I took my dollars to the local farmers market and independent grocery store because I wanted to see if I could still eat healthy. The classic discussion is that healthy is expensive. And, it is. But, it's not impossible. I managed to purchase a week's worth of groceries and we were able to feed ourselves three (mostly)square meals a day.
Though it was possible, eating on a limited budget required planning (READ: Time) and it required stretching the food to last the entire week (READ: Rationing). I found myself bargaining over what I could have for dinner as a way to preserve my small bounty. For example, I settled for a bowl of soup on Monday so that I could save the precious proteins for later in the week. I limited my egg intake during the week to ensure I had enough for the weekend. This would often require going without and choosing something like yogurt and banana bread instead. I would often skimp at lunch, throwing a hodgepodge of items (a slice of banana bread, maybe a few spoonfuls of egg salad or a tiny cup of soup) to make a meal.
I found myself overthinking my next meal. Having to plan so meticulously in order to care for the little we had took mental energy that most definitely occupied valuable time. Even so, I still ate. I didn't go hungry or have to deal with hunger pangs. There was no panic because I didn't know where my next meal was coming from which is the reality for millions of people.
I experienced moments of gratitude too. My local farmer discounted my eggs for me when he heard of my challenge and I came across a boon of wonderfully juicy tomatoes in the middle of the week for $0.50. A friend bought my lunch one day and my church prepared dinner on a Sunday evening. When we did make a meal with one of our prized protein sources, I savored each bite. When good things happened, I counted my blessings.
The biggest realization for me was just how thoughtless I can be about my consumption and food shopping in general. I buy whatever I want. I eat as much as I want. I buy things that look good or because I have a recipe in mind and then fail to even use what I bought. I'm wasteful. I plan poorly.
This challenge has opened my eyes to the harsh realities faced by so many and it was a giant reminder of just how lucky I am. My husband and I have agreed to cut our grocery budget significantly. We have adopted a "use what we have" approach to cooking rather than buying more. We're going to aim for simplicity and moderation.
I think the mere fact of just knowing that we could live on less has been a huge lesson. I also realize that having reliable transportation and real food options nearby are luxuries, things I cannot take for granted.
I keep thinking about what I can do to help. Provide transportation for others? Cook for low-income families? Grow vegetables? I don't know what it is yet, but I don't think I can live life as a food writer and blogger without paying attention to the iniquities in our society. Pretty pictures and privilege can't be the only thing that exudes from my meager corner of the internet. Wouldn't be right.
For now, I'll move on with greater awareness and search for ways to help, whether it be writing a story or seeking out volunteer opportunities.
Here are a few organizations in Charlotte that are addressing issues of hunger and food scarcity: