Why I am Not Finishing the CalFresh Challenge

“I’m starving, and I’m exhausted,” my partner said arriving home around 7pm.  In the kitchen, this week’s home within my home, I mock rolled my eyes before looking down to see his hand tremble.  Eating 700 calories over the last 12 hours was not enough.

We cooked up our frittatas and then fried an extra pair of potatoes w/ oil and salt to fill up.  Sitting at the dinner table, we got serious and went through our meals, counting calories as we went:

Breakfast: ~300 calories (oatmeal and fruit w/ occasional yogurt)

Lunch: ~400 calories        (beans and rice or chicken, egg and rice w/ tomato)       

Dinner: ~500 calories      (quinoa, chicken and veggies or veggie frittata w/ extra potatoes)

 The last meal of the Challenge

The last meal of the Challenge

Our final verdict: we should have bought donuts.  We were full.  We laughed.  Maybe a week of donuts would not be ‘ideal,’ but we should have created healthy meals that were higher calorie and more filling.  Sounds like a great idea, a no-brainer, right?  Thirty minutes of joking about ‘just how many beans is too many’ later, neither of us had solved hunger.  We agreed that CalFresh can’t be “enough.”  Don’t get me wrong; CalFresh is amazing!  Each year, CalFresh lifts more than 1 million Americans above the federal poverty line, increasing their household budgets by an average of over $2,000 annually.  CalFresh (SNAP) is our nation’s strongest line of defense against hunger and poverty AND it is not enough.

The past five days I’ve felt exhausted, lethargic and unmotivated.  I’ve had enough energy to work out once, compared to almost daily, and have woken up almost every morning with a headache.  In an attempt to maintain a “healthy” diet, we’ve denied ourselves the calories we need to be healthy and functioning.  As a result, we both lost at least a pound of body weight.  The irony was not lost on me as so many poor Americans struggle with chronic health conditions spurred by overweight and obesity.  The foods which fill also kill. 

Not wanting to “give up,” I pulled up a list of local food pantries within my work zipcode, maybe we could supplement??  Two of 12 food pantries on the list were open on a Friday.  I called both and found out the foods being distributed today were: potatoes, oranges, bread, ramen and pastries.  Gluten free leaves me with (more) potatoes and oranges; helpful, but still probably not enough. 

I thought about taking advantage of Saturday’s City Height’s Farmer’s Market “Fresh Fund,” an awesome program that allows CalFresh and WIC recipients to ‘double’ their produce purchases any six weeks out of the year (up to $20), but we don’t have any money left.

While a silly, ego driven part of me is disappointed in not being able to “life hack” this challenge, a deeper part of me realizes that this is a challenge that cannot be ‘won.’ In our society, poverty is all too often reduced to a series of bad decisions on the part of the impoverished, stripping those more fortunate of any responsibility.  For me, this experience was one important step on a path towards better understanding and connecting with a deeper sense of community.  I will continue to challenge myself to connect with experiences and individuals that draw light to my privilege and that provide me opportunities to interact and give back to making our community more just.   

For anyone reading that is wondering what they can do, I challenge you to create your own way to connect.  Try the Challenge for a day, for 3, for a week if you can and donate whatever additional money you might have spent that week on fighting hunger.  As we enter the increasingly circusesque elections, pay attention to and consider voting for candidates committed to building a strong society that includes provides opportunity and access to basic resources for all.