Team Mansbach, from right to left: Jacob, Mike, Joseph and mystery friend.
Erik Talkin

Santa Barbara County CEO Erik Talkin is in the midst of 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 13

On Day 11 of my Food Security Challenge, I got the opportunity to spend Saturday with my five year old daughter Mia and sixty other parents and kids at the Foodbank’s monthly Family Day.

This is an opportunity for families to find out more about the Foodbank, do some volunteer labor and to encourage the philanthropic bent amongst their offspring.

For the Family Day at our south county warehouse off Hollister Ave, we are lucky enough to have the Mansbach family to coordinate the proceedings. The family’s connection to the Foodbank began when 12 year old Jacob ran the SB Triathlon in support of the Foodbank and his family’s involvement grew from there. Jen and Mike Mansbach, Jacob and brother Joseph are there once a month to inspire and direct a small army of youthful food bankers, as well as, last weekend, a grizzly CEO and his ‘miracle’ offspring.

The Foodbank increasingly operates as a conduit to help the community itself solve community problems, and Family Day is a great way of seeing this in action. Who better to help seniors – by packing bags of groceries for the Foodbank’s Brown Bag program than children? We like to say that children are the seniors of tomorrow, so the more they help seniors now, then good karma says they will be helped in return by Foodbank 2067 or whenever it is.

Mia’s only 5 but good junior food banker that she is, she got to work filling bags with a mixture of pasta, rice, beans, protein item, soups etc, along with a truly impressive group of adults and kids who built an amazing production line, filling hundreds of bags in just a couple of hours.

Meanwhile outside, some furious carrot and orange sorting was taking place. The Foodbank purchases a lot of ‘seconds,’ these are the less attractive pieces of fruit or vegetable, which are deemed not suitable to appear on the produce shelves of California supermarkets. While this might be sad for a Strawberry who had hopes of being ‘Strawberry of the Year,’ it is great for food banks, because it allows us to purchase produce for pennies on the dollar, and working together to ship it to food banks all over the State. We weeded out the carrots who were not fit – with the simple criteria that the Foodbank uses for all our food decisions: Would you eat it? If not, don’t expect anyone else to eat it.

There was a great spirit amongst kids and parents, grateful to get away from the entertainment screens or the structured activities that take up so much time. You could sense the realization that doing something to help others felt a lot better than doing something to help yourself.

Family Day always leaves me refreshed and inspired – even when I’m living on food stamps.

Meanwhile on the home front, I made another big purchase of meat, fish and staple items, which I am hoping will allow me to get through the next 17 days with only the purchase of fresh produce and a few other items. It is a big gamble, but it feels like the less I shop, the less opportunity there is to steadily fritter away my money on non-essentials. (And yes I did buy a jar of capers, which might count as non-essential, but we all have our foibles)

So, where does that leave me, and more importantly, my piggy bank? In the previous episode I was down to $100.67, and with my new splurge, this leaves me with a measly $63.40 to eke out my remaining 16 days. That’s an unspectacular $3.96 per day, nearly half of what the daily food stamp allowance should be.

Maybe I better get a copy of ’16 Dishes with Capers’ out of the public library…


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