As we were enjoying amazing sushi, cocktails, and wine last evening with friends, the tone of the conversation turned serious as we talked about Food Outreach’s Hunger Action Month. Craig and I (and one of our dining companions) are taking the hunger challenge where we eat on $29 for a week, the USDA/SNAP food stamp allotment in Missouri. Why are we doing this? To understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of the hungry and to raise awareness how widespread food insecurity is in our own community.
I am confident we’ll have enough to eat and our meals will be healthy. But we’re fortunate because I know how to cook. I am well-versed in meal planning and cooking nutritiously and inexpensively – rice, beans, lentils – with planned leftovers for lunches. We also have access to many resources that most Food Outreach clients – and the 16% of Missouri residents the USDA estimates are food insecure – do not have in order to fill their bellies with tasty, wholesome food. We will drive to a farmers’ market to get seasonal (and cheaper) produce. I have hundreds of cookbooks and can easily go online and retrieve millions of recipes. Our kitchen (in our nice home in a safe neighborhood) is well-stocked with appliances and enough pots, pans, baking dishes, bowls, blah, blah, blah to easily prepare dinner for 25. And we’re really, really healthy! We’re not taking chemo or antiretroviral drugs that leave us too exhausted or nauseated to cook, and we’re not battling hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol. Hunger is only one of the many hardships experienced by those living with a terminal illness – and – living in poverty.
It took us an hour and a half to plan our meals for the four days we are doing the challenge. It never takes me that long to plan meals for an entire week. I usually ask Craig what he’s hungry for. Not this week. Even buying frozen, (cheaper) tilapia from Whole Foods, the only place we buy fish, is not feasible this week ($2.99 for six ounces). Typically if we have lentil, sweet potato, and spinach soup, I’d pick up a whole-grain baguette from Trader Joe’s. Not this week. Since I’m making brown rice for a vegetarian broccoli casserole, we’ll have the soup over rice. And we usually have at least three or four things for dinner (salad/soup, protein, starch, vegetable). Nope. A small, simple salad – OR – homemade applesauce will be the only other thing we can afford with our soup, chili, pizza, or casserole. Choices on a food budget are extremely limited. And if I didn’t cook, our eating would be likely be peanut butter sandwiches, cereal, and canned and boxed foods (soup, stew, chili, tuna helper), all of which are so much more expensive and nutritionally inferior to home-cooking. And how do you fill half your plate with fruits and veggies as the USDA recommends?
After we shop, what we purchase is what we’ll be forced to eat. We will have no flexibility to change our minds if we’re in the mood for something else. Since we’re planning on eating dinner leftovers for lunches, I will make the soup and chili before we start the challenge so we have lunch for day one, and we don’t need to eat the same thing for dinner and then lunch the next day. Again, it hits you how little variety you have eating on $4 per day.