Food Security Challenge: The First Grocery Run

I Spent 43 Percent of My Monthly Food Money on Day One – Am I Worried?

Erik's initial stash of food purchased from Trader Joe's.
Erik Talkin

Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin is taking the month-long Food Security Challenge to find out if it’s possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget. He’s restricted to spending $6.46 a day, the equivalent of what he would receive in food stamps, if he were in need of assistance and classified as a single, unemployed, non-dependent person.

Talkin is chronicling the challenge on his blog, which the Independent is republishing here. For more information, and to donate time and money to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and its 330 nonprofit partners, visit

February 2, Part Two

YES! There it is, the fruits (and veg) of my profligacy. I have $194 total for the month and I spent $83.72 in the first hour of my challenge. Do I have a spending addiction or is there a method behind my madness?

I’m hoping there’s method. I would say that 60% of what I spent were on items that will help me eke out the month, like my precious oatmeal and other staple items. I went to Trader Joe’s, because I know I can get a better price and quality on some key staple items. This is not a completely unrealistic scenario for our food stamp (aka CalFresh) recipient, because they will get a lump of money at one time on their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. This situation is also similar for many food insecure people who have money to spend on food earlier in the month, before medical, rent and transportation clean them out and they struggle to get enough healthy food to eat toward the end of the month. Will I face the same problem.

Now looking at the picture you would probably start criticizing some of my choices. Smoked salmon? On food stamps? Cue quotes about Marie Antoinette and letting them eat cake. It’s tough when you’re on food stamps because people criticize you for buying junkie food or soda, then they criticize you if you slap down a ‘high class’ product.

I’m too old and tetchy to worry about the criticism, I want the highest amount of protein and nutrients and smoked salmon can be a good deal. I have it in with eggs, with salads and on bagels. I can provide the protein for 6 meals with my $8.49 salmon. That’s a good deal.

Let’s hope I don’t have to switch to hot dogs by the end of the month!

Here’s the full breakdown of what I spent.

Erik Talkin


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