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Welfare Food Challenge Day 1

Posted by staff on October 17, 2016

Day 1:  I Need Community

On Saturday I planned my grocery list for the week.  At first I included items such as eggs and cheddar cheese.  Then I decided to think about recipes first, then plan the list.  All this thinking got me, well, thinking: would I have to put this much time aside just to think about eating?  I mean, I'm a mother.  I meal plan.  I've even made freezer meals when a motivated friend walked me through it.  This was different.  I couldn't just look at my food budget, plan some recipes that are healthy and flavorful, and shop at the nearest grocery store.  I am working with $18.  For the week.  

Being an over-analyzer, my mind wandered to the logistics of my grocery shopping.  If I was living on $18 for groceries for the week, chances are I'm not guaranteed a full tank of gas in my car.  I'm not even sure I would have a car of my own.  The bus line in my neighborhood does run along my street, but it stops only a handful of times a day and would lead me to a chain grocery store that is pretty pricey.  Am I overthinking this?  Probably.  Were my intentions in all of this mind bending good?  Yes.  So I decided to take the middle road: I drove to a family owned and operated grocery store that was a 6 or 7 minute drive from my house.  I was very skeptical I would be able to buy much of anything let alone $18 worth of food that would last me a week.  I also realized that if I lived in a rural community with unreliable transportation and limited grocery stores in my area, my options would be few in terms of food variety and pricing.  

I purchased oatmeal, low mein noodles, a can of crushed tomatoes, 1 can of beans, 1 onion, garlic, 5 ambrosia apples (I don't have the luxury of walking to a local produce market like in an urban area, but I do live in a Valley that is so fertile it grows a variety of delicious and nutritious food), flour, and yeast.  Seriously, this is supposed to last me a week.  

My meal plan will look like this:  oatmeal in the morning made with water; an apple for mid-morning snack during the week; tomato and basil soup (yes, I used some dried basil I already had) and slices of bread (I baked 2 loaves of no knead bread and have enough flour left to bake more later in the week); bread for snack.  Dinner would be tortillas and beans (I bartered with a neighbor for some vegetable shortening and baking soda) or stir fried lo mein (made with more of the shortening I bartered for).

This whole bartering idea came out of necessity.  I realized the one thing I couldn't buy that would likely get me through the week was coffee.  What would I do?!  I wouldn't have the energy or caloric intake to exercise in the morning (nor did I really want to anyway hee hee), so how would I wake up enough to get the kids out the door and dropped at school?  How would I get through the 2 o'clock 'I want to nap at my desk instead of work' time?  I knew a neighbor had been eyeing my kids' outgrown clothes bag that was destined for second hand selling.  I also knew she drank coffee.  I purposely did not tell her I was taking the Welfare Food Challenge.  It was more authentic if I had to actually ask to trade without offering an excuse for my need to trade rather than go buy what I needed myself.  

I offered a bag of clothes in exchange for 18 tablespoons of coffee grinds (I only needed 14 but I knew as the week drug on I would be so tired I'd need to up my intake).  When she happily traded I wondered if it had been an equitable trade, so I then asked if she'd also give me 4 cups of vegetable shortening and some baking soda.  She did give me a 'look who's being the greedy neighbor' face, but she quietly agreed.  I knew then that if I were to ask anything of her next time I would have to come with some valuable goods LOL.  

This exchange made me see that I am lucky; I have community.  I had an established relationship with my neighbor.  We had watched each other's kids in a pinch.  We'd had each other over for coffee.  What if I didn't have community?  And what does community look like?  Those who live near you; your faith community; family; co-workers; grocery store clerks.  The list goes on and on.  Community is a vital support as one strives to make it week to week, day to day.  

So although I had to get used to black coffee STAT, the exchange with my neighbor actually grew our relationship.  I helped her, she helped me.  And I knew that if I were craving coconut oil for my coffee by day 4, she would probably share some of that flavored stuff she loves.  And I would learn to love it as well....because I had to.