It's the last day of the Hunger Challenge and I returned to the Food Bank to have lunch with the staff to talk about our collective experience. It was nice to be around a group of people who were all going through the same thing, and I was jealous that they'd had each other to bounce ideas off of and get inspiration from all week. One of the aspects that's been the hardest of this whole endeavor is how isolating living on a severely limited budget can be. I realized that basically everything social I do involves going places and spending money — whether restaurants, bars, coffee shops, movie theaters, whatever — and this week I've stayed in, envious and a little resentful of everyone posting about their fabulous lives on social media (something that I'm normally guilty of as well).
I also haven't had the free time I usually do because I have been prepping and assembling three meals a day. It's amazing how much time and energy it takes to plan every single meal ahead of time, especially when you fuck something up. I threw a bunch of black peppercorns into my black beans while they were cooking to flavor them, not thinking that they'd be nearly impossible to distinguish from the beans themselves — I just had to eat the final product, peppercorns and all, because I'd planned to use them for the next several meals and didn't have an alternative. People at the Food Bank lunch today mentioned burning rice, which meant they couldn't make the fried rice they'd planned for the next day, and being afraid of breaking eggs before they got to the pan. Normally we'd just make more beans, throw away the rice, buy more eggs, but that wasn't an option this week, and it was humbling to realize.
A few people at lunch mentioned how flighty and forgetful they'd been this week, and I could definitely relate. Some of it has been because I've been hungry, but as someone pointed out, even when they're not hungry, they haven't been on their mental game. We theorized it's because of the mental bandwidth taken up by having to plan every meal and every contingency so we're not stuck without food — like me the other night when I was in the office late and didn't have a snack at hand, or another person undergoing the challenge who had to go to the mall last night, and brought a sandwich with her to eat so she wouldn't be tempted by the food court. All of that planning ahead takes time and energy, and if you don't have either, it makes life very difficult.
This week, as shallow as my dive into food insecurity has been, has given me a whole new respect for people who push to make improvements in their lives even if they're hungry and tired. I did my fair share of whining and complaining this week, even though I never lost my awareness that I didn't even experience the tip of the iceberg that is poverty and hunger.
I'll have more thoughts next week, but it's Friday afternoon and I'm not feeling especially introspective. Here are some stats, though, now that the process is nearly over.
Where my $4.50/day went this week:
- 0.61 lb of garbanzo beans from Rainbow Market: $1.41
- 1.11 lb of organic black beans from Rainbow: $1.54
- 0.89 lb of rolled oats from Rainbow: $.80
- 0.9 lb of green lentils from Rainbow: $1.73
- 1 package of multigrain English muffins from Safeway (on sale): $1.99
- 1 jar of Skippy peanut butter from Safeway (on sale): $4.59
- 6 chicken legs from Safeway (on sale): $3
- 1 lemon from Safeway: $.79
- 1 head of kale from the UN Plaza Farmers' Market: $1
- 1 McChicken sandwich from McDonald's: $1.09
- 1 container of sour cream from my corner store: $2.29
- 1 lime from my corner store: $.33
- 1 Diet Coke from the office vending machine: $1
As you can see, my choices weren't the smartest, nor the most nutritionally sound, but I did get myself through the week. I didn't even end up using the rolled oats and green lentils — if I had it to do it over again, I'd save that money to spend on green vegetables and maybe another protein source.
Things I've missed this week that were just plain out of budget or extravagances:
Alcohol: Not drinking to excess, just the ability to have a glass or wine or beer or two at the end of the day to unwind. It's a nice luxury to have, but booze is expensive and not very nutritionally dense.
Fresh herbs: Parsley and basil seem like an unnecessary extravagance when you're just trying to survive. If I were doing this longterm, I would probably look into growing some container herbs.
Cheese:I normally eat a lot of cheese, but not this week because it was out of my price range.
Nuts: I have a jar of almonds on my desk that I snack on around 3 p.m. every day, just to tide me over until dinner. Not this week. Nuts are really expensive.
Diet soda: When you're living on a very tight budget, a drink with no nutritional value that costs $1 or more is completely out of the question.
Thoughts? Feedback? Questions left unanswered? Let me know in the comments.