Bruce's Blog


HunGRy - Day One

September 14th, 2011

DAY ONE - Wednesday, September 14

Talk about food insecurity! Today is the first day of my participation in the HunGRy? Week challenge to limit myself to the foods I could purchase with SNAP funds. The average is $30.59 per person per week, that’s $4.37 a day.  For this challenge, I cannot receive free food. Everything, including the cost of eating out, has to be included in this incredibly small amount of money. I wanted this experience to help me to empathize with people for whom this is the extent of their food budget.


Admittedly I have some luxuries that people for whom this is an everyday reality do not have. For example, I agonized over whether to commit to this…especially so publicly. As a died-in-the wool foodie, glutton and generally insatiable eater, I felt something akin to panic as I struggled with whether to participate in this experiment. People who know the reality of food insecurity don’t have the option of choosing this way of life. It has chosen them.

My second luxury is the time limit. I plan to engage in this venture for one week—7 days, and then I can increase the amount of my spending on food. Again, this is not an option for people who live with poverty. Usually they cannot see the end of the tunnel. The constant planning, struggling, wondering about food for themselves and their children may not have an end. Just the thought of that makes my stomach shrivel.

That’s the other thing. I am the only one in my household who is limiting my spending on food. I don’t have to think about feeding my family on this; they will not suffer hunger if I am unable to provide enough for them this week. Stretching a food dollar works a lot better if the only one affected is the provider. There is a lot more pain to hear, “I’m hungry,” from someone you love with those big eyes looking trustingly up to you to solve the problem. That REALLY would hurt.


“I can’t afford it; I’ll just have a glass of water please.” That was my response to the server at Sundance Grill this morning at 8 when I joined several other non-profit CEOs for a breakfast meeting. Just to have a glass of juice or a cup of coffee would have taken half of my food allowance for the day.  I felt embarrassed to “admit” to my friends and colleagues that I didn’t have enough money to eat with them. When I filled them in on the challenge, there was a lot of conversation around the very real subject of food insecurity. My shame passed when I was able to explain, but for a minute I felt it.

The next thing that I felt was loneliness and unfairness as my friends’ orders arrived and I watched them enjoy oatmeal and fresh fruit or yogurt and granola; I smelled the coffee. It was not so much hunger at that point as a feeling of isolation. I imagined that they had what I couldn’t. In my case it was because I had determined not to spend above a set amount for daily food; I wasn’t really isolated. I wasn’t really left out. At our meeting next month, I can order whatever I want. For a minute though, I wondered, what if I couldn’t? Ever.

Back at work after the meeting I indulged myself in a snack—a big red garden fresh tomato and ½ an onion submarine sandwich bun with water. That fortified me, and diminished my food budget for the day by $1.

After a few hours of work I was ready for lunch at 2:30, so I heated a small bowl of homemade chili, seasoned just right, and watched my food budget dip by $1.50 more. I know I’m going to be hungry twice more (at least) before bedtime, and I now have only $1.87 to spend for food today.

I think that will cover a 99 cent bean burrito at Taco Bell for dinner and hopefully an apple before I go to sleep.

It strikes me that I am spending more time thinking about and planning for food today than I usually do. This may be another of the things that my counterparts in real food insecurity experience on a regular basis.


Check in tomorrow for my further adventures and some reflections.

Join me in taking the challenge if you like. Please feel free to make comments and reflect yourself on either my experiment or your own. Together we can learn a lot about food insecurity and maybe become more empathetic with people who experience this without even trying…or blogging about it.


#1 Melissa Anderson said:

The accounts in the Grand Rapids Press by the two women who participated in this experience were also interesting for the way they highlighted how a constrained budget can lead to UNhealthy eating. I am wishing you a healthy week, Bruce! Kudos to you.

#2 Melodie Leighty said:

I am pleased to read your blog about taking the food challenge, you describe well some of the feelings and anxiety persons with limited means experience daily. The importance of menu planning, bargain shopping, home gardening and bulk cooking is key to making it last.
This blog topic is so important to our neighbors close to home and world wide, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences during this, what will be long but rewarding week.

I would like to point out that SNAP funds do not provide for prepared hot foods or take out meals like Taco Bell. If you are truly committed to experiencing life as a SNAP recipient this week then you may consider preparing your own meals. (Said with a friendly smile.)

I've shared the link to UCOM and specifically your blog to everyone in my mailing list. May your message reach across many lines.

All the best,

Melodie Leighty

#3 Bruce Roller said:

Thank you, Melissa. One of the things my friend Rick Stevens from the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired remarked on regarding the challenge and the diaries in the Press and the Rapidian was that we should have offered some healthful recipes for the participants. Some of those will be coming out of our event tonight at UCOM and we will post them on our Facebook page. Of course, a part of what we were looking for from this was for people to see how it is easier to eat badly than to eat well when your food budget is so constrained. I am striving to eat healthfully on my little food budget this week.

#4 Bruce Roller said:

Melodie, Thank you for your kind words and for sharing the link to UCOM and the blog.

I also appreciate your friendly suggestion that I indulged in yet another luxury by spending 99 cents plus tax for a bean burrito at Taco Bell last night. I'm afraid I did that again today before I saw your comment. This time I blew nearly my entire day's food budget on lunch at Waterford Place where I was attending a seminar--$3.99! That leaves me enough for an apple before bedtime.

Spending on fast food was allowed in the "rules" for the challenge, but I agree with you that the connection with people who are limited to SNAP funds for food will be better established if I refrain from that, so (being kindly corrected) for the rest of the week I will not use my limited food budget to eat out--even fast food.

Thank you for your comments and interest. I plan to finish blogging about today (Day Two) before our Chef's Cookoff at UCOM this evening. Unfortunately I will not be able to sample the wares since my commitment to the challenge includes not accepting any free food. I have a feeling it will be a long night.

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