Food Stamp Challenge Week 3 – Taste Buds Defeat Common Sense

July 7, 2008 § 11 Comments

David Davenport, President & CEO – They say never go to the grocery store hungry. As I enter week three, I don’t seem to have a good handle on the hungry part. I’ll add to that rule, David’s Food Stamp Challenge Corollary – NEVER go to the grocery store craving meat with only $21 to spend for the week. As I shopped, the hungry little devil on my shoulder was egging me on to make a mistake. He berated me as I went through the check-out line. James, my local grocery store associate, raised his eyebrow as I said, “Something tells me, I’m making a mistake.”

I made a mistake.


My mistake wasn’t the month-long Food Stamp Challenge. I am learning something new and valuable every day. My mistake was not purchasing anything for lunches this week. I assumed my supply of Ritz crackers and peanut butter would stretch, and, at best, hoped that my chili and pasta dinner leftovers would supplement.

My bill for this week was $20.46. One of the dinners I decided I could squeeze three days out of was a big batch of chili. I love good chili. Even with a modest batch, I looked forward to enjoying this meal. Until I realized my mistake.

(Cue dramatic mistake music here.)

I didn’t buy any tomato sauce.

I contemplated the consequences of eating chili without tomato sauce. It was probably best to appease the culinary gods (and my sense of what’s right and decent in chili-making) and get some tomato sauce. And then I discovered …

(Cue dramatic mistake music here.)

…tomato sauce costs 55 cents. I had 54 cents to spend.

I was hungry and frustrated. It was 10:30 p.m., and I was facing the crisis of tomato-less chili. The conversation with the hungry little devil on my shoulder went something like this:

“I haven’t spent $21 exactly on the previous two weeks. I could certainly use an extra penny from my roll over funds.” There was about 30 minutes of additional dialogue, which I won’t bore you with; plus I don’t want you to think I’m becoming delusional.

Week three food purchases.

Week three food purchases.

I realized I was trying to justify my way out of my situation. I wasn’t going to do that. Not even for $21.01. The real weakness in this Challenge is that I could step out if I wanted. I could claim health issues, fatigue, the ol’, “I’ve learned my lesson” excuse, and the list goes on. But I’m not going to do that. I won’t quit on this process. Besides, I just spent a halfhour at the store talking to a can of tomato sauce.

“You’re going to have to do better than that,” I said defiantly. “I’m in it for the long haul.”

The tomato sauce was speechless.

I then went back to my place, returned with one can of kidney beans, and swapped the .55 cent can of beans for a .55 cent can of sauce.

I’m going to enjoy that pot of chili. I hope, it’ll last for three days.


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§ 11 Responses to Food Stamp Challenge Week 3 – Taste Buds Defeat Common Sense

  • A Friend says:

    David, I would laugh at this post but I know that hunger is no laughing matter.

    Have you considered purchasing a turkey and some bulk rice? I know that would eat up a lot of your funds for one week, but I think you might be able to make it work because of the quantity of meat you could get from one.

    Turkeys are relatively innexpensive, have no or little sodium, are high in protein, and are great for leftovers.

    Buy some rice to eat with the turkey for dinner for a few nights, carve the breast for sandwiches, then throw what’s left in a pot and make soup. You’d need an onion, a couple of carrots and maybe some celery and you’re good for several meals.

    Good luck on week 4.

  • AF –

    Thanks so much for the post and for following along. I hope you noticed that Oatmeal was included in my purchase this week.

    I almost put into my post that I actually thought that the solution to my .01 cent budget issue was to hold off on refilling one of my prescriptions until next week. As I am sure you know many on fixed incomes – especially seniors have to make that choice every week. In my case holding off on meds wasn’t and isn’t an option. That was a serious conversation I had with myself. I avoided putting in my post because I am not yet ready to discuss those feelings. I will at the end.

    I suppose I had two ways to describe my conversation with a can of tomato sauce late last night. I could add some humor to cover what I really felt or I could discuss that what I was experiencing and what I continue to feel inside when I almost made a decision to put the medications I need to live aside to purchase a can of something to make chili.

    The rational mind says – David must really love chili.

