Monday, April 8, 2013

Food for Thought

Surprise! You're getting a post on Monday! Why? Because I felt compelled to write and could not wait until Wednesday. Regular posting shall resume after this, but enjoy this little bit of randomness...

Today's impromptu post is inspired by Tom Hiddleston's Twitter feed, which I am addicted to... ahem, very interested in reading. He's been posting and taking part in a awareness challenge called Live Below the Line, in which people voluntarily live on £1 per day for five days (or $1.50 a day, for US participants). It isn't about starvation, it's about... aw, screw it, Hiddleston has a tweet that can phrase it better than I can:

There ya go. Anyway, I've been toying with the idea of signing up for this, except for the fact that it's
intent is to raise money with friends and family supporting you and, while I love the sound of that endeavor, I only have so many friends and family I could badger about this. So, I think it would behoove me more to do it on my own without registering but donate to another participant who is already registered on the site. But I'm getting ahead of myself; more on that shortly.

One reason I've brought this up is because, obviously, this ties right back into the previous humanitarian posts. Also, I'm a total foodie. I'm one of those hipsters trying to figure out what to make of organic and buying local and shopping at Whole Foods and considering vegetarianism... well, you get the idea. It's also family related, for health-related reasons but also because my mother works as a lunch lady in a elementary school in my hometown. She often comes home from work with interesting stories, in regards to nutrition and the free lunch program (a program that helps students from low-income families recieve meals if their parents can't afford to keep money in their lunch account). My mother had an interesting story for me when I was home over spring break when she came home from work one day and I wanted to write about it, but it wasn't relevant. Now it strangely is.

The item on the menu for the day at her school were Italian Dunkers, these slices of garlic bread covered in melted cheese and served with marinara sauce for "dunking," if you will. Despite the fact that the kinds in my mother's school have eaten these before and have been in school for nearly an entire year now, they didn't know what the menu item was and ordered the alternative of a bag lunch or a salad instead. But when they realized the it was a food item they actually liked, they simply threw out their bags or salads and got a hot lunch, essentially paying for lunch twice and just tossing out the food they didn't want.

This story came either just shortly after or around the same time I was writing The Hunger Games post. Hearing this literally turned my stomach. I mean, it's one thing to already see so many parallels with the Capitol in The Hunger Games, like basically having the ability to push a button and have food appear for you. But this put it in such an extreme, darker perspective. My mom has told me stories before about all the food kids waste but this was the pinnacle of it. I could never have imagined doing this as a kid. For one, my parents would have been furious. But another was that I was aware that other kids didn't have the same conveniences I did. Sure, I was never given the "There's children starving in Africa line" but I knew not to take food I wasn't going to eat. However, the kids at my mother's school take loads of fruit off the food line only to just toss it out. In a society that seems as if it's more aware that there is hunger and starvation throughout the world, how is it
then that children don't seem concerned with food waste? That they will carelessly dump out one lunch just to get something that they realized they'd better prefer when I'm sure some of their own classmates are just happy to get the only square meal they'll get that day? Do parents not tell their children there are people staring in the world - not as a threat or a way to make them eat their vegetables, but as a way of being honest and encouraging gratitude? Do their parents even realize there are people starving in the world?

I'm sorry not sorry for lambasting you all with social justice-y posts all of the sudden, but these themes and motifs keep showing up in my life. I like to give people a generally positive regard, but when I hear about how careless people are with things like food, it just really bothers me. Maybe it's because many of us don't know what hunger and scarcity are anymore. The Great Depression is long enough gone that many parents today have put their parents' or grandparents' stories about this era in the realm of the "long ago" and poverty is something that can be disregarded in some cities. The United States already has a weird relationship with food, what with our lack of a standard cultural cuisine, our fondness for fad diets, issues with obesity, and our vegan/vegetarian/omnivore lifestyle arguments, as well as other countless food debates we have. This Live Below the Line campaign looks at this from a different standpoint. What does the debate over organic food matter if you can hardly afford to buy produce as it is? Who cares about that new food item that's so popular now if you don't even eat three full meals a day? Why are vegetables so expensive but potato chips so cheap?

What's more, this has made me realize the weirdness of my food buying habits. I confess, I don't buy my own groceries. I work for peanuts, so I generally have my parents buy groceries for me. Also, the U of M campus is ridiculously devoid of grocery stores. There's one on University Avenue (off-campus) that I can walk to, but it's a Lunds and they're essentially a luxury grocery store (lots of high-end, organic foods and carpet... I had never seen grocery stores with carpet in them before I moved to Minnesota. I still think it's weird). And thus, I generally don't know how much I'm spending on
groceries. I mean, it's not like I'm making my parents buy me expensive foods just because they're buying - I try to stay pretty cheap (minus Nutella - Nutella is not so cheap) (and my tea obsession... oops). But I don't really have to budget much, unless I go to Lunds to pick up a few items and cry when four apples cost five and a half dollars or something. I really can't decide if this is privilege-y, a necessity, or just kind of sad and pathetic.

