2010 Hunger Challenge, Days 4 & 5: In Praise of Distraction/Life Interferes

Day 4 (Wednesday)
There's a fascinating thing that happens on occasion when I'm with a client and we're deeply engrossed in work: no matter how hungry I might get, I'll reach a point at which I'm so far beyond hunger that I can go for hours without eating. Even once we've wrapped up for the day and I've left, it sometimes takes a while before I realize that I haven't eaten for many hours and am, in fact, ravenous.

Unhealthy as this is, it's actually fairly handy: no need to interrupt the flow of the work I'm doing and no weirdness or worry about when, how, where, and what to eat when I'm in someone else's home or office.

I didn't particularly intend to invoke this hunger legerdemain yesterday, as I was home (which usually means that I get unignorably hungry on schedule) and was working on my own admin stuff, not a project for a client. But somehow it happened. I had a quesadilla (one Trader Joe's handmade wheat tortilla, about an ounce of cheese, and salsa--45¢) in the late morning, and then set to work weeding out, digitizing, and reorganizing my business files.

Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I had an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie from the batch I'd made on Saturday (15¢), along with some water.

And then it was 7.30 p.m. My friend Mary called, and as we chatted, I realized that I hadn't eaten for hours and was bound to go downhill fast if I didn't make myself some dinner. 7+ hours on a single quesadilla and a cookie=cheap, yes. Recommended, not especially.

Thanks to the grocery center stipend of free produce, the only part of my meal that actually cost me anything was the pasta (32¢) and the feta (25¢); the roasted potato, carrot, and onion that went with them were "free." Total for the day: $2.12. (After I tallied that late in the evening, I ate another cookie in celebration, bringing the sum to $2.27.)

This get-beyond-hunger-by-working phenom reminds me of a saying my high school French teacher taught me: Dormir, c'est manger, or To sleep is to eat. Lose yourself deeply enough in something else and you might forget that nothing of substance has gone in your mouth for hours.

But that forgetting, of course, can't last.

Day 5 (Thursday)
Can't last, and doesn't. I woke this morning, 45 minutes before my alarm, hungrier than I've been all week. Normally I can find myself at least a few hours into my morning before I'm truly hankering for breakfast, but today, no such luck. I was so distracted and miserable that I had to eat a bowl of cereal just to function.

I went through the day today knowing that this evening I'd be going to a networking meeting for which I'd already paid, and at which there would be appetizers. I wrestled with the Hunger Challenge protocol here: since I'd paid weeks ago, wouldn't it be foolish to go and not eat anything? Also, how much of what I paid for the meeting went toward food, and how much toward the general meeting expenses? Finally, how guilty should I make myself feel for veering off the path here yet again this week?

I decided on a compromise, sort of: I kept the rest of my food expenses today to $2.23, bringing me to $4.50 total for the past two days. To balance that out, I decided I'd let myself eat sans guilt at the meeting tonight.

And then I blew that compromise by buying a glass of wine. It was completely overpriced event wine, and chardonnay at that, but sometimes these schmooze-y meetings are just easier with some vino.

Which brings me to this: so much of my life, whether personal or professional, involves food in some way. With friends, I go out for dinner and drinks, or we gather at someone's house over wine and tables crowded with things to eat. When I network, nine times out of ten a meal--or at least a beverage--is involved. With colleagues, we meet in taquerias or cafes to swap stories and offer support, or we show up at each other's doorsteps with a bottle of something, a plate of something, and then sit and talk and laugh and eat. And eat.

But what if I couldn't? What if I really were subsisting on $28 a week, plus rations of produce from a grocery center? What if every time someone asked me to join in a meal or a drink out I had to beg off because I couldn't afford it? I would, I admit, be totally adrift.

This week, life has interfered with my ability to be completely faithful to the Hunger Challenge. It's jarring to realize the reverse: just how much being hungry and in need would interfere with my ability to live the life I'm used to. Damn if I don't take that for granted.


DavidShag said...

I came here randomly - I was reading a comment on my own blog and clicked on the 'next blog' just to see what I'd get. I was first struck that you had an Eliot quote as your blog title. I love Eliot, and I knew you had to be interesting!

I have noticed for a long time that I almost resent eating when I am engrossed in something - I used to work through lunch when I was in an interesting place while programming - even though I loathed my job. On the other hand, I can hardly turn on the TV without starting to think about what is available in the kitchen, which says a lot about how much of a waste of time most TV is - though I must be honest and say I watch a lot. I know that as soon as I tried what you are doing, I would be seized with a desire to eat all the time. As soon as I tell myself I will restrict something, it is the only thing I want to do.

You write very well (what Eliot reader wouldn't?) and I will be interested to read more.

Emily said...

Thanks for your kind words, David. Glad you happened upon my blog.

The Hunger Challenge is, frankly, kind of a pain in the butt, but I keep doing it because it's fascinating, and reminds me of just how much I take for granted the ability to more or less eat whatever I want whenever I want it. Definitely eye-opening.

Pamela said...

Utterly fascinating!!