HunGRy - Day One
September 14th, 2011
DAY ONE - Wednesday, September 14
Talk about food insecurity! Today is the first 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.
Admittedly I have some luxuries that people for whom this is an everyday reality do not have. For example, I agonized over whether to commit to this…especially so publicly. As a died-in-the wool foodie, glutton and generally insatiable eater, I felt something akin to panic as I struggled with whether to participate in this experiment. People who know the reality of food insecurity don’t have the option of choosing this way of life. It has chosen them.
My second luxury is the time limit. I plan to engage in this venture for one week—7 days, and then I can increase the amount of my spending on food. Again, this is not an option for people who live with poverty. Usually they cannot see the end of the tunnel. The constant planning, struggling, wondering about food for themselves and their children may not have an end. Just the thought of that makes my stomach shrivel.
That’s the other thing. I am the only one in my household who is limiting my spending on food. I don’t have to think about feeding my family on this; they will not suffer hunger if I am unable to provide enough for them this week. Stretching a food dollar works a lot better if the only one affected is the provider. There is a lot more pain to hear, “I’m hungry,” from someone you love with those big eyes looking trustingly up to you to solve the problem. That REALLY would hurt.
“I can’t afford it; I’ll just have a glass of water please.” That was my response to the server at Sundance Grill this morning at 8 when I joined several other non-profit CEOs for a breakfast meeting. Just to have a glass of juice or a cup of coffee would have taken half of my food allowance for the day. I felt embarrassed to “admit” to my friends and colleagues that I didn’t have enough money to eat with them. When I filled them in on the challenge, there was a lot of conversation around the very real subject of food insecurity. My shame passed when I was able to explain, but for a minute I felt it.
The next thing that I felt was loneliness and unfairness as my friends’ orders arrived and I watched them enjoy oatmeal and fresh fruit or yogurt and granola; I smelled the coffee. It was not so much hunger at that point as a feeling of isolation. I imagined that they had what I couldn’t. In my case it was because I had determined not to spend above a set amount for daily food; I wasn’t really isolated. I wasn’t really left out. At our meeting next month, I can order whatever I want. For a minute though, I wondered, what if I couldn’t? Ever.
Back at work after the meeting I indulged myself in a snack—a big red garden fresh tomato and ½ an onion submarine sandwich bun with water. That fortified me, and diminished my food budget for the day by $1.
After a few hours of work I was ready for lunch at 2:30, so I heated a small bowl of homemade chili, seasoned just right, and watched my food budget dip by $1.50 more. I know I’m going to be hungry twice more (at least) before bedtime, and I now have only $1.87 to spend for food today.
I think that will cover a 99 cent bean burrito at Taco Bell for dinner and hopefully an apple before I go to sleep.
It strikes me that I am spending more time thinking about and planning for food today than I usually do. This may be another of the things that my counterparts in real food insecurity experience on a regular basis.
DAILY POSTS THIS WEEK
Check in tomorrow for my further adventures and some reflections.
Join me in taking the challenge if you like. Please feel free to make comments and reflect yourself on either my experiment or your own. Together we can learn a lot about food insecurity and maybe become more empathetic with people who experience this without even trying…or blogging about it.