Well, I didn’t successfully complete the one-week D.C. Hunger Food Stamp Challenge, but, I did learn valuable lessons and new personal insights.
But first, full disclosure. Why didn’t I finish? I pretty much gave up. I tried, but it was pretty tough.
The first lesson I learned was, if grocery shopping on a limited budget, it’s best to buy everything before the week begins. That way, it’s harder or better yet impossible, since there’s no money, to be tempted to buy high priced foods here and there throughout the week that you really don’t need.
The second lesson I learned is how connected I am with food, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. The fourth night of the challenge was the hardest. I went to bed feeling almost depressed because I couldn’t eat what I really wanted. The smell and taste was so close, yet so far. Up until the fourth day, physical hunger wasn’t a problem, but that night, my stomach was feeling empty. Ironically while I write this, an ABC Nightline commercial just aired about gastric-bypass surgery and referred to food “as an addiction.”
On the morning of the third day, I was so irritable that I grabbed a cold cookie from a refrigerator and ate it within 20 seconds. I felt so restricted that I didn’t even warm it up like I usually do. I didn’t even like that particular chocolate flavor, but it was sweet, quick, satisfying, accessible, and free.
I pretty much knew that I was going to go back to the usual eating regime on the morning of the fifth day. I still can’t really imagine how people who are really suffering from chronic hunger, and people who don’t necessarily starve, but who can’t afford the foods of their choice, feel.
I think I took it so hard because it was such a fresh experience for me, but for someone who hasn’t had the foods of their choice for months, I wonder if there is a kind of desensitization to the whole thing of missing tastes.
All this wondering made me pull the late Elliot Liebow’s, Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women, off my bookshelf. I like this book because the information comes from his participatory observation of single, homeless women in emergency shelters in DC. One of the main problems of daily living was health and diet.
“Obesity, stomach disorders, diabetes, food allergies, cardiovascular irregularities, and other disorders for which diet is integral to treatment made up another class of common health problems that resisted treatment by the very nature of homelessness…typically in shelters, few choices were available. Low-fat, low-salt, low cholesterol…and other low-this-or-that dietary injunctions were almost impossible to observe,” Liebow writes.
Nobody, especially in the U.S., should go hungry, and/or be subject to affordable but highly unhealthy food. We have enough food in our stores and restaurants for everyone to eat sufficiently and healthy. This made me want to do a little research.
According to the nonprofit organization CARE:
• More than 840 million people in the world are malnourished — 799 million of them live in the developing world;
• Over 153 million of the world’s malnourished people are children 5 years of age or younger; and,
• A lack of essential minerals and vitamins contributes to increased child and adult mortality. Vitamin A deficiency impairs the immune system, increasing the annual death toll from measles and other diseases by an estimated 1.3 million-2.5 million children.
That’s hard to digest (no pun intended), not because it doesn’t seem valid (I wish that were the case), but because it’s mind blowing.
What’s going on in the most developed country?
Looking at hunger stats at home (the U.S.) according to FRAC (The Food and Research Action Center):
• At least 10.8 million people live in homes considered to have “very low food security.”
• In my home state, Maryland, 196,000 households were considered “food insecure” from data gathered between 2003-2005. 115,165 of people in these households were WIC recipients (Women Infants and Children). Minimum wage in Maryland was $6.15 as of 2006. That is not enough for a woman who has a young child or children, and is trying to pay for decent housing, to live on.
• In DC, the number is lower, with 31,000 households considered to be “food insecure” from data gathered between 2003-2005. 15,193 of people in these households considered food insecure are WIC recipients. The minimum wage in DC was $7.00 as of 2006.
These types of facts outrage me, especially when I hear about the kids. That’s also what made it frustrating to quit the challenge prematurely–guilt from knowing that I have the privilege to return to my “regular eating” when many don’t.
On a positive note, a good insight I had from all this was that I should continue volunteering at the Pathways shelter I go to monthly. I am a “dinner volunteer” for the smaller subcomponent of Calvary Women’s Services in DC, and in the two weeks prior to the challenge, I’d just started searching for different volunteering opportunities that might provide more direct interaction between me and the clients.
Pathways houses about 10 chronically homeless women, some with mental disorders, and at the site there isn’t much talk between me and the women when I go to deliver food and prepare plates. While I understand why they wouldn’t want to chat it up with someone they see bring some dinner in every once in a while, I really would like an opportunity that allows me to interact more, so I was thinking of not going anymore, and instead looking into reading for children in local hospitals or something.
After this challenge, while I can look for other opportunities, I know I can’t stop bringing the food. The women always say they like my dishes, and the least I can do is send some hot, tasty, nutritious dishes their way.
Nobody should have to go hungry, and for me it starts on working on issues that affect the women right here in the local community.
For information on other ways to get involved in our community, Volunteer and Connect!