So Here’s The Deal…

[note: this experiment took place November 2006]

For the month of November, I’m only spending $30 on food. The only exception will be things that are freely available to the average person (salt taken from restaurants, sauce packets from Taco Bell, free coffee from an office). Buying in advance is fine, but at the end of the month, it all has to add up to $30 or less.

NOTE: This blog is organized according to date, which means you’ll see the last day of this thing before the first. It might make more sense if you start from the beginning (click and scroll to bottom).

Day 30 - In Conclusion

Over the past month, I've talked about how my view of food has changed. I talked about the conversations I've had about this project and they way some people opened up to me in a very unique way. I've talked about the excitement a nine-cent hot dog can bring and I've talked a lot about rice. Until today, I've kept politics out of it, mostly because that's not what this was ultimately about. But the truth is, politics, or maybe just people in general, did play a role in it.

On October 11th, 2006, I was reading the paper when an article caught my eye. It was written by Lawrence Cosentino and appeared in the October 11th edition of the Lansing City Pulse. The headline was, "Just Hold It Together." You can find it online if you feel like looking.

The story was about 42 representatives from local businesses, government agencies and non-profits that participated in an hour long workshop designed to simulate the lives of poor people. They were all assigned roles such as "single mother with no job", and then sat around a big table role-playing for an hour, trading fake money back and forth and worrying about how they would feed their kids on minimum wage. The article was interspersed with quotes from the participants like, after this experience, "I will not be the same."

This was, of course, a stupid exercise for anyone to go through. In the end, the participants convinced themselves that this had given them some insight into what it's like to be poor, if only for an hour. But they had not been poor for an hour, they had done a math problem for an hour. They sat around a big table in a nice building (with full stomachs if I had to guess), and essentially 'ran the numbers' on why it's difficult to pay your rent or buy groceries with a minimum wage job. It seems as though these leaders of our community should have been able to do math on their own.

I think that this article is where I first got the idea to eat for a dollar a day. After reading it, I desperately wanted to find something tangible that a normal person could do to actually get some insight on what being poor is all about. It's one thing to say, "Being poor means you can't eat a lot of food," but it's a completely different experience to actually go through.

Of course, my month long experiment didn't come anywhere close to capturing the realities of being poor; I always knew in the back of my head that I could get more food if I needed it, and more importantly, being poor involves a lot more than just not eating much. But this was a start. And it was an honest start. It wasn't just sitting around in a room for an hour.

There were other reasons to do this experiment as well. One, I just wanted to know if it could be done. Two, I wanted to do something unique for no other reason than it was unique. Three, I wanted to do something that would shock my system just to see how I would react. In one way or another, this achieved all of those.

It's pretty difficult to sum up what I've learned this month. The best I could really do is to tell you to go back and read all of the posts. The lessons learned are in how I came to think about food differently, how my body adapted around the challenge, and in the conversations I've had this month.

For those who care, the total amount I spent on food this week was $27.28. That’s about 93 cents a day, although I still have quite a bit of food left over. I also lost about 18 pounds this month.

And oh yeah, some of you may remember that in one post I mentioned that I was doing something special with the money I saved. Well here it is…

I'll admit it's not the most original idea, but it just seemed fitting.


Day 29 - The End Is Near

Tomorrow’s post will be a review of the entire month; a tidy little conclusion to this experiment. So in some ways, today’s post is the last “real update”.

I’ve still got food left over. I could probably stretch what I’ve got another 4-5 days with no trouble at all. Instead of a dollar a day, I think it’s going to end up being more like 90-cents a day.

Tonight I’m going to have rice mixed with mashed potatoes, frozen vegetables and a hot dog. It eats like dog food, but it’s been a staple of this month. It’s not a bad meal and it only runs me about 30-cents. This will be sort of a farewell meal. I’ll certainly be eating on Thursday, but just a snack here and there because I have a rendezvous at Taco Bell planned for 12:01am Friday morning. I’m going to make myself quite sick I think.

There are a few things about this month that I won’t miss:

- Constantly washing dishes. I have a dish washer, but it seems like a waste to run it for 1 pot and 2 bowls, so I mostly just wash everything by hand after I use it.

- Drinking nothing but water. I can’t wait to suck down a giant Coke.

- Relying on salt to flavor everything. There’s a reason it’s the most popular spice in the world, but enough is enough already.

- Having to skip out on lunches with friends and co-workers.

- Not getting Raisinettes at the movies. It’s the only time I ever eat them since they’re disgusting, but a movie just isn’t a movie without them.

- Passing up free food.

All of that aside, there are a lot of things I’ll miss. I’m saving that list for tomorrow, but if you look back over all of these entries, I think you’ll find that there are more positive ones than negative.


