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Hunger Challenge: Day Seven

One dollar and eight cents. That’s what I had left from my shopping trip at the beginning of the Hunger Challenge, and I’d been carrying it around all week in case of an emergency. And by emergency, I meant, a sudden and urgent need to go to McDonald’s.

I figured I could use the money either for a double cheeseburger off the dollar menu, or, if I decided to forego chain fast food, I could walk down to the amazing Chinese bakery near my house and get a steamed pork bun for 65 cents. Either way, that dollar and eight cents wasn’t going to go toward anything healthy, mostly because it would be hard to find something I could buy in the healthy category that would fit in that price range.

Sure, I could have gone to the grocery store and bought one piece of fruit, but to be honest, with only a dollar and eight cents to spend, I didn’t want to go anywhere near a big building full of food I couldn’t afford.

But then I won the baseball tickets, and that caused a whole new level of angst. Would they let me bring in my aluminum bottle full of water? If not, how to handle that? I certainly couldn’t go a full three hours in the sun without something to drink, even if I could bring in food.

I perused the A’s website and determined that I would have no problem bringing in my snack of choice, and it appeared I could bring in a factory-sealed plastic bottle of water, but that meant spending that dollar and eight cents on the beverage that had been boring me all week long…it hardly seemed worth it.

I developed a back-up plan: The free soda for Designated Drivers. Yes, I know the rules included not taking anything free, but this was already going to be the first baseball game I had attended since turning 21 that would not be accompanied by a beer—one can only go so far. I also considered taking my friend Jen’s advice—she suggested that I tell the people at the gate I needed the water for a medical condition.

As it turned out, I needed no backup options whatsoever. The guy at the gate checked my bag, waved me through, and all was well. My friend Deb and I found our seats and settled in. She had brought an apple and water, and I’d packed an apple, water, and ants on a log—celery stuffed with peanut butter and raisins.

“That’s not what I would think of as a baseball snack,” Deb said.

“Me neither,” I said. “I’m not really looking forward to it.”

But in the fourth inning, when I busted them out, it turned out they were better than I’d expected. Maybe it was the fact that it was the first time in years I’d made that particular snack, maybe it was just the fact that I was nearing home plate after rounding the bases of a very long week. Whatever the secret, I told Deb I was feeling pretty good about it all.

“It helps that no one is sitting around us,” she said. “And we’re not having to smell their food.”

True. But by the time I walked out of the only Major League Baseball game in my life that didn’t cost me any money whatsoever, I was feeling pretty good about things.

I got home as the sunlight outside was just turning gold, the sun dropping toward the horizon. With seven hours to go until midnight, I took a nap, then got up and cleaned the apartment. I ate my last batch of rice-beans-eggplant, with a little butter mixed in for extra flavor. I ate a hard-boiled egg later in the evening.

It occurred to me, as I was wiping down my kitchen counters, that I still hadn’t spent that $1.08. And I still had a surprising amount of food left: some rice, lentils, garlic. A carrot. Some celery. Eggs. About four cups of rolled oats. Brown sugar and peanut butter. Even a few raisins. After all that, I probably could have made the food stretch a few more days, although it would have gotten even less interesting as I went along.

And then, like that, it was midnight. The experiment was over. But it will stay with me for a long, long time.

6 Comments on “Hunger Challenge: Day Seven”

  1. #1 Don
    on Sep 29th, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Whenever I read about someone taking a challenge like this I am reminded about how much more thought and time goes into healthy and/or low-cost eating. Certainly you can make and pack a peanut butter sandwich without a lot of time, but it still requires a little more planning and prep than hemorrhaging money at Subway or McDs.

    It also requires a little more infrastructure. That pictured gladware container might not be terribly expensive, but you’ve got to own it before you can pack things in it. You couldn’t have purchased it when you did your shopping trip without removing other food – it’s more than $1.08.

  2. #2 inadvertentgardener
    on Sep 29th, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Don, you’re right about the infrastructure–one thing that I’m going to address in my wrap-up post (probably up tomorrow) is that very point. The tools I used to make this challenge work in the $19.92 budget were, in many cases, out of range of anyone actually working under those kind of constraints. I really can’t minimize in my mind the long-term stress effects of this kind of financial pressure. Unreal…and yet all-too-real for so many people.

  3. #3 Jenny
    on Sep 30th, 2008 at 5:41 am

    This has been thought-provoking (and funny in places). Thanks for sharing this.

  4. #4 inadvertentgardener
    on Sep 30th, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Jenny, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it.

  5. #5 End to the month…not the thinking – The Inadvertent Gardener
    on Oct 1st, 2008 at 12:03 am

    [...] This was a contrived experiment. I used cooking equipment and utensils that most people on food stamps couldn’t afford. I didn’t take anything free I could get my hands on, which is not how I would behave if I was in a real-life poverty situation. If that was the case? I’d have not only drunk the coffee and tea at work, I’d have probably been lining my purse with teabags for the nights and mornings and home. I would have carried water into the A’s game AND taken the free Designated Driver soda. [...]

  6. #6
    on Oct 15th, 2008 at 11:50 am

    What more can we learn? The infrastructure question is really interesting. Nearly all my food is cooked in an iron skillet ($12) or a stainless steel pot (less) with a simple metal spatula in an oven or on a stovetop. I store food in re-claimed jars from jelly, condiments, etc.

    The ants on a log would go great (and minus the plastic chemicals) in a jelly jar!

    FTR as well, we bring water, apples, & maybe a pb&j to every sporting event we attend. All this we do not as much for the money as for the health & environmental costs.

    Living cheap can be very, very satisfying, even when done out of choice, not necessity. But I’m still very, very grateful that I do not do it out of necessity, and pray for the courage to give everything I can to help those who *do* find it a necessity, every day.

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