If you're wondering why things have been a little quiet around here, it's because I've been living off of a food basket for one week. No, I haven't been stricken financially (knock on wood), I was asked by the Saskatoon Food Bank to participate, along with 24 others, in the Food Basket Challenge - basically living off of the contents of a food basket, plus five pantry items and five dollars to spend on whatever grocery items I like. For one week. It was a terribly, terribly tough, especially given that I work with food, all day. The smells of meat roasting drove me crazy. The sight of bacon on a cooling rack made me drool just a little. Warm, chewy, chocolate chip cookies that usually have my name on them were just taunting me. Day 2, I had to grill 60 steaks at a BBQ, when I hadn't eaten much all day, and then I went home to leftover dumpling soup with canned peas. (No one should ever have to eat canned peas.) The worst bit was not being able to eat fresh fruit, or the goodness from my garden, though I did cheat and eat some Swiss chard. On Day 4, I just needed something green that came out of the ground.
Part of me took this challenge just to see if my culinary skills would come in handy, and yes, yes they did. I think I channelled my grandmothers, (and maybe a little Laura Ingalls Wilder too), because they fed their families by making a whole lot out of very little. My pantry items were flour, sugar, green tea, canola oil, and yeast. I spent five bucks on a dozen eggs, 1 L of milk and salt, pepper, cinnamon from the bulk bins. Let me tell you that you can make a whole lot out of that. Day 2, I was ravenous at night, so I made a quick custard with eggs, milk, flour, sugar. Day 3, I made a batch of crepes (and strawberry sauce!) and basic white bread. Day 4, I made a yeasted coffee cake, which wasn't the best thing ever (had to sub in oil for butter) but it kept my belly full for snacks. I think that was one of the worst parts - not a lot of snackage happening between meals. Day 5 and 6 were okay, I was living on potato cakes and sausage, but my belly was never really full, for seven days. And going to bed and waking up hungry is the worst feeling ever. And the headaches and debilitating fatigue. The whole week I felt foggy and sometimes light headed and just generally horrid. But my whining is nothing. I had a finish line to cross. Those living in constant poverty don't have the luxury of eating a lovely meal on Day 7, and every day after that.
Never knowing what it's like to be constantly hungry, this challenge was a huge eye-opener for me. I'm now more aware of my community and its needs and I'm left wondering how I can help. Maybe teach a cooking class at the food bank, or volunteer there, or something. I want to do something. And every night before I fall asleep I'm grateful. For the roof over my head, and the food in my belly, and for my mom, who always had a hot, delicious meal on the table for her kids. I wish all kids could have what I had growing up.
To read more details about what I experienced, just click here. While you're there, read some of the other participants stories. It was a privilege to be among them.