I was actually looking forward to the CalFresh Challenge. It was a puzzle to solve. It was a way to better understand my community. It was a conversation starter.
And really, I didn't think it would be that hard.
I recently graduated college, so I'm not too far removed from my unpaid internship days. I know how to stretch my meal budget.
Scratch that: I thought I knew how to budget. It turns out, one day of the CalFresh Challenge proved me wrong.
On Sunday night, I wandered around Grocery Outlet for way too long, comparing prices and nutrition labels. Finally, I came up with these ingredients. Total cost: $3.82. I left myself some wiggle room for a snack later in the day.
I figured I could stomach eggs for every meal if I cooked them differently. For breakfast, I had a fried egg sandwich. I boiled a few eggs and put them in the fridge for later in the day.
At work, I had the banana and canned oranges for a snack. Lunch was cup of noodle soup. I tried not to think about how much sodium I was consuming. I just reminded myself, "This was only 33 cents."
After 5 p.m., I was tired after a day of work. The cup of noodles didn't leave me feeling great. I could have finished off the eggs and bread for dinner. I could have gotten creative with the 45 cents I had left for the day.
But my dad was visiting, and at that point, all I wanted was vegetables. We went out to dinner and spent something like half a week's CalFresh budget on one salad.
The CalFresh Challenge was difficult. While I'm definitely not proud of my failure, it confronted me with the reality thousands of people in my community face every day.
Even when I've had to stretch my budget in the past, I always had a safety net to fall back on. I have generous parents who take me to dinner when they visit. I can afford to cheat.
I can't imagine the stress that food insecurity creates for my neighbors who have to carefully limit their food spending, even when life happens. After today, I'm more aware of my privilege and how much I don't know about hunger. I'm more motivated to listen with humility, to learn, and to support the San Diego Hunger Coalition's efforts to make sure no one in our community has to live without access to enough food.