I've cheated with this challenge. Just a couple times, once to sneak a Clementine orange into Maggie's lunch (apparently I worried that she'd contract scurvy within five days time?) and once to eat a coconut yogurt after having some nasty antibiotic-induced heartburn. I felt guilty both times, then thought more about how I had the option to "cheat" on our $1.50 budget.
For most families living below the poverty line, that $1.50 budget is non-negotiable. Your kid is nutrient-deprived from eating too much peanut butter (really one of the cheapest forms of calories) and not enough fruits and veggies? Too bad, because you can either deprive them of nutrients or get your utilities turned off or go without the bus pass that gets you to work daily. You've got some heartburn? Too bad, you probably also can't afford to go to the doctor if it's a chronic issue and are unlikely to even have the $5 for some over the counter medicine. Suck it up.
I've realized how much it robs your dignity to have to parcel out every single scrap of food. I found myself scrounging like a rat for any food I didn't have to pay for, bringing home a plate of cake from a meeting I went to, getting doubles of all the samples at Earth Fare when I went grocery shopping for next week. It was undignified, but it helped take the edge off the hunger. And when you're hungry, dignity goes out the window. I got hungry from just a few days of reduced calorie and reduced nutrient meals, what must it be like to live on this edge of hunger always, without respite?
This five day challenge has been tough, but tougher still is realizing how much more difficult it must be to live under such constraints, with constant food insecurity. For me to cook a couple of lentil meals in my $200 LeCreuset dutch oven is not a real hardship. I have the privilege of having a multitude of fancy kitchen equipment combined with the leisure time to learn how to cook well.
This week I have gotten a glimpse of how difficult it must be for families to live on the edge of hunger. Food is often not even the top priority of survival -- many impoverished families have reported that they have had to choose between paying for food and paying for essentials like utilities, heating fuel, rent, medical bills, and transportation. With such huge issues to face, such as unsafe housing, inadequate healthcare, poor education for children (if they even have access to school at all, as many impoverished families across the globe don't), physically taxing jobs -- when all that is added on, food and nutrition must become a distant concern. A life of poverty is often a life of very little choice in anything.
One exciting thing happened this week -- I got an email about a study that a local food bank is participating in that needs volunteers to conduct interviews and gather information. The Hunger in America Study is the largest study of domestic hunger and collects information about those in the U.S. who are living in food-insecure homes. I'm excited for this opportunity to learn even more about the difficulties facing such families in North Alabama.