Oregon Issues 'Food Stamp' Challenge

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The state of Oregon is holding a "Food Stamp Challenge" this week to help people understand what it's like to live off of food stamps. Ken Hoyt, former restaurant critic for The Oregonian in Portland, is taking part in the challenge.


In Oregon this week, people are trying to do a little more than just feed the hungry. They're attempting to get a better sense of what it's really like to live with hunger. The state is holding a weeklong food stamp challenge. Participants will try to spend no more than $21 per person on food and drink. That's just three dollars a day. One of the food stamp challenge participants is Ken Hoyt of Portland. He is a former restaurant critic for The Oregonian newspaper, and he's an avid foodie.

Ken, why are you doing this?

Mr. KEN HOYT (Former Restaurant Critic, The Oregonian): You know, I really don't feel like I had a very full understanding of what people were up against. It's really true. I went to shop last evening, and it was a little demoralizing. Because with $21 to make it through the whole week, you really realize how very limited that is when you're up against it. You know, you think that you're being frugal, usually. But in this case, you have to make decisions like whether you have butter at all. You know, and in, fact, I had to make a decision to have mayonnaise because it's the least expensive thing that I could afford.

COHEN: In addition to the mayo, what else did you get last night and how much did you spent?

Mr. HOYT: I spent, actually, almost all of my $21. It's going to be a week with water, but I ended up with some fruit, just bananas, because I couldn't afford the apples. I had to put those back. I ended up with a bag of salad because the lettuce was more expensive. I ended up with some tuna fish and some eggs. And so I think I'm going to be eating tuna and egg salad this week - a lot. And I had to have canned vegetables because anything that was frozen was out of my range, and the fresh was out of my range. I mean, it was quite amazing to me because I was thinking, well, I'll just make things from scratch. But scratch is out of your limit if you don't have the other ingredients.

COHEN: Ken, I understand there's a couple of rules involved. It's not just limiting the budget. They ask for you to do something that's called the empty cupboard. Can you explain what that means?

Mr. HOYT: The empty cupboard is that you don't have staples on hand like flour and things that you might normally have in your home if you had a more average budget. And you - so it really does, it limits that stuff. The other thing too is that seasonings, Alex, become incredibly important because, you know, salt and pepper cost money and you can't get ahead. What I really thought about is that if you were on this budget all of the time, how would you ever stockpile anything? Because you're barely meeting your needs.

COHEN: How tough is this week going to be for you?

Mr. HOYT: We'll see by the end of the week. I'm not thinking it's going to be a lot of fun, but I also didn't intend for this to be fun. I'm one of those people who throws a couple of cans into a barrel two or three times a year and writes a check a couple of times and feels good about it. And I think I wanted it to be a lesson, but it might be more of a lesson than I thought.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Ken Hoyt of Portland, Oregon is taking part in the Food Stamp Challenge this week. Best of luck to you, Ken.

Mr. HOYT: Thank you so much.

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