    The hungry mind (which my mind certainly is right now) says – it’s just for a week. Next week will be better (even though it won’t).

    I will be back to this later – I am trying to get my hands around it right now.

    Thanks again for the note and your support – I think your idea may help me get through next week.

  • A Friend says:

    Laugh or cry, right? I’m anxious to read your comments on the medicine versus food issue because I know that is a struggle for many.

    Hang in there, David. I’m with you in spirit.

  • Made of steel says:

    Hang in there….your experience will add a passion to your work that noone will ever be able to match.
    I should know.
    I did what you are doing for seven years, with two kids no foodstaps and no child support.
    I will never again take for granted the little things like tissue paper, body soap, napkins, toothpaste, deordant and everything else not included in the grocery list.
    If what does not kill us makes us stronger then I am made of steel !

  • Been There says:

    I love that you compomised the beans for the tomato sauce. Just shows that no matter what the compromise, other food, meds, gas, rent, something has to give.

    I found at age 15 while living in a motel room with my mom and stepdad that for about $5 I could eat for approx. 3 days on cereal and milk. Odd that at the time it didn’t seem strange to know that’s all I had to eat…I guess I was just happy I had that. Of course cereal and milk are a bit more now but still a good choice when you need something that offers multiple meals. I’m sure Jerry Seinfeld would agree.

    Best of luck on the rest of your quest.

  • Former foodbanker says:

    I’m not sure if you and your staff generated the previous comments, but I’ll chime in. This does appear to be a great idea to walk in the shoes of the hungry people you serve. I applaud your commitment. And the food vs. prescription dilemma is a real issue that warrants some thought for those who have not been there. However, I see you paid nearly $2 for a packaged chili kit. Couldn’t you have saved enough for the tomato sauce by using real onion, peppers and garlic instead? Just a thought.

  • Nancy E. Lewis says:

    David – this is an amazing post; I’ve copied to it enlarge the quotes and put them around our offices since we are in our annual food drive. Really brings home to reality of insecure food situations.

  • AF –

    Exactly, laugh or cry. Big lessons seem to come in very small packages. Mine so far was packaged in a small can of tomato sauce.

    Thank you again – I am counting on your support to see this through.

    Made of Steel –

    Diamonds are stronger than steel. Bet you’re as strong as diamonds and can light up the room.

    Thank you for the support – please stay with me and help me through this last week.

    Been There –

    Thank your for your insight and support – glad I didn’t have to make that decision but it was strange that it crossed my mind the other night. I know I only have one more week with this project but I couldn’t imagine the week in – week out struggle with no end in sight. At some point cutting back on important medications beings to make perfect sense – it nearly did for me the other night.

    Former foodbanker –

    Thanks so much for your note. I am been amazed with the interest that so many have shown in this blog and the challenge. One of our staff members (D. Conrad) was nice enough to post an encouraging note on one of the previous posts. As far as I know, that comment is the only one from a member of our staff here at the CAFB.

    As for your feedback on my purchase of Wick Fowler’s Chili packet – you are right. I would have done better to purchase the ingredients fresh and separately. I have come to understand that I made a few mistakes during my last trip to the store.

    Nancy –

    Good luck with your food drive – let me know how it goes.

    Thanks for your support and encouragement.

  • food stamp caseworker says:

    you are on to something with this, david. we see this so many times. i started with the agency dealing with the elderly and disabled. if they have little expenses, they are more than likely going to get $10 per month. i can’t imagine living on $10 per month when my husband and i spend $500 per month on our grocery bill and that doesn’t count the stuff we forgot. I hope more and more people see your blog and try your challenge with you. it truly is attitude altering. thanks, david!!

  • food stamp caseworker

    Thank you so much for your note and support. I agree completely, Congress had a real opportunity to make some sweeping changes to the Food Stamp (SNAP) program. Although they were successful with many needed updates to the program, I am concerned the benefit amounts and short-term emergency needs will be so far apart that crisis will become catastrophe.

  • […] CAFB President & CEO, David Davenport, also experienced this phenomenon in week three of his food stamp challenge, eating on a dollar-a-meal budget.  When you’re trying to lift yourself out of poverty, those […]

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