$25 Grocery Challenge–Parting thoughts

By Ed Nicholson

Yesterday was the final day of a week of living on a food budget of $25 a week (what food stamp recipients receive) as part of the United Way of Northwest Arkansas/ Northwest  Arkansas Food Bank $25 Grocery Challenge.  I posted my menu and food costs here, for anyone interested. 

I wrapped up my seven days of the food stamp budget diet last night. A few parting thoughts:

In a real-world sense, it’s not particularly difficult to do this for a week. But that’s like running 100 yards and saying, "Running a marathon wouldn’t be so hard." Living it would take its toll.

I had distinct advantages that made it easier for me. 
I had some basic cooking skills (and some good recipes) passed to me by parents who grew up in the Depression and always had a garden. My wife, Ginger, also a great cook, went along with me. We have a kitchen (an alarming number of low income families don’t).
I can shop. I know the store with the cheapest groceries in town, and I have the transportation to get there.
I really wanted to do this. I thought a lot about how to make it work. I knew it was going to end in a week. And I’m looking forward to a big dinner with a glass of wine tonight.

I mentioned the high price of good nutrition in an earlier post.  Lisa Goddard from the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas posted an excellent article on their blog yesterday with an item-by-item shopping list comparison showing how people on a budget are constrained to less-healthful choices.  It’s easy for us to be food elitists.  While local, fresh and organic are nice ideals for those of us who can afford them, they’re simply not options–at least at this point–for people living with food insecurity.  Consider this if you’re prone to pontificate on  food choices. 

I’m reminded by this experiment that I eat and drink too much.  Too much sugar. Too much fat. Too many beers.  I feel better after a week, and have lost three pounds. I’m thinking of repeating the experiment on occasion, just to recalibrate my consumption habits.   But I have no doubt that after more than a week, it wouldn’t be long before I started seeing negative effects from the limited food choices available.

Food plays such an amazing role in our lives. It’s a big part of how we celebrate. How we grieve. How we court and bond. It’s at the heart of so many relationships, beginning with our sitting at the family table.  If food were confined merely to the role of sustanence, our lives would be so less rich.

Still with me?.  If so, I urge you to consider getting involved in the fight against hunger.  In the richest country in the world, even in these uncertain economic times, there’s no excuse for anyone going hungry. 

How to get  inovolved:
Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
Feeding America (formerly named America’s Second Harvest).
Share Our Strength–National organization with a focus on ending childhood hunger

5 Replies to “$25 Grocery Challenge–Parting thoughts”

  1. Lisa Goddard


    Thank you for bringing your story to the public, especially your comments about using food to celebrate.  As I read food stamp challenges, it becomes clearer to me how food is so much more than sustenance.  It brings people together, it helps facilitate relationships and conversation, and it’s a way to show love for one another, it's a way to celebrate.  Ok, I have to stop myself, but you get the point.  I'm sure there's some anthropologist out there that can talk about this in a much more eloquent way than I can.    What better way to show that Americans care for Americans by ensuring food security to all. 


  2. Ezra Idlet


    Hey Ed,

       what an amazing and lovely thing to do. I love what you wrote. I’ve been modifying my eating for an entirely different reason. I was too big! I’ve lost almost 60lbs. I’ve been doing Weight Watchers.

       Keith and I did a series of performances for the Quaker annual international convention a few years ago. One of the days, we were offered the chance to eat what most of the world eats (beans and rice) for lunch. The money that they saved would be then donated to feeding people. I opted for the beans and rice lunch. We do have a very unrealistic view of the realities of hunger in this world. Beans and rice would be a luxury in some places.





  3. Bryan Riley

    Great summation of your experience, Ed.  There are many people in this world who live meal to meal.  Eating well inexpensively takes time and effort.  They only buy food when they have money to do so and only buy what they can to prepare their next meal.  Meanwhile, we have huge amounts of food in our pantries, even in the midst of a so-called economic crisis. 

    I also appreciate the applications you draw.  Keep up the great work. 

  4. Gayle

    Ed, congratulations on making it through the week! Enjoyed your blog posts and insights. You truly "walk the walk" when it comes to helping the hungry. We really appreciate all you do.

  5. joe marchese

     Ed, you are my hero.

    I don’t know if I have the courage, or stamina, to follow your lead. I DO know that I can eat better, eat smarter, and increase my awareness of the plight of our fellow citizens who don’t have the choices you and I do.

    Kudos to you, Tyson, and Feeding America.

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