I also don't know the cost of common foods, like bread and carrots and things. It doesn't help that every store has a different price point and that things like bread change pricing depending on whether it's wheat or whole grain or white bread or some kind of specialty bread. But I do know that living on $1.50 a day sounds ridiculously, ridiculously low. Maybe if you were able to buy foods in bulk quantities (like at Sam's Club, a chain owned by the same corporation that owns Walmart, which sells things in huge massive quantities for cheap-ish prices), it would be more manageable. But memberships to these sorts of stores cost money. So that isn't even helpful. Essentially, you're just screwed. And this makes me terribly, terribly sad.

As you can probably tell by all of this rambling, I'm interested in this. However, I'm probably not going to register for the challenge, as I mentioned above. I'd love to give money to one of the charities the campaign is supporting, but it would probably be easier for me to give to someone else who is already doing this then registering myself and trying to convince people to donate on my behalf. Also, I'm a college student. Living on $1.50 a day is going to be hard with class and everything. Passing out because I
My tiny kitchen
haven't eaten enough food in the middle of campus is probably a very dumb idea. And I have a weird dietary schedule as it is, thanks to my status as a college student and my tiny kitchen (and a weird relationship with food in my past, but that's a story for another time). Actually, as I was looking at Hiddleston's photos he's posting of the food he's been eating for the challenge, I was thinking, "Damn, I think he's eating a more balanced diet than me." Now I'm really curious (and genuinely concerned) what my food budget is. I just eat a lot of pasta. And a lot of toast. And tea. And apples. Cut out the tea, and that seems pretty low budget. $1.50 a day? Probably not. But I'm curious...

Sooo.... with that much ado about nothing, here's what I'm getting at: next week, for five days, I'm going to figure out what my average budget of food per day is (I'm waiting til next week so I can get groceries and know how much stuff costs). Then, I'll figure that out and decide whether or not I can manage the $1.50 per day. If I do it, I'll probably blog about it, if that wouldn't be super annoying. I'm really interested in this, in part because of my already present interest in cooking and cuisine and nutrition, but also from this standpoint of caring about people and poverty and so forth. Also, I blame my mother for ruining my life and caring more about the school lunch program more than I already did (why did you let me watch that Jamie Oliver show with you, mom? Now I care about your job way too much! Not that that's a bad thing :D)


  1. Oh my food budget is terrible! I average spending between £30-£60 a week on food, occasionally more if I'm being stupid and eating out a lot. As a student, this is not good. I could probably try to stick to under £20 a week from now on, but there's no way I could get it down to under $1.50 a day (which google tells me is £0.98).

    This reminds me of something that's been in the papers here (UK) a lot over the last week - Ian Duncan Smith (Wiki: Conservative politician. He is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and was leader of the Conservative Party from September 2001 to October 2003) stated that he could live on £53 a week easily (that value has something to do with benefits, but I've been out of the loop recently so not entirely sure what). As he's currently on around £1600 a week, people started a petition asking him to prove it, which he's refusing to do so. A number of journalists have tried it though. Some have succeeded, but the most recent one I read (which I've tried to find a link to, but can't) couldn't even last a whole three days as she had children to pay for. The £53 had to cover bills etc too, and the people who have managed (including people who have to live on this anyway) say that you can only live on it if you don't really have a life worth living. You can't do anything (which I completely believe - my rent for accommodation near uni is about £140 a week, not including bills. So much debt T__T). I can't even begin to imagine life on £7 a week. It just doesn't compute.

    1. Wow; thank you for sharing this! The fact that £53 is even difficult to manage puts this even more into perspective for me. I didn't know current exchange rates for the pound versus the dollar but thanks for including it (and it's around about what I imagined - $1 = £1.50. Somehow, Ian Duncan Smith saying he could do this budget easily and then refusing to prove it doesn't really surprise me (politicians in the US often do the exact same thing). Expecting that amount of money to cover bills and everything else... it sounds entirely impossible. Even if I just automatically think of the amount in terms of dollars instead of pounds, it still seems really difficult. Especially if I start thinking of the things I have to pay over time like you mentioned - rent, utilities, bus pass, etc - and we are talking more than just grocery expenses.

      Also, based on my dietary habits of the past week, being busy and trying to eat filling meals when I get the chance, I have no idea how $1.50 a day for food would be possible at all. Even eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner (which I did twice this week) still seems like it would surpass the budget. I really cannot fathom how this can be done - and yet it must be a daily occurrence for many people :(