Food Stamp Challenge participants asked to eat on only $4.50 per day

May 8, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The whole coffee beans Cori Kauk grinds for a morning cup of java could disappear from the menu soon, as the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank executive director embarks on a challenge to eat and drink on only $4.50 per day.

The cause is the Food Stamp Challenge, a campaign to encourage households to meet all food needs for a period of time on the equivalent amount to food stamps. The catch: Participants can spend only $1.50 per person per meal, or $4.50 per day — about the same amount as a morning latte.

Fresh foods pose a pricey problem for people receiving food assistance, and cheaper processed food is prevalent. The challenge is meant to illustrate the issue and demonstrate creative ways to eat nutritious food on a tight budget.

The challenge is due to start May 12, the same day as the National Association of Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. The annual food drive is critical for stocking shelves at the local food bank for summer.

What to know

Food Stamp Challenge

Participants pledge to meet  all household food needs on $1.50 per person per meal, or $4.50 per day.

Register at www.hope-link.org/nourishingnetworks. Read Issaquah resident Suzie Kuflik’s blog about the challenge on the website.

Learn more about the challenge and the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank at www.issaquahfoodbank.org

How to help

National Association of Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive

May 12

Collect and bag nonperishable food items, and then place the bag inside the mailbox for letter carriers to deliver to a local food bank.

Learn more about the annual campaign at www.helpstampouthunger.com.

The food stamp initiative is designed to attract attention to food security issues in Issaquah and the surrounding area. Though the community is regarded as affluent, the local food bank is serving more clients since the economic downturn started.

“Our community is fantastic about meeting the needs of the community,” Kauk said. “But, I think once you have a little bit of experience with it, it gives our community members a greater understanding.”

The campaign also involves the Issaquah Nourishing Network, a local group in a regional effort to promote food security.

The term “food stamp” is antiquated, but remains in use. In the late 1990s, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program phased out stamps for Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards.

The challenge lasts at least a couple of weeks or as long as a month, depending on the participants. Kauk plans to undertake the challenge for 14 days. Issaquah resident Suzie Kuflik, a monthlong participant in the challenge, is blogging about the experience.

“I personally encourage people to do two weeks. I think anybody can do this for one week and it wouldn’t feel like as big of a stretch,” Kauk said. “Once you start getting into the second week is when you’ll notice it more.”

On the challenge, off the menu

The tight budget leaves little room for restaurant meals or unplanned trips to the grocery store. Food Stamp Challenge participants cannot use items already socked away in the freezer or the pantry.

“You could skip dinner out for one week and you’re probably not going to notice it, but going into the second week, you’re going to notice that you’re not going to your favorite coffee stand and you didn’t go grab your sandwich for lunch,” Kauk said.

For participants in the Food Stamp Challenge, the effort means some menu adjustments beyond the morning cup of coffee.

Kauk usually buys organic products and, if possible, local products, but because the items command a premium price, adapting for the Food Stamp Challenge requires some planning. So, she and her fiancé started testing recipes to use later during the challenge.

The couple is enrolled in a community-supported agriculture program — members receive a box of vegetables from local growers each week — and Kauk must subtract the equivalent amount from the weekly food budget.

Kauk said the planning effort required creativity and a greater consideration about the food on hand in the cupboards at home.

“Sometimes, we have the luxury of not planning our meals in advance, and if we want to go out for dinner, we do,” she said.

Kuflik, a former personal chef and caterer, said the planning for the challenge requires a serious overhaul in the pantry.

“My kitchen is just bulging at the seams, and I have everything, down to pretty much every spice, but I’m going to have to go buy that all again, as I will the basics, like oil and flour and butter and sugar,” she said.

Kuflik, husband David, 11-year-old Liam and 9-year-old Olivia also might need to eschew condiments and seasonings — expensive add-ons in a food budget.

In addition, “I think that I’ll be making a lot more stuff from scratch,” Kuflik said. “I’ll be making muffins for breakfast, because it’s much cheaper than going out and buying muffins.”

Kuflik is blogging about the experience on the regional Nourishing Networks website. The initial posts focused on the ground rules for the challenge.

“I’m not really worried that I’m going to eat less. I’m just worried that the quality of my food is going to go down,” she said. “I don’t envision going to bed hungry or my kids being hungry, but certainly the less-nutritious food is cheaper. If I get close to the end of the month and the budget is very low, then we won’t be eating the standard of food that we’re all used to.”

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