Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hungry: Food Basket Challenge 2012

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.



  1. Yes, we must be grateful to have what we have and realize the importance of the food bank not just at Christmas, but other times too. Thank you for sharing your story with everyone, Renee.

  2. Bravo! I think you probably had the best meals out of all the participants because of your awesome skills. I totally think a cooking class at the Food Bank would be great - like one on how to prepare lentils! ;-)

  3. Renee,

    I did the FBC last year (while drooling over your blog posts . . . had to go buy a peach with my remaining $1 + in change because of you!) and I'm the one who put your name forward to the good people at the food bank for this year's event.

    Not only are you a talented and entertaining writer but I was curious to see what you'd make with the food and pantry items allowed. You didn't disappoint and I think teaching a class at the food bank is a brilliant idea!

    In addition to all this, I know you have a large following and hope this is a way to spread the message that poverty is alive and well in Saskatoon and that it makes people think more about what they can do to help.

    Thank you for accepting the Challenge!

    Shelley Ballard-McKinlay

  4. Wow, what a challenge! I'm impressed that you put yourself through that, but it is great perspective on the fact that many people in this world go to bed and wake up hungry. Definitely makes you grateful.

  5. Hunger is awful wherever it is found, which may be closer than we think. Good job sticking with it. I likely would have eaten from the garden every day and rationalized that anybody with access to a bit of land can grow their own food... You are stronger than me!

  6. In these prosperous countries, Canada and the United States, that so many people are undernourished is shameful. (And don't get me started on the politics of this; there would be no room for any other comments.) You did a good and courageous thing, and by writing about it so eloquently you remind us all that we have an obligation to reach out to the less fortunate. Thank you.

  7. I would be pleased to help you with cooking classes at a food bank. I have been thinking a lot about how we can change the hunger situation. I don't think we can eradicate poverty but I know we can, if we really want to, feed hungry people.
    I did not tell you that I once volunteered at a food bank. I stopped because I found it too hard to hand out food that I would not eat. One lady who had cancer came to the foodbank and I it just broke my heart to give her food that was not going to contribute in any way to her healing.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing. This really was interesting to not only read, but to consider the need to help out more in my community.

  9. thank you for doing and for posting such in such a sensitive and caring way about a huge problem in our society today.

    while it is certainly different in terms of amount of food available this reminded me of the assistanted living facilty where i volunteer with my dogs as when i see a menu posted i'm always struck by the lack of fresh seasonal vegetables. Don't misunderstand me the residents have plenty of food available and some options but nothing fresh. the residents sometimes speak about what they miss in terms of food with such longing. i just can't even imagine how hard that must be in general and then when you add poverty to the mix ....

  10. Thank you everyone for your kind words and support. The more aware we are of poverty in our society, maybe more can be done to combat it.

  11. Thanks Renee, for sharing and participating. It was really eye opening for me to read about your challenge. I can't imagine what it would be like to live on this stuff all the time and to always be hungry. I'm hoping maybe we can start donating some of our garden veggies to the food bank in hopes that atleast that will provide a fresh option.

  12. Wow! What a challenge indeed. I know your post really opened my eyes. I just assumed that while it might not be the most appetizing food, at least you wouldn't starve. I had no idea that you'd still go hungry. That's so disheartening to think of people who don't even have as much food as the basket provides to subsist on for a week.


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