Sep 25, 2009

hunger challenge: day 3 & 4

On Wednesday I was able to complete the Hunger Challenge, eating on just $4 dollars for the entire day. With a very satisfying dinner of chicken and lentils (see recipe below) I had quelled my hunger, and was happy to come up with another recipe that fit the budget and tasted good. I resolved to finish the project through its completion on Thursday.

However, after an early morning workout on Thursday, I was completely wiped out. Driving my exhausted self home from the track I found myself torn with how to make my food dollars stretch out for the day, and really needing to fuel and refuel my body (especially thinking about an upcoming long run on Saturday). Deciding it was healthier to follow my body's instincts I ate more fruit, and a bigger dinner than I would have planned in order to meet the challenge. Throughout the day I realized how lucky I am to have the choice to do this. To be able to workout, and feed myself in a way that sustains me. And again I had a reality check when getting off of BART on Thursday morning there was a woman standing outside the stop holding out her hand saying she was hungry. I walked past, in a hurry to get into the office and on with my day. But then I stopped, turned around and handed her my plum. It cost 0.37 cents.

Overall this week has been exhausting, from planning out every single penny, to worrying about making it to my next meal, to thinking about how to make a healthy tasty dinner on very little. It has taken a lot of time to think about every meal and plan them out as best as possible.

Several times this week I thought about trying to eat on $4 per day and be an athlete. Working out hungry is hard, and not good for me. The number of good calories (in the form of fruits and veggies, protein, dairy, and healthy fats) that I was able to consume on this budget was not enough to energize and replenish me as I ran or swam this week. And those calories are expensive. I spent 0.75 cents on a nectarine, where I could have bought a small Snickers bar 0.50, there is something wrong with this reality.

Mid-week I got an email from the SF Food Bank with more information and several questions for us challengers to think about. They asked us if we had been able to go to the food bank would that have made a difference? Yes, it would have been a huge help! Especially when the list they gave of some of the items to be picked up this week included fruit, vegetables, whole wheat bread, and chicken sausages.

Can I imagine doing this all the time? Quite simply and quite gratefully the answer is no. I will forever be grateful to food banks for the work they do. I have learned so much this week and know that I will be much more aware, thankful for my privilege, and compassionate going forward.

Chicken and Lentils
(serves 2)

1/2 cup lentils (0.32)*
2 tablespoons butter (0.15)
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (0.37)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (0.12)
1 pound bone-in, skin-on chicken** (1.99)
1 carrot, chopped (0.14)
1 small zucchini, chopped (0.40)

total cost: $3.49

This fit into my budget as I had eaten left over pizza for lunch during the day, remained on my 0.65 breakfast, had no snacks, and was able to add Matt's $1.75 to the budget.

In a small pot boil a cup of water. Once the water is boiling, pour in the half cup of lentils and bring to a boil. Once the lentils have boiled, cover and turn down to simmer for approximately 30 minutes until the lentils are tender and have soaked up all the water.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a saute pan. Once melted saute the chopped onion and garlic until soft. Add the pieces of chicken and cook for 5 minutes to brown, and then flip. Cover the pan to cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken again and add the carrots and zucchini. Cooking until the chicken is done, then hold in a warm oven until the lentils have finished.

To serve, place cooked lentils on a plate the add chicken, carrots and zucchini. Scope up some of the juice in the saute pan for a light dressing.

*One bag of dried lentils is 1.25 for a 16 oz bag at Safeway.
**I talked to the butcher about the most cost effective way to buy chicken. I learned that a whole chicken gave you the most bang per buck, and he very graciously cut up the smallest chicken they had into serving sized portions for me. At 1.99 per pound for an organic chicken, this was the healthiest, most cost-effective way to purchase good meat.

Other thoughts:
- This morning, I realize that I've already added walnuts to my oatmeal, and milk to my tea - two small luxuries not allowed when trying to eat on $4.

- I had a minimal amount of cheese this week and no other dairy was in the budget. Milk, yogurt, and cheese is expensive and when faced with choosing fruit or dairy I chose fruit. I wonder what the best choice is.

- After Tuesday's post I had a comment from a friend asking about communities coming together to combine resources and budgets when on such a tight budget. I think this is an excellent idea. By having the extra $1.75 for dinners because Matt was joining me really helped stretch my food dollars and allowed for things like cheese and chicken that I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise.

- I went to two stores, and thought a lot about my meals, and creating healthy dishes with little this week. If I wasn't able to spend the time, or go to a couple stores, this would have been much more difficult. What an eye opener.


ellen fontana said...

Good for you! I don't think I would have survived. I started running again (you inspired me) and I am up to the whopping 2 miles. When I get home I just want to gorge. I can't imagine being hungry all the time, it makes everything much less manageable.

Alison said...

Ellen - Good for you for running! Next time we visit, we'll have to go out for a run together. I agree, everything is much less manageable hungry - which is no good at all. Makes me thinks a lot about kids in school that are hungry, how do they learn? You can tell this was definitely a thought-provoking project for me.

Gayle said...

Alison, thanks for taking on the Hunger Challenge! It means a lot for people to experience hunger first-hand. You bring up a good question about school children. The SF Food Bank has actually started a healthy snack program in schools because kids couldn't learn well without nutrition. Some teachers were even buying snacks out of their own salaries so kids could learn. Hard to imagine that we'd have a situation like that when it comes to getting kids off to a good start in life, isn't it?