9.18.2010

Second Thoughts on Hunger Challenge

Only my parents have money enough. Everybody, even those previously smarmy superior relatives that used to brag about how much they paid for things, has sunk a couple of notches on their tax bracket.

It's my hope that, excluding my parents (different generation = different way of codifying), more people will open their eyes and see a fellow individual, at least one, with a little more compassion. It's easy when you live by a strict rule structure to blame people for their circumstances, especially when you've never been anywhere remotely close to the edge.

When it's your own life that implodes, your rules about the benefits of hard work versus luck, for example, relax. It's the only good benefit - compassion - that comes from a personal earth shattering financial incident.

Now that the layer of my brain where the deep thoughts reside has been cleared, phew, all that remains is shallow, random ideas about the Hunger Challenge, food stamps and the inequality that will always exist due to trans-national corporations (oops, slipped on a deep spot there). I have three:

1. Location, location, location. This week I spent $4.75 at New May Wah on a big bag of beautiful deep pink pluots, an avocado, an onion, cilantro and some yogurt drinks for Stella. When I was on food stamps, I lived in Montana and Safeway was my only option and the only option for cheap produce was crappy squash and dried up root vegetables. I would have killed for a pluot or anything of any color pulled off of any tree.

I wake up every morning grateful for cheap produce, not only from little Chinatown but from the abundant and plentiful friendly Farmer's markets in San Francisco, and even the La Playa begging-for-a-remodel Safeway. All choices here are a good deal cheaper than anything I found even in Oregon last week.

2. When you're poor it's almost impossible to buy smart. My kids went to Costco and were nice enough to stop by first and ask me if I wanted anything. There is no better way to shop than handing over a list and a debit card and finding it magically carted up three flights of stairs so all you have to do is put it away.

All told, I spent $22.62 on so much half and half and soy milk that my husband will be in coffee and milk heaven for the next month. $22.62 at Safeway would have bought exactly half. Limited resources signifies shopping immediacy. It's hard to shop well and load up your pantry and refrigerator when you can't buy in bulk.

3. Don't even think about a CSA. I didn't until a few months ago and I am convinced this is the most decadent thing I do done all week. Greenhearts charges $33 a box a week for fresh, organic, local produce delivered to my door. There's no membership fee or share purchase up front. Still, who has $33 extra for food not qualified to be bought on stamps?

And yes math whizzes, this tipped me over my $4 a day a person. I spent a little over $60 for two people in a little over a week. We accidentally started our Hunger Challenge early due to laziness. After returning from several weeks in Oregon, it seemed like a lot of work to shop. So with nothing in our refrigerator and a fairly bare pantry, we re-enacted a more accurate week on food stamps (that's my excuse anyway).

Most importantly, there is more to life than money. When you're really poor, it's really hard to remember this. Obsessing over what you don't have, though, is a 100% sure way to repel friends, hate life and attract frowns. Money was created by kings 3,000 years ago who saw all this local bartering and wealth being exchanged and they weren't getting a cut of it so they stamped their faces on coins, killed those peasants who didn't conform, and kept the production of money scarce so they could control the supply.

I heard that on a podcast when I was running yesterday so the details might be a little sketchy. Once you have enough for the basics, it's been proven many times that more doesn't mean happier. Want what you have, even though that is too easy to say when you don't have enough.