The American News Project – a new nonprofit project producing “online journalism that matters” and offering their content for free – turns its cameras to the problem of hunger in the U.S. Garland McLaurin reports that 28 million people will use food stamps in 2009, but the low benefit amounts mean that many of these recipients still must turn to food banks or other sources to meet their food needs.

Many of those struggling to feed themselves are elderly, and the seven-minute film features comments from two seniors; one compares herself to a hamster running on a wheel, while the other calculates that the cost of getting to the office to pick up the minimum allotment of $10 per month isn’t worth it. McLaurin notes that the minimum amount will rise to $14 per month under the new Farm Bill, and that most recipients get the equivalent of $21 per week.

It’s tough to make $21 stretch to 21 meals, though, as Bread for the World employee Brian Duss realizes when he takes the Food Stamp Challenge, living on the average food stamp benefit for one week. He shopped carefully (buying lots of pasta), but at the end of the week conceded that he was feeling sluggish and having a hard time concentrating – something he attributed not just to too few calories but to insufficient nutrition. Watch the whole thing here.

In the run-up to the Farm Bill negotiations, several members of the U.S. House of Representatives took the Food Stamp Challenge and blogged about it. They also report skipping meals, feeling cranky and sluggish, and struggling to fit fresh fruits and vegetables into their constrained shopping trips.

Food stamp recipients and others who struggle to make ends meet are facing even more difficulties as the price of food rises in response to poor crop yields and increasing global demand. Yet as Congressman Jim McGovern (one of the Food Stamp Challenge takers) tells the American News Project, “No reporter asks any of the candidates … what’s your strategy to end hunger?” It sounds like it’s time to start asking.