I do not do moderation or food planning well. I knew this when my friend Erin and I had the spontaneous idea of becoming vegan for a week.
Then I took on a brand new food challenge. I'm part of Put Food in the Budget (putfoodinthebudget.ca), a group working to get social assistance rates increased. Earlier this month we attempted to live on a food bank diet for five days to highlight how difficult and unhealthy it is.
I subscribe to the Louis C.K. school of thought when it comes to food, which is that the meal isn't over when you're full; it's over when you hate yourself. So in a fit of food terror I reverted to high school breakup mode and downed a chocolate bar and a block of cheese to get my fix before embarking on my challenge. I felt about as good as I did after "being vegan" for a minute, and definitely hated myself.
I woke up hungry the first morning of my challenge but ignored my stomach and had water and tea, not wanting to eat too early, then two pieces of toast and a yogurt. I was hungry as soon as I finished, and counted the hours to lunch: a burrito with refried beans and salsa. And then again to dinner, which was rice and tuna.
I was eating to try to satisfy my hunger, not because I was looking forward to my meals. I was overwhelmed by the plainness of everything. The salsa was the most exciting part of the day. Everything was dry, and I didn't feel full all day.
And knowing that I was going to eat rice and tuna at least four more times that week wasn't the kind of thing I was used to.
Nor were the sense of limits and lack of control I felt. Not feeling like I had a say in what I put in my body was very frustrating.
I began to feel isolated. I stayed inside all day, just hovering around my food, making sure it didn't vanish. I didn't want to go out with friends despite their repeated attempts to get me out. (That's my first hungry lie; no one did that.) And I didn't have a ton of energy; I imagined that would only get worse.
But I legit didn't want to go out with people where I'd have to turn down food. Premier Kathleen Wynne has the power to take the first step in addressing this with an immediate increase of $100 per month in social assistance so that people can thrive not just survive.
Today, I flipped out on a can of tuna.
Had to attend a work lunch and just have tea while my co-workers had a delicious lunch. Starting to realize that this is going to be a mental battle against my hunger. I must have thought about food 20-plus times today.
Something is up with my stomach. I'm feeling bloated but also really hungry all the time. Other symptoms: headache, tired, a little moody, unmotivated, antisocial. Getting nervous about the next three days.
Hangry (adjective): a combination of hungry and angry. People may seem uncharacteristically grumpy because they haven't eaten.
I'm feeling HANGRY today for a few reasons: I'm hungry. Always.
I'm angry that I don't look forward to eating any more because food in a can sucks. I'm sick of eating rice. I officially hate rice - bold statement from a guy who grew up on it! I'm angry that I have no choice. I'm angry that people are forced to live like this every day.
Today I flipped out on a can. Yep. I was trying to open a can of tuna that just didn't want to open (at the sink in my office). After the fifth attempt, I yelled out a very bad word... really loud. It was highly unprofessional and offensive to the tuna. Unfortunately, some co-workers had to see that. Sorry. Hunger can bring out a different side of you.
I'm glad this is over but inspired to do more. Here's what I learned about hunger:
- Hunger hurts... emotionally and physically.
- Hunger takes away choice. You eat what you can get and only socialize when it doesn't involve spending money.
- Hunger is a systemic issue. We need to address larger economic challenges (living costs, food costs, lack of jobs, housing and insufficient social assistance) that prevent people from having enough money for food.
- I have gained respect for every person who works in a food bank, and I think donating to food banks is incredibly important to meet the immediate need. However, I did not do this challenge to encourage people to donate to food banks. I did it to help move people from spectators reading this to active allies. Together we can influence the decision-makers who have the power to raise social assistance, which is the real problem.
Excerpts from Alex Meers's diary
1,123,500 Number of visits to GTA food banks in 2012, an 18 per cent increase over pre-recession 2008 figures.
70% Amount of income the average food bank client spends on housing.
32% Food bank users who are children. Also, the percentage of adults who have given up food to pay rent.
50% Households using food banks that are on social assistance.
28% Food bank users who graduated university, a 3 per cent increase over 2007.
68% Food bank users whose main source of income is Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program.
1989 Parliament of Canada passes unanimous motion to end child poverty by the year 2000.
47,000 Number of children and their families lifted out of poverty in Ontario since 2008, according to numbers released by the Liberal government this week.
Source: Daily Bread Food Bank's Who's Hungry 2012: Faces Of Hunger report; Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy 2013 annual report.
The food bank diet (per person)
4 containers of precooked multi-grain rice
2 bags of powdered milk
1 can of baked beans
1 can of Chef Boyardee
1 can of macaroni and beef
1 can of chickpeas
1 can of tomatoes
1 jar of peanut butter
1 package of 10 chicken hot dogs
1 package of pasta
1 small loaf of bread
The challenge Make it last five days. And then write your MP and the premier about your experience.