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.