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HunGRy - Day Four

September 20th, 2011

DAY FOUR - Saturday, September 17

Quiet Saturdays are good days for reflection. Today was not as difficult as I thought it might be in my quest to eat on $4.37 a day for a week. Often our Saturdays are filled with eating, visiting with friends, eating, shopping, eating, doing fun stuff, eating, seeing the grandsons, and eating out as a big family for 10 or 12 people. I didn’t want to be left out of this because I couldn’t spend the money to eat with everyone. Fortunately for me, everyone had other plans this Saturday. 

[Today is the fourth day of my participation in the HunGRy? Week challenge to limit myself to the foods I could purchase with SNAP funds. The average is $30.59 per person per week, that’s $4.37 a day. For this challenge, I cannot receive free food. Everything, including the cost of eating out, has to be included in this incredibly small amount of money. I wanted this experience to help me to empathize with people for whom this is the extent of their food budget. To read the previous day's blog, click here.] 

The dread that I felt earlier in the week of being left out of this weekend’s family activities because I couldn’t afford it, spoke volumes to me about the feelings some of my friends and neighbors live with every day. The fact that I didn’t actually experience being left out only slightly mitigates the sadness. I’m learning a lot from this experiment.

BRUNCH AT HOME

I’m still eating pretty well for my paltry allowance. Melody’s advice to eat at home rather than to eat prepared foods even at fast-food prices served me well today. Brunch (It’s Saturday after all) was a poached egg on toast with two cups of coffee and a little milk; this was followed by a peanut butter and bread sandwich (since I was still hungry). Total cost: $1.69. I was able to have a big dinner by the standards of most people—two taco-sized burritos with shredded Mexican cheese, three turkey pieces sliced deli-thin and some salsa. I even splurged for sour cream. If I were eating out, this would have been at least $5.99—much more than my daily allowance, but since I was eating at home the cost was only $1.50 for the whole dinner. I still had $1.18 so at end of day I had a small homemade bean burrito snack. 

REFLECTING

I mentioned that Saturday is a good day for reflection for me. As I re-thought yesterday, a couple of things came to mind.

Remember that can of peas that I had for my snack yesterday afternoon? As I was choosing that, my friend Shawn commented, “Oh, I sometimes choose just to heat up a can of green beans and eat that for dinner.” I do that kind of thing too. What dawned on me was that doing that kind of thing when that is what I want to do is completely different from doing it when it is something that circumstances (like lack of funds) foist on me. Empathy is building.

The other thing that is true for me living on this trifling food budget is that it is not so much hunger that is my enemy as it is embarrassment, isolation, fear and dread that eat at me (pun intended) when I cannot eat what I want.

The other thought that surfaced yesterday and was the object of some reflection today was how often I eat without thinking about it. During this experiment with not eating free food I think about everything that goes into my mouth, and I am realizing that most days I pop a cookie or two, crackers with my soup, condiments like sour cream and salsa and other goodies, without even thinking of them. I never count the cream in my coffee as part of the cost of my meal. I don’t look at the cost of individual ingredients in a recipe. If I can eat out on $10 a meal, that’s a good deal. That’s not true if $10 represents more than two days of my food budget.

I’LL NEVER THINK THE SAME WAY ABOUT FOOD

I think what I am feeling today is something akin to survivor’s guilt compounded by the guilty anticipation that Wednesday I can go back to eating as usual. Many thanks to my colleagues at Feeding America of West Michigan, ACCESS of West Michigan, UCOM, Kid’s Food Basket and other food security advocates who came up with this experiment. I really have a feeling that I will never quite think the same about food as I did before this.

Read the Day Three Blog.

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