#HungerChallenge Day 5: When Hunger Goes Beyond A Challenge

Folks, my neighbors have made it through the #HungerChallenge with lots of realizations. They’ve definitely been hungry, they’ve had stress dreams, and they’ve been really conscious of food. Since they’ve completed the Challenge, I’m donating $10K to the SF-Marin Food Bank. If you’re able, you can give back to the Food Bank, too.

For every $1 you donate, the Food Bank can distribute $5 worth of food, and 96% of all donated resources go directly to their programs.

If you missed the series of updates this week from Teri, you can catch up by reading each day here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.

Day Five: Perspective shift; Teri said:

I mentioned that I had saved some money in the budget in case we needed to augment our stash later in the week. By Thursday’s dinner, we needed it. By my count I had about $5.50 left to spend, so I checked online and saw that I could pick up a pound of tofu for $2, leaving a little over $3 for broccoli. With the onions and rice, we’ve got ourselves a stir-fry. I stopped at a not-cheap store, I’ll admit. But with only $3 for broccoli, I want the freshest stuff I can find, and I am tired and it’s already late and the store is on my way home. My older daughter, who is both taking this Challenge very seriously and also really cranky about it (welcome to the tween-age years), is with me. I encourage her to stay in the car because it will be hard to walk through the aisles and not become instantly tempted by pretty much everything. Which is precisely what happens. But we stay focused. We carefully weigh the broccoli, double-check the price of the tofu, which is on sale for 2 for $4 but I only want one — will I get the sale price? (Turns out: yes.) On the way back through, eyes on the cashier, I remember that we desperately need toilet paper! This is outside the Challenge, so I grab a 12-pack without looking at the price and check out. I keep an eye on the monitor as she rings up the tofu and broccoli — OK, good, we’re within budget — so I fish out some money, and when the cashier gives me back $4 from my $20 bill, I am startled. “Wow, that’s some expensive toilet paper,” I say. When she gives me a funny look (like, duh, everything here is expensive), I am a mix of surprised and a little embarrassed at my strange outburst. I start thinking about all the other necessities a household needs. My mind is a bit of a swirl. I am definitely hungry.

Between the tofu and the broccoli, the kids are happy with dinner. John and I eat a mostly onion version… (see photo above). We are really almost out of food, especially by the time we eat breakfast and make lunches for Friday (see photo below of what’s left). My lunch yesterday consisted of roasted potatoes and onions with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese (I have realized this week just how much cheese my people eat, acutely feeling its absence). I like this combo, actually, but it dawns on me that the last time I ate only that for a meal because I had nothing else was when I was a student living in Moscow during the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and there was simply very little food to be found — routinely only onions, potatoes and sometimes mustard (for some reason) were available at the state-run stores.

There are interesting parallels between this week’s #HungerChallenge and my experiences living in Moscow as a student, actually. As an American with an Amex card I could have gained access to the expat-oriented “hard currency” stores (you flash your plastic to the bouncers at the door) and eaten a diet rich in pâté, caviar and, more to my taste at the time, Skippy peanut butter. But I wanted to have a “real” experience in this foreign land, to try to live like a local, and so I blanched at the exorbitant prices of the fresh produce trucked in from the Caucasus at the farmers’ markets, even though by American standards it was absurd to haggle a price of 25 cents for two pounds of red peppers. (Haggling was part of the deal there, and to not haggle would have immediately tagged me as an American; haggling kept my nationality in question.) But after a couple of months of this — and facing unhealthy weight loss — I relented and started spending more on food. Because I had no refrigeration and terrible communal cooking facilities (I’m not exaggerating when I say we had to watch our food cook because the cockroaches would scurry up out of the stove and try to crawl into the pan when we turned on the burners), I started to frequent McDonald’s, where I could pick up an entire meal — with a shake — for the equivalent of about 80 cents. But for a local? That one meal would have cost the entire month’s salary of a typical civil servant, such as an ambulance driver. When I came home, I thought I would relish the return to big American grocery stores. But for several months, every time I went to the store I would just stand there and stare — so much, so convenient, right there for the taking — and experience a bit of shock. Coming face to face with tremendous and senseless disparity for the first time in my life had a profound effect on me. I felt guilty and confused — and deeply, viscerally aware that the accident of where you start out in life makes a huge difference on fundamental things, like food (and freedom, in that case). Standing there in the wide, well-stocked aisles bathed in cheery light, it was hard to imagine that the constant struggle to get enough to eat had actually been real for me or for anyone. But it was. And it IS, right now, right here, for way too many. And it’s not an experiment that ends on Friday.

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I’ve really gotta thank my neighbors for taking this on and following through. The SF-Marin Food Bank is the real deal, and they’ve got their boots on the ground doing really good work to help people out who don’t have enough to eat. You can help out by giving back. Thanks!

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