$74.94 is what I spent at the grocery store, pretty much on a whim. A few chocolate bars and heavy cream for a cake, 2 loaves of freshly baked bread, coffee, fruits and vegetables, deli meat, and a few other things. For $7 a day per person, or $22 a day for a family of four, a $74.94 purchase is very close to what such family gets to spend on four days’ worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, when using food stamps. What I bought would have hardly been enough for us to eat for 4 days. I’d probably have to leave behind the chocolate and cream and buy chicken instead and put the $4.99 organic blueberries back in exchange for something more substantial. I wouldn’t have the freedom to buy whatever I wanted.
Last year I took the hunger challenge and blogged about it for a week. The week ended, the challenge was over, I was relieved. But it felt like an unfinished business. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the past year. There were some loose ends. This is why this year I’m going to blog about the hunger challenge again but without budgeting $110 for food for the whole week. I felt like such a phony doing it then because even though we only ate what I bought, or had at home but calculated into the budget, it felt like a game we play. We still had our well-stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer and they made me feel safe and secure throughout the week. When the 2 shelves I have allocated in the fridge for the challenge food got emptier and emptier, I knew that in 1-2 days it will be over. Hopefully, for good. I was able to keep the challenge and eat the same good food the way I planned to. For a week.
I don’t want to “play” again. I can choose not to. Unlike 855,000 people in Washington state alone who are needing food stamps, according to The Seattle Times. They have no choice.
I don’t pretend to understand how or why people got to that spot where they need food stamps. I’m sure everyone has their own story. Going back in time to last April when the challenge launched, my approach was this line of thought:
– Ever since I left home I always spent money on food without thinking too much about it. Food was always one of my biggest expenses. (I’ve been that way starting at age 16 when I worked as a waitress in a cafe, later as a student working 3-4 temp jobs at a time, so… I’ve got issues… I’m a gatherer, a collector of food.)
– I like to shop at specialty food stores and farmer markets. These places are not cheap.
– I make it a point to buy local, organic, sustainable, seasonal, fair trade, and fresh food. It costs more. (I see it as my ongoing donation to support the farmers who try to do it right.)
But! Once faced with a strict budget, I asked myself: if my life situation changed and money for food was tight, would I be able to shop, cook, and eat the same way? Could I maintain this food life style? Or will reality hit me in the face and I will be forced to make dramatic changes?
To be able to eat within the challenge’s rules, I spent a lot of time on formulating a plan which, surprisingly, worked. However, it consumed many hours of my time. I can only imagine how exhausting this would have been if I had to do this every week for months or years. Not to mention the stress and fear that my family might be hungry with no food in sight. Especially the children. How do you explain to young children there’s no more food? I sometimes talk to my 6 years old about hunger – for example, when there are food drives at his school – but kids, kids who don’t live like this cannot comprehend it. Their young brains protect them from accepting that such a thing is possible.
Because of this fear, I had to plan a menu ahead, I calculated the costs ahead, wrote a detailed groceries list, and went to the store with a small calculator in my pocket. I am an ahead- planner but more than that, I didn’t want to to go to the store and cause a traffic jam at the cashier’s line in case I went over budget, needing to take things out of the bags and leave them behind. I thought I’d be embarrassed.
We’re going to eat this week with costs in mind. Yesterday’s lunch was filling and satisfying. Good enough to keep us full until dinner. We made grilled lamb tortilla wraps, estimated cost $3-$3.50 each. With 2 little children, one at a very picky eating stage, we had leftovers; 1 lamb skewer, 1/2 avocado, corn, and beans.
I wonder, do children who know what hunger is exercise their freedom to be picky eaters?
Mexican inspired grilled lamb tortilla wraps
Makes 4 adult servings
1 lb. leg of lamb, cut to cubes, seasoned with salt, pepper, a splash of olive oil. Chopped rosemary and balsamic vinegar – optional. Grilled.
1/2 bag frozen corn, cooked in the microwave with salt and pepper
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained. Sauté in olive oil with 1 minced garlic clove and 1/4 onion, small chopped. Season with salt and pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
4 flour tortillas, warmed
For dinner, French toasts. Estimated cost $1.1 per person. A modest meal, not because we couldn’t afford something else but because we chose to.
4 slices Challa bread soaked in a mix of 3 eggs, milk, and salt beaten together. Sauté in butter over medium heat on both sides until golden.
1/2 small watermelon, cut to cubes/slices