Day 28 - Adaptation

I don’t even feel like I’m eating less anymore. In fact, for the past few days I’ve felt like I’m over eating. I pretty much force myself to eat more because I get scared when I do the math on the amount of calories I’ve consumed that day and find them to be dangerously low. I’ve said it before, but it’s amazing to me that in such a short amount of time my body has completely adjusted to this way of life. I’m consuming less than half the amount of food I used to and I don’t even notice it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about anorexia. Not because I’m anorexic by any means, but because this month has shown me how a person could do it. Before, I assumed that anorexia meant constantly being hungry, so hungry that you were in constant pain. I never understood how people said they just sort of, “fell into the disease without realizing it.” But now I understand that like a lot of pain, the human body adapts around it. Like I said, if I wasn’t carefully monitoring my calories, I could easily eat way less than I should be eating and think it perfectly normal. If you were to add to that the psychological pressure to get or stay thin, I could definitely see how it happens. For better or worse, the psychological pressure about weight issues is something I’ll probably never fully understand since there’s way less of it on men than women.

That said, the main thing that I know will have me back to eating “normally” almost immediately is taste. I really do miss taste. I miss crushed red pepper, strong garlic, sweet onions, that tangy vinegary taste of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce… I think that come December, I’ll be eating a lot of strong ethnic foods just to indulge in all the different tastes.


Day 27 - Looking Forward

Today’s update is a little off topic, but important none the less. I would have waited a few more days to post this, but I didn’t want to cloud up my last few updates with this nonsense.

I’ve got a whole new scheme planned for December: web comics. Each day, for 31 days, I’m going to draw a web comic and post it right here (well, not right here, but I’ll link to it from here).

I’m going to need people to bear with me for a little while as I’m no artist. At least not yet. I’m hoping that if I make an honest effort at drawing every day I’ll actually get better, but who knows. As for the humor; I’ve got this distinct feeling that a lot of things that “seem” funny in my head might not actually be that funny on paper, so give me some time to figure it all out.

Also, I’ve actually conned a friend of mine into trying this month’s challenge with me. I’ll be posting links to his comic creations as well, so lucky you can see what two guys who can’t draw and aren’t that funny can come up with.


Day 26 - The End In Sight

I’ve been eating a little more in the past day or two than I have been most of this month. With the end fast approaching, I can see I’ve got a little cushion in the budget.


Day 25 - Less Than A Week Left

Around day five, I was really starting to get worried. By that time, I had pretty much figured out I wouldn’t starve on a $1 a day… which meant I was going to have to go for the whole month. I think I was secretly hoping to discover that it simply wasn’t possible, make some long winded post about my trials and tribulations, and then soak up whatever residual credit I could get for at least giving it a try.

Depending on what you’re talking about, a month can seem like a very short or very long time. Waiting for your investment accounts to mature… a month is nothing. Waiting to find out if it’s malignant… a month might as well be a lifetime. Back on day five, a month seemed like a very long time. That early in the game, you’re still thinking about being hungry all day long. You’re still dreaming about a stop by Taco Bell. You’re still dreading the idea of another bowl of rice.

Everything changed around day ten though. The time between now and then has just flowed by quite smoothly. I suppose it just became a habit or a lifestyle or something. It’s pretty amazing to me that it only took ten days. I wonder what other changes I could make and adapt to in only ten days.

As of tomorrow, I only have five days left. I really hope that I don’t regress back to my old ways too quickly.


Day 24 - More Energy... Sort Of

Like most people, sometimes I get these ideas in my head that aren’t really based on any factual information that I can pinpoint, but for some reason I’m sure it’s right. One of those ideas was this: You’ll have more energy if you eat healthier.

For one reason or another, that seems like a pretty common sense concept, and so I was expecting to have more energy this month (once I got over the initial shock to my system of a decreased calorie diet). And truth be told, something like that sort of happened, but not in the way I was expecting.

So far, I wouldn’t say that I have more energy at any given time than I had before. But I do have less of what I can only think to call, “the slowdown effect.” The slowdown effect comes from eating a big meal. It’s that gorged, ‘I can’t believe I ate that much’ feeling. It makes you want to turn on the TV after eating. It makes you want to take a nap. It’s your body trying to get a head start digesting a gluttonous amount of food.

The diet I’m on digests pretty easily. It’s all rice and noodles, very small amounts of fat, no grease, very little meat… when you compare that to a nice one-pound burger and a heap of fries, you can just sort of infer the differences.

It’s a strange experience now when I eat with other people. I eat fast (since it all tastes like crap), and then I get this real boost of energy (since everything I’m eating converts pretty quickly). Other people tend to mill about their plates, sigh a number of times while eating, and after eating, immediately go do something like sit down some more.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t just watched this myself, but you can actually see a difference in people as they enter a restaurant and as they leave. Next time you’re out, just watch people scurrying for a table and lumbering for the door.