Lord, keep us from speaking of love while hoarding the gifts you have given us. Make us full of discontent as long as there are brothers and sisters living and dying in hunger.

Our church invited people to live off of $5 for food a day. Below are my thoughts, my menu, and whether or not I accomplished what I set out to do.

___________

Monday:

7:15 – I want coffee.
8:15 – I miss coffee. I have a headache. But I found Tylenol with caffeine in it! Win-win! Or is that cheating?

9:00 – Went shopping. Buying food for myself AND my family at the same time was quite depressing. No meat, but I think I was able to do a decent job. We’ll just see if it lasts me until Friday. And seriously… How the heck am I supposed to buy toilet paper and toiletries with such few dollars?

10:30 – My head is pounding… I must be addicted to caffeine. And I ate every spare morsel off my apple.

Breakfast: Peanut Butter toast
Snack: Apple
Lunch: Can of tomato soup. I am staring longingly at my children’s food.

1:30 – I have given in and had coffee. This is a food security challenge, not a “kick the caffeine addiction” challenge. If all of my painkillers and the nap have not made my headache go away, and all I wanted to do was in my room and die, I figured it wasn’t worth it. I still need to go to work and be present to my family.
3:30 – My kids are snacking. I am not.
4:30 – Preparing two separate meals sucks.

Supper: Roast carrots, roast potatoes, and rice.
9:15 – At Boston pizza with my friends after my ultimate game. They are all eating food. I am watching them enjoying my water.

A note on my caffeine addiction. Often, we look at people who are on social assistance and think, “If they only spent their money this way, if they didn’t buy that, if they didn’t spend their valuable dollars feeding their addiction, they’d have more money for food.” Well, yes, that is technically correct. It comes across as awfully judge-y though, and I really wouldn’t want to be your friend if you’re just going to look down on my spending choices. But after hating being awake after a few hours of trying to kick a simple caffeine addiction, I understand a little bit more when people have to choose between feeding a stronger addiction or buying apples. What a crappy situation to be in.

Tuesday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana.

Lunch: Leftovers from yesterday.

Supper tonight: Spaghetti with sauce. And I licked the spoon with sour cream on it.

I find myself getting lots of starches, and very bland food.
I find myself eating because I have to, not because I want to or because the food tastes great.

Wednesday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana.

Lunch: I went to the city for work. My friend offered to buy me a burger lunch. I said I packed my own, being 4 pieces of bread (with peanut butter) and an apple. So we sat in a park, and I watched him eat his burger while he watched me eat my bread.

Supper: Potatoes, corn, rice.

9:00 – I gave in and ate cookies at a church meeting today. I’m trying to limit the amount of food I receive from my well-meaning friends. But I must learn to be less prideful and receive, because receiving enables someone else to give.

I bought 1 L of milk for the week, and am drinking one glass a day.

I find myself hesitating to eat the food I do have, for fear that I will run out. I am slowly shifting from a worldview of abundance to one of scarcity.

Thursday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana.

Lunch: Potatoes, rice, corn.

Supper: Corn, spaghetti & sauce, and a glorious (really) can of beans. I could only eat half the beans, as the other half is for my Friday lunch.

I’m hungry. And I miss butter.

I think I have the challenge harder than most, as I am preparing regular meals for my family in addition to my meals. So I get to watch them eat burgers and taco salad and cheese and strawberries. And I get to put their leftovers in the garbage.

Friday:

Breakfast: Peanut butter toast and banana

Lunch: ½ can of beans, and I ate 2 cookies my mother in law made. And a brown apple (all my apples are now brown, but I can’t just throw them out).

Supper: It was supposed to be 2 carrots, 1 potato, and rice. But I was rushed to get my kids to swimming lessons, so I ended up stuffing my face with perogies and farmer sausage. It tasted sooooo good.

This $5/day challenge is kind of rigged. I have used way more stuff that I would have had purchase than simply food. I’ve used: saran wrap, Ziploc containers, toilet paper, shampoo, body wash, hand soap, toothpaste, pain killers, cough syrup, dish soap, and tin foil. That’s more than 25 right there, not including my stove, my fridge, my freezer, my phone, and the transportation to get the food (I live 3 miles from the nearest grocery store).

I’m amazed at all the great conversations that have happened because of this challenge. And many people NOT on income assistance have told me that their meals aren’t that different from mine, or that they spend a similar amount on food. And I think this is great. I think some of the differences, though, come with the freedom that choice offers us. When we are able to buy more food (such as pizza with friends after an ultimate game), or if we eat all our apples because we hungry now (or throw out the apples because they’re brown and gross), we’re able to go to the store and buy more. I’m struck by the importance of choice. If you don’t have the choice, living “simply” can be quite paralyzing and depressing.

Looking back, did I accomplish my goals?

1) Raising awareness: Heck yes. I’ve had lots of great conversations. Our little website has over 1000 views. Many of us didn’t know about the $3.96/day allotted to a single person on social assistance. Now we do.

2) Understand a different reality: Sort of. On one hand, I generally was hungry, ate brown apples, ate a lot of rice, and did my best to live off of $5/day. But on the other hand, 5 days is short, I have bacon and ribs in my fridge for the weekend, I had coffee and used toilet paper, so I understand that even me “depriving” myself was quite contrived.

3) Better advocates: Ummm… We’ll see. Maybe I’ll fire a letter off or two. But I’m not sure if that’ll work. I have to see where this all leads me in the future.

4) Examine my own decisions: Yup. I have a lot of money to spend. And I spend it quite well. How much do I need, and where my money goes, are probably life-long questions. But maybe acknowledging my wealth and my privilege are a good first step.

5) Spiritual Discipline: Sort of. I didn’t have to pray for food, as I knew this challenge was temporary. But I was a bit more thankful for the food I did eat. I am reminded of my friends in Zimbabwe who, 10 years ago, kept telling me that “Wo/man doesn’t live on bread alone.” But it’s an awfully important part. I have some thinking and praying to do about my involvement in food security in my community.

Thanks for following along and/or joining!

“Lord, keep us from speaking of love while hoarding the gifts you have given us. Make us full of discontent as long as there are brothers and sisters living and dying in hunger. Amen.” – Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, March 9

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