serves 12

1 pound of dried black beans, soaked overnight, water drained and then cooked with fresh water (or approximately six cups of cooked beans)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds ground beef, leanest your budget will allow
1 1/2 cup chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 jalapenos, seeded for milder kick if desired, and minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 can (28-32 ounces) of diced, peeled tomatoes with juices
2 plus cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the black beans. Set aside.

In a large pot, add the oil and heat over medium high heat. Sauté the beef, using a spoon or spatula to break up any clumps. Cook until browned but not cooked through. Work in batches if all the meat doesn't fit or if it doesn't seem to be browning. If the pan is too crowded the meat will steam rather than brown.
Remove to a plate or bowl and set aside. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of drippings out of pan.
Increase heat to medium high, and when a bit of the onion sizzles immediately on contact with the oil, add the chopped onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion are beginning to turn golden brown. Add the garlic and the jalapenos, cook, stirring often, until the garlic is beginning to turn golden. Add the carrots, celery, and green peppers and cook for a minute or two, stirring often. Add the chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute. Add the diced tomatoes with juices and 2 cups of water. Mix well. Cover and let come to simmer (not quite boiling). Add the cooked meat with any liquids it may have collected and stir well. Cover and return to simmer.

Let simmer for 20-30 minutes until meat is cooked through and flavors well combined. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste and additional chili powder if desired. Add additional water if needed. With cover off, return to simmer and let cook a few more minutes.

Serve with grated cheddar cheese.


  1. I felt the same way as you as I ate my expensive dinner tonight - very privileged. I will say though that I found that even on the limited budget, meals could still be joyful. The pleasure just came from different things. The ice cream that I made from a frozen banana made me so happy. Simple food can be pleasurable. It's just requires so much more work to plan and price shop and of course, I understand that it's not always an option.

  2. I think that when my week closes, I will agree with much of what you posted here (I already do!). Our meals will be healthy, all natural, and for the most part, filling. That said, they won't be fun and I won't necessarily look forward to eating them.

    Great post! Glad you made it through.



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