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.
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.)
My rations for the week:
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.