Because I did the challenge a week earlier than everyone else, it’s actually been over a week since I wrapped up the $60 project. I’ve had a lot of time to ruminate about what I learned and what I will take with me from the experience, yet somehow it is difficult to wrap everything up in one blog post.
I’m not ashamed to say that I was happy to be finished with the challenge. My kitchen was BARE when I came back from New York (with the exception of the apples I brought home with me), so I went to Kroger to stock up. I didn’t spend nearly as much time in the store as I did when I was hard-core budget shopping, but I didn’t blaze on through willy nilly, either. I shopped specials and sales and used coupons, and even though I had a triple-digit tab, I saved 21% with smarter shopping. However, I also felt a bit guilty and sad, because I knew that my “saving” represented, to an enormous number of Georgians, a level of excess that could never be contemplated, let alone acted upon.
More than 12% of Georgians live in poverty. In Fulton County, where I live, that number jumps to 25%. That is one in every four people. And those people have to choose between food and a roof over their heads, between food and heat, between food and medical care. My mom and I were discussing the challenge, and we both verbalized how lucky we felt to have never gone without food and to have always had a safe place to live. The truth is, while everyone has suffering in their lives, there is little that is more heartbreaking than the thought of a hungry child. And the other truth is, there are hundreds of thousands of children in our state (and all of the others, I’m certain) who live with hunger each and every day.
The lovely Tami of running with tweezers was the driving force behind Eat on $30, and she hosted a “break the fast” party at her place last weekend. While we were obviously fortunate to be surrounded by great food (BLT deviled eggs, “rat toes,” rosemary latkes, and gingerbread “chewies” were my faves) and wine, Tami and I chatted for a few moments about the harsh realities brought to light by the challenge. Sure, money is the primary issue, with many people being unable to obtain healthy food due to budgetary constraints. But the problem is much bigger than that. What about time? The people who were successful with Eat on $30 (and even those of us, ahem, who were somewhat less than successful) had at least a little bit of time to cook, to package leftovers, and to prep and shop based on the limitations. What about a single mother who works two jobs to support her children? And don’t think there aren’t people who work multiple jobs and yet still can’t afford good, quality food. They’re called the “working poor,” and they represent a large and growing group of Americans.
Then there are the issues of knowledge and tools. Cooking and eating together was always very important in my family, and what I didn’t learn from my parents and grandparents I was able to glean from other fairly common sources (books, magazines, TV, and the like). And, due to a steady job and some very generous gifts, I have nearly all of the gadgets and gizmos you’d ever need. Food processor, nice pots and pans, immersion blender, waffle iron, good quality knives, stand mixer, creme brulee torch, you name it, it’s probably available to me. But what about a family that can barely afford paper plates? What about a homeless individual who doesn’t have access to a kitchen, let alone kitchen tools? There is so much more to hunger than just food.
By the end of the party, we had raised a few hundred dollars for Project Open Hand, and we had discussed volunteer opportunities for those who wanted to give of their time. We may be a small group taking small steps, but we are passionate about food and see no reason why hunger shouldn’t be eradicated in our lifetimes. In terms of what I took away from the experience, I feel that I am a lot more aware of what I am purchasing and how not to waste it. I am reorganizing my priorities, in the sense that I am cutting down on junky impulse purchases and focusing more on wholesome, multi-tasking products. I am clipping coupons and scanning sale fliers with much more regularity. I am a food fanatic at heart, so there will always be some dinners out and some crazy recipes to test, but it’s not necessary to go that route every day, or even every week.
Yes, I am glad to be finished with Eat on $30, but I am also glad to have started it. Most importantly of all, I have made some great new friends through the experience, and together we can continue to open eyes…and maybe even a few doors.