This month Mario Batali and his family took the New York Food Bank Challenge. For one week they lived on $1.48 per meal, per person. The point was to bring awareness to food stamps as politics swirl and cuts are considered for the food stamp program.  


For someone who enjoys some of our country’s best food, and in fact, serves the most expensive 12-course meal in the U.S. at one of his restaurants, it’s no surprise that his first response to the challenge was a “big gulp.”


I admire that he not only took the challenge but also tried to show how you can make frugal food with decent ingredients on a tight budget. Meals included a lot of rice and beans, lentil chili, mini gala apples, a pork shoulder roast that was stretched out into two and a half meals, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for their boys for lunch.


I am sure that this week of eating on less did bring more attention and awareness to a crucial issue in our world — hungry people. Yet, there was an odd disconnect for me when reading through the descriptions of his food; what he and his family ate that week was what most of us eat on a regular basis.


While I think that it was generous of Batali and his family to eat so carefully for a week, I think that a lifestyle of generosity and service in the community could go a lot further in bettering the world. This isn’t to criticize the challenge, simply an observation.


I have known a couple of families who quietly lived sacrificially so that they could better serve the needs of the community.


One family friend is a shining example. Through all of the challenging years of raising young children (including a set of twins), Kevin left a good-paying job to take a job at one of our local rescue missions that helped feed the homeless and helped them get back their feet again. Working with such a restricted income meant that the family had to depend on donated food to feed their family, right along with along with the homeless. Their heater was constantly being turned down as low as possible during the winter to save money, and Goodwill was a source of furniture and clothing. When I look at their daily and weekly life choices, I see the beauty of their willingness to make real, life-changing sacrifices to help others.


Another family I know takes a large portion of their income each month to support children around the world. Their money goes to feed, cloth and school these children on a long-term basis. They do this not because they have a lot of extra money, but because they are willing to sacrifice to help. Their table is not full of expensive food; their vacations are done on a shoestring budget. And they are happy to do it.


I guess what I am trying to say is that a week of sacrifice can’t compare to a life of sacrifice. Batali has my applause, but some of my friends who live a life of sacrifice have my admiration and respect. It’s made me think again about how I can turn regular, small acts of sacrifice into blessings for others.


One thought: Why not take the food stamp challenge (living on the typical amount given to food stamp recipients) and send the money you save on food to a local food bank, a fund for feeding the hungry in other countries, or another worthy fund? Or, why not take one night a week to eat a very simple meal of rice and beans and send the extra money usually spent on meat (or wine or other expensive food items) for that meal to those in need?


Food stamp programs or not, there are always people in our community who could use help buying groceries. There is no need to expect the government to do all of the giving. I’d love to hear your ideas about how to sacrificially live to be able to give generously!

Mario Batali, the Food Stamp Challenge and a life of generosity
The New York Food Stamp Challenge has me questioning how we can push ourselves to lead a lifestyle of generosity.