Erik Talkin

Paul Wellman (file)

Erik Talkin

Food Stamp Challenge Complete

Foodbank Director Reflects on a Month of Eating Cheaply

It’s over. After eating vegetarian chili five times in eight days, I am doing what any man set free from 30 days’ nutritional hard labor would do — I head over to McConnell’s to reacquaint myself with what passes for manna: salted caramel chip ice cream. Yesterday, a single scoop would have blown 75 percent of my daily food allowance. Today, I eat to forget.

My challenge was a success in that I was able to stay healthy on a tiny amount of money ($6.46 per day plus whatever food I could get from a Foodbank or member agency distributions). Does this mean that the money provided for food stamps (CalFresh) is sufficient? Absolutely not.

Even though I spent over half my money on fresh produce and cooked for myself, my diet became very monotonous. If you cook up a huge pot of vegetarian chili, you have to eat it. I was so busy with work and childcare that I would often eat what I had just frozen, because I found I didn’t have time to do more than reheat.

The social aspect was also crippling. I hold a lot of meetings in coffee bars, and I do a lot of work in them. But to buy myself the right of entry, I would have had to spend my entire day’s money.

Food stamps are no replacement for jobs that pay enough to feed and support a family. Many people on food stamps are working multiple jobs with few benefits, having to make painful choices between spending money on food or on some other necessary expense. Yet a common misconception is of fraud or spongers. (The fraud rate, in reality, is less than one percent.)

That’s why the Foodbank advocates at the state and national level to protect these benefits from being cut, which is a yearly threat. We also work to provide over nine million pounds of supplemental food to families and seniors that prevent them from slipping into malnutrition.

Anyone could do what I did for just a month (and many have no choice). The real challenge is for us to build communities where a living wage will prevent people being in a nightmarish double bind of working all hours at a job yet still relying on “charity.”

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