Yesterday, September 30, was the official last day of the Hunger Challenge. I appreciate all the blog and Facebook comments…Yes, I am living proof that you can teach an old dog new ‘techno tricks.’ Your thoughts and words were truly motivating and inspired me to work through the hunger pangs, and the umpteen bowls of oatmeal. I know the challenge was no easy task for my Hunger Challenge Buddies, too. Kudos to Attilio D’Agostino from ALIVE Magazine, Rachel Storch, State Rep of 64th District, and Jeff Smith State Senator from the 4th District to sticking to their guns.
I am done with the 7-day challenge, but I was—and continue to be—reminded of people who don’t have an end, who have to survive on meager amounts of food stamps. I did get a call yesterday from a gentleman who works at a drug/convenience store, not to diminish any of the intention of the challenge, but to tell me that there are people who use food stamps to buy ‘snacks, soda, and crappy stuff’ (his words not mine). I guess he meant processed food items. I will take his word for it. My response to him and you is that ‘they’ may not know any better, which has been the case with many of our clients. Before they met our Dietitian Josh, some of our clients were ‘super-sizing’ at a fast food restaurants, looking for relatively inexpensive meals to fill the belly. Nutrition was not a priority… COST was the important factor. Turns out that many ‘cheap’ items are just not good for you. Should the items you can buy with food stamps be tightened? Only someone more knowledgeable than I can have an opinion. Having a nutrition discussion with food stamp recipients? Ideally but highly unlikely. At Food Outreach, our clients can rely on us to provide them with vital nutrition knowledge to get the best value if they also have food stamps. For those clients that do and those that don’t, we encourage to order more expensive items from us even though these items are free. That way when they use the stamps, they can get more food for their food stamp ‘dollar.’
One of the drawbacks of taking the challenge for only 7 days is that I wasn’t able to buy in bulk, or be able to shop around for more bargains…took the bus the first day and it was a 2-hour trip. You could be surprised …as I was…to learn that some of ALDIs prices are comparable to Trader Joe’s. One of the strategies of ALDIs is to have one size for many items. This cuts down on their cost, which I don’t dispute, but it left me with fewer size options to choose from. Consequently, I have food left over, so I guess I ate for less. Another thing about the challenge is that I had pretty easy access to a nearby ALDIs…only one bus transfer, but some people only have access to ‘mini-marts’ (for lack of a better term,) or convenience stores which are notorious for having higher prices. So, people get less with any money or food stamps they have, and are truly paying for ‘convenience’ ?
As with anything, there is learning. I learned never to bite off more than you can chew, which should be a life strategy too. But we are obsessed with eating ‘large.’ Portion size is out of control. I am amazed how hard it is to be a member of the ‘clean plate club’ at some restaurants. And I am reminded of all the ‘wasted’ food out there, from a meal made at home to a food festival in the heart of the city. Like I said before, take a peek in a trash can, and you’ll see what I mean. I will make it a point to listen to my body and hunger urges, and not just ‘Eat to Eat.’ Cutting down on the volume of food I order, forgoing appetizers when maybe an entrée would do just fine. You can see that I talk about eating out since I am culinary-challenged.
That reminds me… another lesson I have learned is that I need some cooking lessons. Thinking back, I probably could have gotten ‘better deals’ on items that I had to cook rather then buying for convenience, which was my modus operandi before and during the challenge. For example, buying frozen chicken breasts instead of a whole, fresh chicken, cooking it and cutting it up—imagine.
This was an exercise in willpower. I could have easily cheated on the challenge, and who would know? Well, I would know… and this was a personal mission for me. I wanted to better understand the food limitations facing our clients, and show how powerful our services can be for people battling life-threatening illness.
And lastly, I have a renewed appreciation for the hungry (eligible to be a Food Outreach client or not). People can be hungry because of no fault of their own. So, today I begin again with my eyes wide open to the impact that food can have on socialization, health, attitude, and overall quality of life. Hunger Action Month may be ‘officially’ over, but the need is still there. I have one final request for you: commit yourself to helping put an end to hunger. Donate your time, your services, your dollars… whatever you can do to help those in need.