Well, here we are, folks – last day of the Challenge. It’s been radio silence on my end for the past few days while I spent some quality time with Coop celebrating our anniversary. Food’s a huge part of our recreation together, and we went out for a decadent meal at Bar Agricole. Incidentally, Jake Gyllenhaal was also eating there that night, and I got so stupidly star-struck that I could hardly finish my entree – which felt even more wasteful than usual. Plus Coop was totally upstaged.
I knew I’d definitely be cheating the Challenge for at least our anniversary, and had planned on compensating by going back on my diet of mostly PB&J’s and spaghetti this week. But I fell off the wagon. Hard. Not on Thursday – on Wednesday. I embarrassingly only made it half way.
First there was coffee. Then dinner at Pauline’s with a close friend I hadn’t seen in a while – lots of greens and all the garden-fresh produce I’d been forgoing. On Day 1 I was determined to stick it out, but stress had other plans for me. And after a rough week trying to cram everything on my to do list into 3 days, I could justify a little treat – acknowledging that my threshold for "rough week" is totally different than that of someone who actually has no fallback, no safety net, and faces an uphill battle to meet even their most basic needs. And granted, cheating ain’t an option when money’s tight. You can’t stress-eat or binge when you have just enough to last you through the week. But I was quick to fall into my usual habits after the initial sticker shock, spending nearly a whole day’s food stamp budget on espresso and a week’s budget on a meal.
Giving up coffee affected me more than I’d anticipated, and left me fatigued on top of being a bit overwhelmed at work. That latte (yea, I know, it *had* to be that) was consolation, and I savored it, being conscious to not take it for granted like I usually do. I’d forgotten how coffee suppressed my hunger, and I didn’t need to eat lunch until later in the afternoon, unlike Monday and Tuesday when my stomach had started growling at 11. It made me think about the connection between stimulants and hunger, and how cigarettes have the same effect and must be an even more potent drug for someone who’s not getting the nutrition they need.
Even after just 3 and a half days eating super processed foods and zero fruits and vegetables, my body was (and is) pissed at me. I’ve got rashes and a cold sore – a telltale sign that my resistance is low – and I’m barely staving off a sore throat. This diet has got to be hell for anyone with food sensitivities. And forget it if you want to try loading up on leafy greens and raw veggies to detox and calm an angry digestive system – unless you grow it, have some cheap source of bulk produce, or you’re getting it from pantries supplied by the Food Bank.
In some ways, I feel like my utter failure to live on this budget is a more effective personal lesson and message than if I’d passed with flying colors. It’s damn hard, and now I have some tiny sliver of experience and concrete proof of just *how* hard it is.
Without a doubt, I’m unbelievably privileged to have the option to spend such an absurd amount on the out-of-this-world food our city has to offer. 3 days off of the Challenge, I’m still blown away by the amazing food I have the luxury of affording and marveling at checks when I eat out or shop at a high-end grocery. I don't think the feeling will wear off right away. And my hope is still that that stark, vivid contrast of inequality will be a driving force that motivates me – along with anyone who took the Challenge or knew someone who took the Challenge – to do the long-term work to change the underlying causes of hunger in our community while making sure in the short run that hungry families have access to healthy food.