The Hunger Challenge: Day One

I have been reading food blogs for several years. The blogs with really pretty pictures, the blogs with true and tested recipes, the blogs that care about the origins of food, environment, and sustainability, and the blogs that deal with food policies, trying to make a statement. My blogroll is as immense as my interests. I learned a lot from the veterans and I still keep on learning. This is my first year of active participation in the blog-world and I am perfecting my style of writing, my voice, and my agenda.

I have always been frugal, especially with food, and feeding my family on a strict budget, without sacrificing quality or taste has been my credo for years. Both of my parents lived through a period of scarcity in childhood, and they instilled in us a very specific view of food. To this day I cannot stand to see a morsel wasted. I recycle the leftovers, buy in bulk, and freeze. I roam the stores looking for a sale, shop at ethnic markets knowing I can get a deal on various items, and bask in glory when I manage to replicate a nice restaurant meal at home.

I remember reading in 2007 on Kate’s extremely educational and thought-provoking blog Accidental Hedonist the official USDA report on US food spending on four different levels. The amount listed for “low” astounded me, because I fed my family of five, with frequent long-staying visitors for about that amount. This included the toiletries, cleaning supplies, and alcohol. And we were not hurting for money.

In September of 2008, the San Francisco Food Bank initiated The Hunger Challenge for the first time. I heard about it on one of my favorite blogs, Cooking with Amy. The participants had a budget of $3.00 a day per family member (the approximate value of food stamps in California) and a week to try to envision the life of the poor. At the time I chuckled because the idea hit too close to home, after we got completely destroyed by the mortgage industry crash. We fought every day just to survive until another sunrise, too proud to apply for any assistance.

But this year I have decided to participate. We are not living the life of plenty, but the Beasties need constant reminding that nothing should be taken for granted, especially not food. They have given up toys, games, and clothes to take to an orphanage. A tenth of their weekly allowance goes into a can for charity. And this holiday season I plan on taking them to a soup kitchen, just to face the reality and imagine the life of the indigent.

The food stamps amount has risen in the last year to allow the “luxury” of $4.00 per family member a day. For the purposes of this exercise, that includes all the food and drinks during the day. I have a college-ruled notebook and a calculator nearby. I collect all the receipts from the stores and apply my superb mathematical skills in adding, multiplying, and dividing. I had a stocked pantry, pretty full box freezer, and all necessities safely stored in the fridge. We did not have to start from zero this time, like we did back in 2008. And even though it has been only two years since then, this little adventure is definitely going to teach us not to get lax, not to get self-indulgent, and not to forget how it feels to be hungry.


Roasted red peppers sautéed with cream cheese

Whole wheat ciabatta rolls


$1.33 per person

  • milk – .15c (cup)
  • peppers – .37c each (we had two each)
  • cream cheese – $1.99 for 8oz, .50c for 2oz, divided by four (.12c)
  • lard – rendered by my friend at .39c a pound for pork fat
  • ciabatta rolls – $2.49 for four (we had two, a half each, .32c pre half)



  • 2 Tbsp lard or sunflower oil
  • 8 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and destemmed
  • 2-3oz cream cheese
  • salt and pepper


Heat the pan on medium-low heat. Melt the lard or add the oil. Season the peppers on one side and put them in the skillet seasoned side down. Season the other side and let the peppers warm up. Scoop up several little piles of cream cheese and put into the skillet. Turn the peppers and lay them on top of the cream cheese. Allow the cheese to melt a bit. Take off the heat and serve with a lot of freshly baked bread to soak up all the juices.


Grilled cheese sandwiches

Fresh peaches



.59c per person (I did not eat lunch, too stuffed from breakfast)

  • Sarah Lee Buttermilk Bread, 2 for $4.00 (1 slice=.10c)
  • Havarti cheese (Costco, $6.00 a pound, .18c a slice)
  • Butter, $2.00 per pound
  • Peaches, .49c per pound at our local Persian store (1/2 large peach=.5c)
  • Fritos, $2.00 a bag (kids got about .10c worth each)
  • Milk, .15c per cup


Cream of celery soup

Hunter pork schnitzels with gravy

Mashed potatoes

Roasted Beets Salad

$1.89 per person

  • Soup, .70c
  • Pork loin, $1.99, Costco ($2.70, it was a bit more then a pound)
  • Flour, garlic, white wine, homemade stock, vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley, .50c
  • Potatoes, .89c per 10 pound bag at our local Persian store (2lbs=.18c)
  • Beets, roasted, dressed with vinaigrette and garlic, .69c
  • Soda for the kids, .20c each
  • Wine for the adults, $2.49 a bottle (1 glass each=.62c)



  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 5 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart chicken (or vegetable) stock, or water
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper


Heat the oil on medium heat and sautee the onions until translucent, 6-7 minutes. Add the celery and the potato, and cover with stock or water. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up to high until it boils, and then turn back to medium to medium-low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Puree with the immersion blender and pass through a mash to get rid of the celery strings. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Keep on low heat until ready to serve. Serves 4.

Cream of Celery Soup

TOTAL: $3.81 per person

With .50c for the morning coffee for the adults, and .60c for the bed-time ice cream for the beasties, I had to add another .27c per person.

GRAND TOTAL FOR THE DAY: $4.08 per person.

7 Responses to The Hunger Challenge: Day One

  1. Sasa says:

    Well done! I’m frugal too, because I always hear my obaachan telling me every grain of rice is a bead of sweat on a farmer’s brow and I admire your effort to accomplish this challenge with a family as well.

  2. SF Food Bank says:

    We really appreciate all your support and your willingness to take the Hunger Challenge! We look forward to your blog posts. Best of luck this year. Thank you!

  3. Lana says:

    @Sasa, your obaachan was so right. Nothing hurts me more than wasting food. And I am hoping that my kids will grow up with the same sentiments.

    @SF Food Bank, thanks! The best education is to lead with an example.

  4. I’m new the the “blog” world as well Lana, very interesting place out here. I think you have definitely found your voice, and I delight in listening to it. Raising a family to thankful is one of my biggest goals in life. It’s very difficult living in OC, their friends have EVERYTHING.. This is a great reminder… Sounds like even on a budget your family is eating like royalty- good job.
    ~Chef Louise

    • Lana says:

      Louise, I feel like Alice in Wonderland sometimes! Thanks for your words of encouragement! Yes, Orange County is something else… But I think my kids really are impermeable to all the obvious differences in the money matters, mostly due to their innocence:)

  5. Lana, I was checking out your link to Hearth n soul, and was so interested in what the hunger challenge was, that I came here to see. This is an amazing learning tool and reminds me of some of the things we used to do with my family during lent to remind us of what being hungry was like. I would love to share what you are doing on my thoughts on friday link love post, so please stop by and say hi. Hopefully more people will take up the challenge and really understand what it is like to be in need. We too struggled with unemployment for over 2-1/2 years and making due or going without were the norm of the proud. We also did not ask for anything. Glad things are better for your family and ours. Hugs! Alex@amoderatelife

  6. Christy says:

    Hi, I too was curious about your Hunger Challenge and came back to the first post to see what it was all about – what a great idea. We waste so much food it is sinful. I have a question about the red pepper breakfast – do you use sour cream or cream cheese? Or does it matter which?

Leave a reply