9.24.2009

Time Slows, Annoyance Grows

It's Day 500--er, Day 5--of the Hunger Challenge, and the passage of time has all but ceased.

Today has been an in-the-office day for me, and typically on days like this, I'll look at the clock at, say, 10 a.m. and then discover, approximately five minutes later, that it's 1.30 p.m. Today, notsomuch. Regardless of the fact that I'm both getting a bunch of stuff done and obliterating a fair amount of time on Facebook and the like, the minutes have lengthened to hours. I had breakfast around 8.30--the same bowl of cereal that managed to do a decent job yesterday of filling me up for a few hours--and found myself hungry again less than an hour later. I promised myself I'd wait until noon for lunch, and that turned out to be a vow with painful repercussions, as it took about a day and a half for the numbers in the corner of my computer screen to creep to 12.00. And, of course, any feeling of satiety disappeared within the hour.

There doesn't really seem to be an escape from this lingering hunger. Exercising keeps it at bay temporarily, and then, of course, exacerbates it. Busying myself with work and chores gives me something to do but doesn't quiet my stomach. Even sleep can only do so much: this morning, though I would gladly have slept more to delay the need to eat, I got so hungry that I couldn't convince my body to go unconscious again. (There's a French phrase that keeps floating back to me: dormir c'est manger--to sleep is to eat. Evidently that only goes so far.)

I will acknowledge here again that there are things I could do to cut my food costs further in order to be able to eat more. I could go conventional and processed, could cut out coffee (or go the non-Fair Trade, non-sustainable route), could cut out fruits and veggies (second to coffee in terms of expense). But, of course, I'm too stubborn for that, and would (somewhat twistedly) rather deal with a few more days of hunger than give up the part of this Challenge that has let me realize just how vast the divide between Truly Good Food and Truly Affordable Food is.

Which brings us to the source of my annoyance. If you are a person of limited means who wants to avoid food grown with pesticides or trucked in from thousands of miles away, food that's overly processed or packaged, meat from animals that have been raised in cruelty, or stuff from Big Agra, you're kind of hosed.

With a few exceptions, food that's grown and produced in a way that's healthy and sustainable for the land from which it comes, that's cruelty-free for the animals behind (or in) it, that comes from the small, local farms and makers I think many of us would like to support if we could, and that's good for the people who grow, pick, process, package, and sell it--food like this does not come cheap. Some of it is laughably expensive: there's not a visit I make to Rainbow Grocery that does not have me stumbling across something that's so pricey it stops me in my tracks. And some of it is just expensive enough not to make sense if what you're truly concerned with is cost: if you're hungry and on a budget, why would you go for the organic plums at $3 a pound when the conventional ones cost a third of that?

There's a big, complex, difficult, frustrated argument to make here about how broken our whole system of growing, subsidizing, processing, packaging, and distributing food is. I, alas, am too spaced out this week to summon the brain power to even attempt to make that argument with any degree of eloquence or sense. (Besides, I think it's safe to say that many others have made it before me, to much greater impact.)

But I'll just say that that argument has played out for me this week in the form of the realization that when you're eating on a very limited food budget (and perhaps relying on the generosity of others to supplement it), you have to choose to either eat organically, locally, and sustainably or to eat enough. Were this more than a one-week experiment for me, I don't think that would be a particularly hard choice.

6 comments:

sonja said...

"Which brings us to the source of my annoyance. If you are a person of limited means who wants to avoid food grown with pesticides or trucked in from thousands of miles away, food that's overly processed or packaged, meat from animals that have been raised in cruelty, or stuff from Big Agra, you're kind of hosed."

I remember one time when my children were small and Ross was still in the Army. We were living on his stellar salary of about $35K, which meant about $300/month disposable income. My family was gathered up at camp on Lake Champlain and Kelt chastised me because I was not buying organic milk for my children. Well ... the price difference between a gallon of regular skim milk and a gallon of organic skim milk was such that I could get two gallons for the cost of the organic. And when you're feeding (and clothing, and etc.) a family of four on $300 a month ... you do what you have to do.

It wasn't that I didn't want to get the organic. I just could not squeeze it out.

Anonymous said...

The delectable pear I just ate off a tree planted decades ago has me wondering why you seem to have overlooked the option of growing food.

Also, did you consider using rice and beans as your staples this week, as they do in so many parts of the world?

Emily said...

Anonymous, because this was only a week-long project, there wasn't much I could do in terms of growing food--certainly not anything that would take a long time to bear fruit. Also, the organizers of the Hunger Challenge asked participants to consider whether low-income folks in an urban environment like San Francisco would have the time, space, and resources to grow their own food. In many cases, the answer is no.

As for rice and beans, while I didn't cook that dish per se, I did rely quite a bit on similar simple proteins and grains.

Anonymous said...

I do understand you couldn't have harvested much for this project. I just thought community gardens and tomatoes in pots on the roof might be worth mentioning in between railing against a system of abuse and toxin-tainted food versus painfully expensive produce and concluding that "that when you're eating on a very limited food budget...you have to choose to either eat organically, locally, and sustainably or to eat enough."

As for rice and beans, I simply remember my days of stocking bulk bins of organic food and marveling that a day's worth of calories and nutrients could be purchased for pennies.

It's an interesting project. I guess I question its value when it comes to producing accurate general theories of hunger. What seems like the real value to me is the powerful and basic sense of sympathy it must have fostered.

Emily said...

Anonymous, this post alone might not present the most accurate overview of what participation in this project has been like for me. If you're inclined, you might be interested to read my others from this week.

As far as theories of hunger, I can only speak for and of my own experiences this week, and how I see that those might apply to larger issues. My "railing" reflects opinions I've gleaned from my reading, from feedback from the SF Food Bank (that, for example, many of the clients it serves work multiple jobs, seriously limiting the time they have for gardening and other alternate methods of getting food), and my experiences this week.

I fully expect that every person who took the Hunger Challenge had different experiences, came to different conclusions, and has a range of opinions about hunger and our food sources. These are simply mine.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. It's clear to me that you're both smart and stubborn and that we view the world differently. I'll move along.

I'm starting to feel like I've littered on your blog. Please feel free to remove my comments.