In past years, I’ve usually gotten the “I’m over it” feeling by about the third or fourth day of the challenge. Some of my fellow challengers may know what I’m talking about: you begin to feel a little antsy, a little bored with the same food, a little impatient for the week to be over so you can get back to “normal” eating. Along with that, of course, comes the overwhelming sense of guilt that one has the nerve to feel this way when thousands of others actually have to live like this. It’s easy to regain focus after that.
This year, however, I had none of these issues. Sure, I was starting to feel a little woozy from the lack of calories, but otherwise, the fourth day of the challenge was absolutely smooth sailing. I glided through breakfast time with a hardboiled egg and a tomato; my lunch was an effortless arrangement of veggies & beans on a plate, and dinner was an easy baked potato with leftover chili spooned on top.
When all was said & done, I ended the easiest day of my challenge by spending only $3.37 for the entire day. Fantastic! Perhaps, I was getting the hang of this eating-way-lighter-than-I-normally-do thing; which surely meant that the following day was going to be a cinch. And with the new angle I wanted to pursue for Day 5 that would lead to an incredible story of resourcefulness & inspiration, how could anything possibly go wrong?
It’s always good when an experience knocks your inflated ego down a couple of notches. But when you’re a writer or some other creative type, there are times when you will go to an extreme, sometimes stupid lengths to get that perfect story or that perfect shot. And that’s exactly what I unwittingly did on Day 5.
My idea was to somehow incorporate the food truck festival that was scheduled for that day into my Hunger Challenge experience. While food trucks don’t accept EBT cards, it’s not uncommon for them to be clustered into little groups or “pods” in urban areas like Portland, San Francisco, etc. So it’s quite possible that many of the passersby are folks who are underprivileged and on some sort of assistance. And, like most people enticed by the aroma of food being cooked to order, they’d probably want to stop and partake of the tasty treats being sold.
So that was the angle I was going for: I’d put myself in that exact position so that I could see what it was like to pick & choose between food as a necessity and food as fun.
Because I’d have to play it very carefully in order to stick to my budget, my plan was to start the day with a very light breakfast, have tiny snack midday, and fill up later on the most affordable food truck food I could find at the festival. I figured I could probably get away with saving close to $3 for the festival, so I was already dreaming of my carne asada & Lengua taco reward.
Since I was completely out of eggs at home, I had to scrounge around for something breakfast-esque. A few minutes later, I concocted a simple peach smoothie using some clearance canned peaches, a tiny amount of vanilla yogurt and some milk. It wasn’t the best smoothie of all time, but in a pinch, it really worked. I had a small amount of it at home, then took the rest with me to work so I could really stretch out the $1.10 it cost to make. And it’s a good thing I did – when I got to work I realized my trusty snacktime hardboiled eggs were all gone. No snack for you, Poor Girl!
At that point, I started to wonder if I’d made bad decisions by going this route. Perhaps I should have just done a regular Hunger Challenge day, I thought. While I’ve gone through super busy workdays without eating a single thing, I’ve always known that there was something substantial available, should I need it for the hypoglycemia woozies. This time I had absolutely nothing to dig into but my little smoothie. And try as I might, I couldn’t make it last more than a couple hours. Panic started to set in.
As the day wore on, I began to feel pretty sick. Not terribly ill, just woozy, faint, and generally uncomfortable. I wanted – no, I NEEDED to eat; but I figured if I’d lasted this long, I could last a few more hours until dinnertime. But try as I might, I couldn’t shake off the sense of fatigue, of overall weakness. I felt myself swiftly running out of steam, despite my stubborn need to stick with my original plan.
But I just couldn’t do it. By the time I got off work, I was practically in a faint. It took everything I had just to make my legs move so I could take the train home.
See, what I’d forgotten to do was take into account that I now have a chronic illness to deal with – something I’d never had to take into consideration. Sure, neuralgia isn’t caused by a few days of eating limited meals; but staying on top of things like basic nutrition, getting enough rest and other symptom management is necessary to avoid feeling worse than the one already does on a daily basis. Unfortunately, by the time Day 4 hit, the effects of the Hunger Challenge were starting to set in. Ignoring them for a cool story idea just made things worse.
When I got home, I made myself a proper meal. I still had tacos on the brain, so I decided to stick with that and made myself a couple of veggie tacos using some of the veggie scraps I hadn’t used in Day 4′s White Bean & Veggie Salad. Combined with some black beans I’d cooked on Day 1 and some cheese I shredded from one of my cheese sticks, I had quite a tasty little dinner. Not quite carne asada, but believe me, they were very much appreciated!
What I did on Day 5 was dumb. I got so caught up in trying to show different ways folks could try to stretch their food funds that I didn’t pay attention to my own health & safety. I put myself at risk for some unnecessary health issues and that was just plain stupid.
The thing is, even if it didn’t happen the way I wanted, I was able to tell the story I’d originally set out to tell: to see what it was like to try to choose between food as a necessity and food as fun. As much as I struggle in my daily life, I still have the chance to make my necessary food as fun as possible. Even when I was on SNAP myself, I still managed to make all my meals as tasty & interesting – and as filling – as I could.
But not everyone has that choice, and I got to experience what that was like firsthand. How many times does someone on very limited means pass by something like a food truck festival, just wishing they could spend those last couple bucks on a churro, or a pierogi, or a grilled cheese sandwich? One thing is being able to make your SNAP money stretch for miles when you cook at home; it’s quite another to be faced with food temptations that you just can’t give in to, no matter how much you want to.
And those health issues? Even when employed, it’s difficult to have enough to cover the costs of a chronic illness like neuropathy or asthma or diabetes. For the unemployed and uninsured, trying to stay well is no easy task; add hunger into that equation, and it’s easy to see why staying well is almost impossible for some of these folks to do.
Final thoughts and the recipe for my tasty little veggie tacos coming up next!