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Monday, September 14, 2015

Hunger Games: Can You Live on $4.50 a Day?

Posted By on Mon, Sep 14, 2015 at 1:30 PM

  • Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Affluent, free of strife, and more fertile than almost anywhere, there’s no doubt that Northern California is truly the Land of Plenty. Perversely, however, hunger is widespread throughout the region, where even efforts to boost the minimum wage are wildly incongruent with the realities of the cost of living here.

In that spirit, the SF-Marin Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge begins today.

A five-day “exercise in empathy,” it’s intended to raise awareness of what it’s like to live on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Here in California, SNAP is known as CalFresh, and although the phrase “food stamps” doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere, the 57,000 San Francisco and Marin residents who use CalFresh access the funds via debit cards, to the tune of approximately $146 each month. And contrary to the right-wing meme of able-bodied adults choosing not to work and bleeding taxpayers dry, thousands of people who are eligible for CalFresh don’t take advantage of it.

It’s by no means a perfect system, and the Food Bank is actively pursuing reforms to expand access. Hence the need for the Hunger Challenge, in which social-media-savvy Californians can document what they cooked, and draw attention to issues of food equity. Unlike the joy of dumping a bucket of ice water on your head to make a Vine, this effort requires participants to live in the shoes of someone less fortunate than themselves for a significant duration.

While the Hunger Challenge is meant to show how difficult it is for families to live on $4.50 per person per day, it’s also intended to get people involved with their local food pantry. Participants get a “Starter Shopping List” that includes rice, eggs, and some produce (ingredients like onions and potatoes, along with nectarines and other fruit that can be enjoyed on its own), and some suggested recipes to tweet about or put on Facebook. (My predecessor, Anna Roth, wrote about her experience in 2013.) If you choose to accept the assignment, be aware that you will probably think about food all day and all night.

For all the work undertaken to understand the ways that poverty is lived in America, incorrect ideas endure. Just as not all homeless people sleep on the streets, but rather get by with contingent, temporary, and unstable housing arrangements, not everyone who goes hungry warms their hands around a fire in an oil drum or rides the railroads with all their possessions tied in a bindle. To no small extent, the Bay Area’s vast wealth contributes to its poverty, as astronomical housing costs and the need to keep gas in the tank in order to get to work may mean that low-income adults need to skip more than the occasional meal. As the summer ends and the harvest season begins in earnest, the SF-Marin Food Bank is doing good work to keep us conscious about what a luxury a decent meal really is.

SF-Marin Food Bank Hunger Challenge, Sept. 14-18.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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