Last week I wrote about my attempt to spend a week living off the equivalent average food budget of a Haitian. To recap: with some fancy math, this works out to be $34.33 because our cost-of-living is so much higher. I promised to report back this week on my post-challenge reflections, share some low-cost recipes, and talk about why I think this challenge is timely in light of what is currently going on in our world.
Well, I did succeed in spending no more than $34.42 on food in the last week. From last week’s grocery purchase, I still have half a bag of spinach, 4 eggs and most of a can of cooking spray leftover. I managed to go an entire week without alcohol, which is a major feat for me. But, I must admit, that I did drink some of my husband’s coffee (which he bought on his $34.33 budget, as he’s doing the challenge too), drizzle some olive oil and balsamic vinegar we already had on hand on my salads, and consume 1/3 a loaf of bread with a light butter spread – using the excuse that I didn’t want it to go to waste.
So is this cheating or a revelation in human nature and our impulse to survive? While on the food challenge, I was even more aware of the abundance that most Americans take for granted. With just a budget of $34.33, my instincts were to eliminate extras like prepared salad dressing, chocolate, and wine that are normally a part of my diet, and maximize my resources in order to survive. But when other food items were already readily available – coffee, bread, butter – and I was hungry, how could I resist?
The biggest lesson learned from food challenge? It wasn’t so bad for a week, and I actually ate pretty healthy. But the real challenge would be to live off the budget long-term. Also, this was the average food budget of a Haitian, so what about people who live off even less than this? I also wanted to keep hunger in the United States in mind, and with our food prices growing each day, how does a minimum wage-earning single mom with kids survive and still manage to eat healthy?
While on the hunger, challenge here is pretty much what I ate everyday:
- 1 whole grain tortilla with ground flaxseeds
- 1 cage-free egg, scrambled in a little bit of cooking oil
- 1/3 can of black beans
- 1 tablespoon of salsa
- 1 small glass of orange juice
Estimated Cost per Meal = $1.20
- 2 cups of organic spinach
- 5 organic cherry tomatoes
- 1/3 can of organic kidney beans
- 1 tablespoon of salsa
- 1 organic apple
Estimated Cost of Meal = $1.85
- 2 oz. whole wheat penne pasta
- 1/3 can of tuna
- a few leaves of organic spinach
- 2 organic cherry tomatoes, chopped
- a drizzle of olive oil
- a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
- 1 small glass of milk
Estimated Cost of Meal = $0.98
Notice how this diet doesn’t contain much fat? I didn’t realize this until Day #5 of the challenge, but I had already exhausted my weekly food budget.
So why this self-imposed exercise in hunger, you might ask? Because while we can go back to our normal $100/week grocery budget + eating out at least once or twice per week, millions of people in the United States and around the world don’t have that option.
Here’s a link to a recent 60 Minutes segment on how poverty, homelessness and hunger affects children in the United States.
And while our government continues to pour money into its defense budget and give tax cuts to the rich, they’re debating cutting the limited funds (less than 1% of our total budget) for international aid by 20%. Coincidentally, during the past week, I’ve been working on a research/writing project that involves interviewing about a dozen people in developing countries on how foreign assistance for HIV-related programs has impacted their provision of services.
The sentiment from the U.S. government seems to be “do more with less,” which means laying people off work in countries with over 50% unemployment. Meanwhile, in the United States, the gap between rich and poor continues to increase. Why can’t the rich share in their abundance?
To learn more about how U.S. politics affects hungry and poor people at home and abroad, and steps you can take to do something about it, visit www.bread.org.