Heather Rubacky is the Opportunity International College Ambassadors Coordinator and recently participated in the Live Below the Line challenge.
I love food. I love eating food, making food, sharing food, even just talking about food. It provides me with more than just basic nourishment; it’s my go-to stress reliever, pick-me-up, and icebreaker. I cater friends’ cocktail parties. I measure my exercise in terms of treats earned. And despite my mother’s best training, I constantly play with my food (see the edible football stadium and Peeps Diorama contest entry).
My favorite part is taking something ho-hum, something ordinary, something expected… and making it a surprise. Frosting strawberries to look like Christmas trees. Cheeseburger sliders made out of cake. Bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup shooters. Adding a twist creates what I’ve always considered the higher purpose of eating: to delight.
When I signed up for the Live Below the Line challenge, I thought the hardest part would be stretching my daily $1.50 allowance. So imagine my pride as I rung up my purchases for the week (2 boxes of orzo, 2 cans of corn, and a bell pepper) and my total came to less than $7. The “hard part” done, I merrily skipped home to make my first serving of pasta.
After my fourth meal of plain, unsalted pasta with microwaved corn, all I wanted was a cookie. I even went so far as to take one out of my freezer stash, put it on a plate and set it in the microwave, before guiltily putting it back. I wasn’t really hungry but I was so far from satisfied, both nutritionally and emotionally.
By Thursday I was sluggish from my starch-only diet, grumpy from the thought of eating another bowl of reheated orzo (which I may never eat again), bored from avoiding cooking for my family and friends, and coping with simultaneous caffeine and Pinterest withdrawals. But mostly I was deeply humbled by my misguided thinking on Monday that the “hard part” was doing math and shopping smartly.
I realize now how naïve it was to think that the only challenge to hunger is quantity of food available. Even when there is plenty of food around, is it the right food? Does it provide the right nutrients, a balanced diet, or fuel for the body and mind? My diet last week did none of this and only fueled my own frustration at committing to give up even healthy eating for five days. I spent most of Friday contemplating why I had ever thought this challenge was a good idea, and even with only a few hours left in the challenge, I nearly quit. So much for Monday being the hard part.
Food is such a basic but pivotal part of our existence. In the past, I have donated bags of rice to families in extreme poverty and thought, “Wow, they must be so grateful that we’ve provided this.” Now I realize that just isn’t enough.
In the end, this challenge meant more than just giving up fresh produce for a few days. It meant radically changing my thinking about the broader societal impact of extreme poverty…and orzo.