S.F. Food Bank's Hunger Challenge: Day 1

Categories: Talking Points

Evan DuCharme
A simulated pantry distribution at the S.F. Food Bank.
This morning a small group of chefs, journalists, and food activists gathered at the San Francisco Food Bank for a quick tour. The Potrero Hill facility is a Costco-like warehouse with pallets of products (donated or bought at bulk cost) stacked to the ceiling. Executive Director Paul Ash walked us past stacks of canned beans, canned fruit, juice, tomato sauce, multigrain cereal, applesauce, and other goods the food pantry provides to families, schools (they provide 10,000 snacks for school children every day), and organizations for low-income S.F. residents like St. Anthony's.

See also: Tyler Florence Signs on to S.F. Food Bank's New Hunger Challenge

Evan DuCharme
Behind-the-scenes at the S.F. Food Bank.
We were there because we had signed up for the Hunger Challenge, a 5-day initiative to live off food stamps and pantry supplies from the Food Bank that kicked off this morning. The Hunger Challenge is an event put on by the San Francisco and Marin Food Bank to raise awareness of the nearly 150,000 people who use the Food Bank's pantry each week in San Francisco and Marin counties.

After the tour, we lined up to get our allotment of food for the week, a produce-heavy bundle that mimics what a typical individual would receive if they were eligible for the food pantry. (The Food Bank also traffics in fresh produce directly from farms and packing sheds; earlier on the tour, Ash pointed out broccoli picked over the weekend that a farmer had decided not to take to market and the Food Bank had acquired at $0.13/pound, along with boxes of apples, pears, red onions, and other late-summer produce.)

Evan DuCharme
My Food Bank-provided food for the week, plus my $22.50 weekly allotment for groceries.
My rations for the week:

  • 1 pound of rice
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 small watermelon
  • 1 cantaloupe
  • 2 baskets of strawberries
  • 3 large carrots
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 3 potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 pears
  • 4 plums

Along with all the produce, we're also are allowed a budget of $4.50 a day, the typical amount of SNAP benefits (previously known as food stamps). Part of the reason the Food Bank is throwing the Hunger Challenge now is because of a proposal in Congress to cut the SNAP benefits program by $40 billion, and the organization wants to raise awareness of the nearly 60,000 people in San Francisco and Marin counties who rely on CalFresh (California's SNAP program) for an average of $146 per person, per month, to be spent on food.

During the week, I'll be blogging the experience as I talk with participating chefs and explore some of the other ways people on limited budgets feed themselves in the Bay Area. Today I got off to a rocky start. I didn't take the time to reconstitute dried black beans last night, and for breakfast and lunch only had peanut butter and a pack of multigrain English muffins I bought on sale at Safeway to get me through. At about 1:30 p.m., jealous of my co-workers lunches, I caved and bought at $1 McChicken sandwich from McDonald's. Hopefully that's the last visit I'll pay to the Golden Arches.

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This is a great idea and Im definitely following the story. My only issue is the lovely food displayed. The food banks I've been to usually have fruit and vegetables that are spoiled, spoiling-on their way out the door. The same thing goes with breads and other foods. Many are out of date or expired including dairy products. Some food is so gross it's hard to believe a company would make that. The worst is the canned chicken. It is mainly comprised of fat chunks, with some chicken pieces, small bones and gelatin broth. This is from the USDA food banks. Most trips you will be sent home with a couple cakes, pastries, pies or cookies-about one bag of diabetic coma. Cans are usually dented which is also unhealthy. Many items have mold on them so you have to check them very good. Here's the great part though. It helps tremendously! That bread, some extra veggies, and even a dessert item can help the groceries stretch. Salvation Army is good for canned goods, dried beans, peanut butter and oatmeal so that's a big help. They used to have a lot of food to give at our USDA foodbank and much better quality but it's really gone downhill. All the same, the foodstamps just aren't enough, and with no extra money with such a low fixed income Im grateful as all heck for foodbanks! I just wish they had transportation because it's REALLY hard to get to them here if  you don't drive. They don't have busses that go to most of them. Wish they'd have a food bank delivery! That would be amazing for people like me who are disabled and can't get around and are not a senior citizen. I am really glad to see someone doing this. I've wanted to do something similar for a while. Im going to share it with my documentary photography class! :) 


A wonderful selection and great alternative to fast food, however it may look challenging for people without kitchen access or don't know how to cook.  Perhaps during distribution they could serve tastings of easy to fix dishes and suggest microwave for potatoes etc.

topjobsman topcommenter

Although there are healthier choices for food than a McChicken, I think you see that McDonald's does offer more calories for the buck than many (most?) other options. For people who don't make a lot of money, McDonald's is a necessary choice.

I'm a little surprised at the food basket put together by the Food Bank. There's a lot of sugar there in the form of fruits (fructose). Is there a way to increase the proportion of vegetables?

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