Erik Talkin, CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County

Paul Wellman

Erik Talkin, CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County

The Food Stamp Challenge

Foodbank CEO Eats on $6 a Day for a Month

Monday, January 14, 2013
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You may have read the recent press coverage of Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s “food stamp challenge.” He committed to living on food stamps for a full week and — while regaling us with some candid accounts of burning his yams and becoming grumpy without his coffee — brought attention to what food insecurity means in our country.

As CEO of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, my job is to find those yams and get them out to people. Surely, a single week of little money for food wasn’t too much to handle, but how about a month? If I could live on food stamps for a month, it would give me more of the true flavor (or lack thereof) of the challenges that our clients face every day. Could a picky eater like me with my rice vinegar and my jasmine tea make it through on $6 a day? What kind of help from the Foodbank and our member agency programs could I get to supplement the food stamps?

You cannot say the words “food stamps” to someone without eliciting a visceral response. Sometimes it unlocks fears of “there but for one paycheck go I” or other reactions that run the gamut from outrage about fraud to outrage about disempowering people by paying them to be “losers in a winner/loser society.” Emotions run high, and so does lack of knowledge about what food stamps actually are and do. They are only supposed be a supplement, but the reality is that people are spending most of their money on rent or medical bills, so many have to live on food stamps long-term.

We take for granted opening the kitchen cupboard and finding food. Despite this, many of us have had at least some minor brush with a lack of money for food. At college, my mom hung her tea bags on the clothesline to dry them for a second use. I had my own lean time for a brief period in the aftermath of a divorce when my refrigerator was empty enough for a herd of wildebeests to roam through.

Can I eat on $6 a day for a month? More than that, can I do it and stay healthy and sane? Starting January 15, I’ll find out. Each week of the month, I will be looking at a different aspect of living on food stamps — getting advice from the Foodbank’s dietician on eating smart, finding out what nonprofit services are available to me as a resident on Santa Barbara’s Eastside, and figuring out if and how I can grow some of my own food. I’ll be traveling to freezing-cold Chicago to see how the situation in S.B. differs from that in a big city and also meeting with Feeding America to look at the national situation with food stamps. I’ll be finishing off my challenge with a few days of living in my car, without access to a kitchen and depending on local soup kitchens.

The Food Security Challenge is not a gimmick; it’s a chance for me to keep in direct touch with how the Foodbank is trying to move people from hunger to health. If you follow my updates in The Santa Barbara Independent or join in the challenge, you too can find out the secrets of the “Food Stamp Diet.” Oh, and if you catch me cheating, you can call always the Foodbank hotline.

Follow Erik’s Food Security Challenge here and at


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I have a feeling that many of us, like me, spend less than $6/day on food with no food stamps and donate food to the Foodbank.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 11:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

They have not been "stamps" for more than 20 years.
They are a debit card, called EBT in California.

Should we next have "road infrastructure subsidy" stamps?
"Tax Loopholes for the Rich" stamps?
A "don't pay the real price of gasoline" stamps?

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 12:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams, you probably don't have 4 kids and a sense of entitlement.

SB2SB (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 1:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I have a great idea America! We will give away tons of real money (no plastic card or stamp) to banks so they can charge interest and ruin the economy, oil companies so they can ruin our planet and make more profit than anybody (corporations included since they are people) and charge everybody else for it all! Pay your taxes America! (which doesn't include 'persons' listed above).

spacey (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 2:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Emotions run high, and so does lack of knowledge about what food stamps actually are and do."

Seems as though the comments thus far support that statement.

joshanders_84 (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 4:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, it looks like the trolls are out in force. If we had a minimum wage that was actually a living wage, fewer people would need food stamps. In the meantime, Mr Talkin, thank you for your compassion and I look forward to reading how you are doing on the $6/day diet. You'll probably do best if you go vegan. For drinks, wild humminbird sage grows in our woodlands, makes a tasty and free tea that is also very good for the throat.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 7:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

More people qualify than apply. The Rightwingers have made the process so bs that good hard working people still go hingry because they don't have the time to jump the hoops.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 14, 2013 at 10:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

SB2SB: 4 adult entitled kids, including dad, but they give me their old cell phones, ipods, computers, etc when they upgrade - a great way to learn to live on < $6/day.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
January 15, 2013 at 5:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You can do it via Trader Joe's.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 15, 2013 at 5:36 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams - Please feel free to share some sample $6 per day menus with those of us who aren't convinced it is quite as easy as you say. All I can think of is Toast with Peanut Butter for breakfast, an apple, Ramen Noodles for lunch, and pasta with tomato sauce for dinner... and I'd likely have to eat the same three meals all week or I would waste food and go over budget.

rachhoyt (anonymous profile)
January 16, 2013 at 12:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It is easy to eat healthy on $6 or less a day.

Breakfast: Old fashioned oatmeal
Lunch: Salad (e.g. half a head of iceburg lettuce, an egg, 1/2 can of chickpeas)
Dinner: half a package of tofu with zucchini served on a bed of rice.

Multiply the above by 2 to get two days worth of food.
A head of iceburg lettuce typically cost $1.
A package of tofu is about $2.50.
A dozen of eggs cost around $2. (so 2 eggs cost less than 35 cents)
A can of chickpeas is about $1.50.
You can get 42oz old fashioned oats for less than $4 that will last you for a month. (so 2 days breakfast cost less than 30 cents)
One can get a 5lb bag of rice for less than $5 which again will last for a month. (so 2 days cost less than 35 cents)

Adding it all up (minus the cost of zucchini or whatever veggies is on sale) it cost $6 for 2 days. One can easily throw in some fruits and yogurt (10 for $5 when on sale) for snacks. Even if you add on salad dressings, salt etc there will still be money to spare.

deacc (anonymous profile)
January 21, 2013 at 5:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

deacc has a great and cheap menu to consume 1200 calories a day mainly through empty carbs.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
January 21, 2013 at 8:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

There are no empty carbs in my menu. The "worst" thing on the list is rice, if you choose to buy white rice. One can buy brown rice instead.

deacc (anonymous profile)
January 22, 2013 at 3:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I hope you really can get a feel for how hard it is to live in your car, with out a bathroom, or being able to lay flat to get sleep, also, with fear, threat of a citation because it is illegal to sleep in your car, it won't be too hard for you because your not doing it with children like I had to do,. when my husband walked out on us and refused to pay child support, me and my girls were on our own, we were sleeping in my car, my two tweens and a 6 week old baby, and our dog, I was creative in my mothering /survival skllls, I joined the YMCA, so we could do homework and shower as well as fill in the void for activity time, they had a microwave so I would by cheap microwavable meals and we would share them but they were hot, if not for assistance we wouldn't have made it , I do not have family it was us alone out there, and all I knew was how to be a wife,mother, and a homemaker, Thank God for the food we were able to receive from federal food programs, now we pay it forward!

jlkessler (anonymous profile)
January 22, 2013 at 6:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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