When Arianna Johnson, the Executive Director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, suggested the idea to me I thought it sounded pretty good. The concept was simple - take a few people in the media and public eye and challenge them to living off the contents of a food bank hamper for one month. The goal was to experience what it is like to be dependent on that food hamper, unable to eat in restaurants or grab a coffee to go, limited to only what is provided to you. I *thought* it was a good idea, and I *thought* it would be hard, but people, I had no damn idea. This hasn't been hard. It's been a challenge that I am failing, miserably.
When I got the food hamper list the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I hit the local grocery store and quickly filled a cart. As the cart filled I noticed a growing number of boxes and cans, and very little in the way of fresh produce and meat. As we wheeled down the aisles the concern simply grew as it rapidly became clear this diet is based heavily on processed foods, the very things we are expected to avoid to achieve good health. I gazed at the cart as we approached the checkout, and realized with fear that this was going to be very, very difficult for me.
Even then I still had no idea but now, almost two weeks in, I have a very clear sense of how hard this is. The major challenge for me, my major enemy, is time. I am the sort who is constantly on the go, headed into and out of the door on a moment's notice, and that makes taking the time to cook very difficult. Add to that the fact that I am an abysmal cook (to which the Intrepid Junior Blogger can attest) and I am really the sort who relies on fresh food I can grab quickly and go - an apple here, a salad there, and, when all else fails, food picked up at local stores and restaurants to get me through my day. The challenge of needing to be home for a significant number of meal times worried me, and that is where I failed the challenge for the first time. Caught downtown, unable to get home between appointments, and hours from heading home, I was starving. There I was in the mall, food court ahead and money in hand, and so I grabbed a taco from Taco Time and wolfed it down, despite my guilt.
That was the first time I cheated on this challenge, but not the last. I am scheduled to do this until early December, which takes me right into Christmas party and cookie season, one of my favourite seasons and yet this year a tad bittersweet as I will battle between my conscience and my desire. I miss my fresh fruits and vegetables, and some days I would kill for a salad. Last night in the grocery store I found myself staring longingly at a fresh veggie tray, headed home to a can of soup instead (and people, after these two weeks I am so very, very weary of soup). And I have learned some things about myself, my willpower, my own spoiled nature, and what it must be like to be forced to do this, not out of choice or some blogging whim but rather necessity. And, in two words, it sucks.
So, what have I learned in two weeks? It is as follows:
1) If you donate to the food bank think beyond the soup can. Think about things like baking supplies and other "luxuries" we take for granted but that could liven up what is, quite frankly, a very boring diet.
2) If you have a choice between donating food and money, pick money. With money the food bank can purchase fresh goods and produce daily for distribution, while donated fresh goods need to be stored, which can be a challenge.
3) Think about what it would be like to not eat out for one month - no fast food, no coffee, no restaurants. Think about maybe doing it for a month, to show solidarity with those who don't have that option, and then take the money you would have spent and donate it to the food bank. It will go to good use, trust me, and you will have had just a taste of what it's like to be reliant on them.
4) When donating food to the food bank question if this is food YOU would like to eat. Would you really eat the contents of that box or can in your hand? If the answer is no then put it back on the shelf and find something else.
5) Support the annual food drive coming up later this month - but don't forget the food bank at other times of the year. I've been there a lot recently due to this challenge and last week was troubled at how bare their shelves are at this time of year. I think there is a tendency to donate once a year and forget it, but please remember that the food bank is providing food for those in need - including children - 365 days a year. Help them make sure they have nutritious, healthy, and quality food to give to them.
Here is the deal, people. I have about another two weeks to go. I have lost some weight on this diet, and I've definitely lost some of my usual energy as I think it's been sapped by a constant diet of peanut butter sandwiches (a supply that is rapidly dwindling and I fear I am getting closer and closer to being forced to eat that can of corned beef, which terrifies me). I've gained something else, though. I have gained some perspective on what it's like to not have the options I do, I have gained some understanding of what it is like to subsist on this diet, and I have gained a better understanding of myself, too. I plan to see this through to the end, although I will likely cheat again along the way (hey, people, one of the things I also do is recognize my own myriad faults). And at the end of all this I plan to spend a couple of days stocking shelves at the food bank and compiling a list of what they need and what could make the lives of their clients better and healthier, and then sharing that list with everyone I know.
It was a good idea at the time, as I said. It is still a good idea even now, despite my struggles and my whining (which is, in fact, pathetic and laughable). It has been a challenge, and a learning experience. And frankly, it is one I doubt I will ever forget.
You can find further entries regarding my experience
with the Food Hamper Challenge