Shopping for the Hunger Challenge

Abundance I shopped for the hunger challenge two days before the challenge was to start. The plan is to shop one day and then, on the following day, cook some dishes ahead for the week.

I was allowed to spend $56 for a household of two and, in addition, I can include certain items from one of the San Francisco Food Bank’s pantry distribution centers. A list of typical items was supplied ahead of time so I’d know what I had to work with. I picked those up too and then left them out of my budget.

The photo above is not representative of my list. I shopped at the new Berkeley Bowl in West Berkeley. Thankfully it isn’t as crowded as the original so it was pretty easy to find a spot where I could use my calculator to see where I was budget-wise. The plan is to make big batches of chicken enchiladas using a whole chicken, a soup with the broth I poached the chicken in and my mom’s cabbage rolls. There were also some Chinese noodles on the food bank distribution list. I planned to do something involving those and the bok choy I planned to pick up at the farmers' market. My plan was to alternate those foods for dinners and some lunches. And then fill in other lunches with sandwich type items. Breakfast would be a daily alternating menu of eggs and oatmeal. I assumed I'd have fruit from the San Francisco Food Bank’s pantry distribution list and that would be the only snack available.

I had a shopping list and knew what I needed but I had no idea what to expect. I don’t usually look that closely at what things cost in the grocery store. I tend to buy all my vegetables, meat and eggs at the farmers’ market and only use the grocery store for dairy and bulk. I don’t usually buy snacks or processed food. I had a pretty good idea that I could get by on the budget I had if I made those recipes, but I wasn’t sure.

The weirdest thing about shopping for the hunger challenge was that I was also shopping for a picnic that same day. You know, a picnic…complete with fancy cheeses, pickles, good bread, rosé, that kind of thing. I had two sections in my cart. One for the picnic and one for the Hunger Challenge. It was a funny brain exercise to one moment hope I could afford the cage-free eggs and feel resentful that good quality cooking oil is so expensive and the next to be considering buying a cheese that costs $22 a pound.

I had a very hard time thinking about buying a factory farmed conventional chicken.  After I finished shopping I was well under budget so I actually went back at the end and switched out my large, $4.76 Foster Farms chicken for a small organic chicken that cost nearly $9. I was happy I could afford that, and cheese, and cage-free eggs, and I still had a cushion at the end of the shopping trip. I decided that was a good thing. How do people afford cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and things like that without a cushion?

 Also, I knew the cushion would allow me to use the soy sauce for a noodle dish I had planned and a small amount of brown sugar in my cupboard for my oatmeal without buying new foods I didn’t need. (I do have my real budget to consider!) I also liked the cushion because I thought it would help me if I needed a treat, coffee, wine, or ran out of food.

Random Learnings:
Almost everything cheap has a ton of sugar in it. I was happy to pay ten cents extra for the bread that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup. Thankfully, the Adam’s brand of natural peanut butter was cheaper than the crappy processed kind. Bulk bins are a godsend, as is butter by the stick. I was really happy to include the food bank grocery items in our menu. Fruits and vegetables are expensive, except for sweet potatoes on sale. At .49 cents a pound, you can get a lot of nutritional bang for half a buck. Also, canned enchilada sauce is super expensive. I wavered on that one because I always make my own sauce. It seemed better to use the canned in this case as I didn’t want to assume that people had much time to cook when developing recipes, nor did I want to assume they had a blender. I was hoping it wouldn't taste too bad.

Here's my shopping list:

Berkeley Bowl

One Stick Butter  .88
Cooking Oil $2.59
1- Quart Milk $1.39
1 Organic Chicken  $8.85
Peanut Butter $2.99
Long Grain Rice from Bulk .75
1/2 pound Pinto Beans from Bulk .55
3/4 pound Ground Beef $2.47
Dz Cage Free Eggs $2.85
1 Loaf Wheat Bread $2.49
Oatmeal from Bulk Bin $1.08
Corn Tortillas $2.39
Canned Tomato Sauce .79
Canned Enchilada Sauce $3.89
Monterey Jack Cheese $3.09
1 pound Sweet Potatoes $.54
1 piece fresh ginger .49

Farmers Market

1 bunch cilantro $1
1 bunch green onions $1
1 bunch bok choy $1

Budget for Two: $56
Total Spent: $41.08

Cushion: $14.92

Assumed From Food Bank
Chinese Pasta
3 onions
4 garlic
2 melons
1 cabbage
5 pears
4 peaches


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