Beck and I are living off of $4.72 per day per person this week as part of the SF Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. This includes preparation and time… With a restricted budget, there are foods that don’t make it in, there are cravings and there is fatigue. I’m blogging my ramblings of the challenge this week.
Doing a hunger challenge on a Saturday is hard. Being involved in this during the weekdays somehow seemed far easier than the weekend. On any typical weekend I might be:
- canoodling with a bagel and cream cheese, reading a book
- stopping in for a weekend cafe au lait, reading a book
- heading to the farmer’s market, book in my bag
- perhaps planning a night out at a restaurant with the boy
Clearly today involved reading, as all good days do, in my book. But it also included moments of radio silence which usually would be filled with the flavors and noise of food jaunts. I might say today I am just eking by… and my routine I usually take for granted is missed, my small extravagances.
And this gets me thinking about the middle class.
The middle class that is according to articles I’ve been reading lately, shopping for cheaper foods and dwindling. (Look up P&G in last week’s Wall Street Journal for “A Tale of 2 Shoppers” and a second article on P&G changing their focus from middle class to appealing to lower…also WSJ). What seems to be happening is a rise of affluence and a steady rise of working poverty. I am not a child of the great depression but have the great privilege of sometimes hearing stories from older consumers who have lived through it, who developed thick skin and tight pocketbooks, letting the leanest of times inform the best. Then in 2008, the recession happened and I began watching the bottoms fall out in people’s lives around me. I listened as my dad shared that a client who owed him $25,000 for a job finished could not pay and pled bankruptcy. I knitted my brow for him.
Those things keep you up at night.
And while I don’t think my Dad despaired or had difficulties putting food on the table, it is a good indication of the temperature of the people landscape around us. So, while you may be wondering, “Annelies, why are you talking about the middle class at the tail end of your week-long hunger challenge?”, it’s pretty simple. More people from the middle class are transitioning into the working poor than I think may let on. This means to me, that the possibility of people living on food stamps is increasing behind closed doors.
Which makes the hunger challenge even more important.
Take my friend we’ll call Sam. He had a steady job a few years ago and got bitten by the bug to move to New York and more deeply pursue his career in his field. At the time, my job afforded me quarterly trips to the big apple and I went from seeing Sam giddy and high on the bright lights and big city opportunities to foundering. He lived in that city for over a year and worked an odd job or two to help pay bills. I remember him telling me he had to skip meals. I remember the thought of my per diem chafing me as I listened. He told me that Chinese fast food was cheap and kept him full for hours. He’d learned survival tips for a tough, unbreakable city. He moved back to San Francisco and sought out his old job, but was only able to re-enter it part time. After many months of looking, he joined a retailer and has learned how to live off of meager means.
If that example doesn’t suit, then perhaps take my friend we will call Oliver. His job only paid a portion of his salary per paycheck and for about a year because the company was slowly going under. He began looking for other opportunities in San Francisco and when none presented themselves, he ended up moving out-of-state for a job where he would make an amount that technically qualified him for food stamps, but involved an industry he was passionate about. He has truly learned to skimp and save and do it healthfully.
Last one, a couple we will call Jane and Derek. Jane lost her job and because of a chronic health issue found it difficult to look for others. Not that long after Jane lost her job, Derek lost his. Jane eventually found part time employment but that barely sufficed to pay the bills. Derek had been looking for over a year with no luck when they decided to move closer to their families.
So here’s what I might entreat or perhaps assuage you to consider: a lot of people around you are just getting by and maybe you fall into that category too. Maybe the point of the hunger challenge is only to show how difficult it is to live off of $4.72 per person per day for food. And I won’t lie, it is hard. But perhaps as I’m nearing the end, one of the things that will be my grand take-away is the idea of mindfulness.
To be mindful of what I have that can be given
To be mindful of who is around me and keeping my ears open
To be mindful of what I have and give thanks
To be mindful that life is not always fair or easy
but with support, love and for me, God, life is most sweet when shared