baked oats green chile chicken enchiladas chow mein bakery-style butter cookies

copyright jennifer yu © 2004-2023 all rights reserved: no photos or content may be reproduced without prior written consent

thoughts on the past week

NaBloWriMo day 19.

I thought we would have time to think up some clever new way for Kaweah to randomly select the winners of the Macy’s $25 gift cards (two of them), but we didn’t have much time. Last night, after our guests went home, Jeremy placed a treat in the Kong and timed in tenths of a second how long it took Kaweah to retrieve the treat… twice. Then he took the two numbers, modulo 108, and our winners are:

#33: Erin who listed The Women’s Bean Project in Denver.

#100: Sophia W who listed Glide Memorial Church.

Congratulations, ladies! Please email me with your mailing addresses and Macy’s will be shipping your gift card right away! Thank you to everyone who entered and listed a favorite charity. It was great to read about your connections, your discoveries, but most of all, your compassion. xxoo

Eat on $30. We did it. You can read about it here. I have posts for each day except day 4 (Daring Cooks post): 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7.

I said in my introductory post for Eat on $30 that my biggest challenges were the planning and the price comparison. This was in part, because I insisted on keeping our menu as close to normal as possible. I wanted fresh fruits and vegetables. I wanted meat. I had to forgo organics, sweets, snacks, beverages. My only gimmes were salt, pepper, and oil. There was no prorating of anything. It’s supposed to be a challenge. Even if I had a garden (gardening at 8500 ft can be a challenge in and of itself, m’kay?) I don’t think I would have allowed myself to run out and pluck from it. The start of the week was fine and then mid week I began to crave sweets in the evenings. It was probably because we were eating just enough for our meals, but not enough to feel satisfied. I’m sure I was also feeling the absence of a few hundred calories of my daily glasses of juice not to mention all of the snacks we take for granted.

elation and dread
By the end of the week when I was shopping for our big dinner party on Sunday, I felt a sudden lifting of a vague cloud from my brow. I didn’t have to EAT anything, just the act of shopping cheered me up. I am a foodie (and I really don’t care if you hate that word) and I like to shop for food and prepare food and cook food. I think about food ALL OF THE TIME. It was wonderful to be able to spend the extra $.50 on the flat-leaf parsley at Whole Foods rather than on the wilted equivalent at Safeway. And I didn’t have to worry about it sending me over my budget! I think those limitations from the Eat on $30 week wore me down – the constant stress over money. It was… demoralizing. And it was just a measly week with an end in sight. I cannot imagine how it would feel to deal with that stress as a constant in my life. Well, actually I can imagine it a little bit. It feels like a nagging dread. Chemo was like that – the nagging dread. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Even chemo had an end.

more than $30
We as a group made far too many assumptions. $30 per person for the week. It was an issue of time, resources, transportation, skills, knowledge, equipment. I had assumed people had refrigerators and stoves, but this isn’t true for everyone. Far too often we tend to think of hunger as a monetary issue, but it is so much more than that. If it were just an issue of money, I think the solution would be far easier to target. If you live in an insular world and you only see the life you lead, it’s not unlikely that you believe everyone else lives the way you do. I am guilty of it, to be sure. That’s why we did this seemingly silly little exercise – because in the end, it wasn’t so silly and it made us recognize the obstacles that many people face.

it’s not about you
I loved the discussion from my readers and I hope that we all learned from one another, that we got around to thinking about the problem of hunger rather than just reacting to it. One thing I noticed about some commenters, even those who had the best of intentions – much of the discussion was based on their experiences which is totally understandable. What we must recognize is that hunger and poverty in this country, in this world IS NOT ABOUT YOU. Not to sound callous, but it just isn’t. Some people like to think that if they can somehow muster along for under $30 then everyone else can too. That’s like Jeremy telling the rest of you if he can do astrophysics, it should be easy for you. Yeah, right (thankfully, he’s not one of those jerkwad scientists). Get the point?

community and indifference
Some people mentioned eating as a community and while I like that idea very much, when I think of community I think of it as a community beyond the table where we eat. We need to tackle the root(s) of the problem as a community. To do that, we first need to identify what the causes are. Of course, donating money and time and food just to feed people doesn’t solve hunger, it merely placates the problem temporarily. To solve the problem, we need to get at the root of many social, economic, cultural, educational, and political issues. That doesn’t mean you stop addressing hunger. Hunger is an immediate problem and it requires immediate attention. We need to work on both. However, I cannot for the life of me tolerate people who believe that hungry people are at fault for being hungry. That is just insensitive, uninformed, and intentionally ignorant. Awareness is key, because second to those who actively despise the poor (again, I cannot get my brain around that one), indifference is the next greatest disservice. While we certainly hope no one would be guilty of the former, let us definitely avoid being guilty of the latter.

Since I wasn’t able to fly to Atlanta to attend Tami’s lovely celebration dinner on Sunday, I hosted my own dinner with friends of mine. Inspired by Tami’s request that guests make a donation for a local charity, we did the same. As a group, our guests discussed different local charities to donate our collection to and finally decided on Erin’s favorite: The Women’s Bean Project in Denver. This appealed to us the most because it enables women by giving them job-training, skills, a way to become self-reliant, empowerment, confidence.

21 nibbles at “thoughts on the past week”

  1. Tartelette says:

    Very well said Jen. We, as humans can be masters at major suckage but education and awareness through associations and community projects make us less stupid. And pro-active.
    Thanks for all that you shared.

  2. Mrs Ergül says:

    I agree with you on solving the root problem while tackling the immediate problem too. This is actually very similar to the way many of us in this part of the world looks at Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western Medicine. More often than not, the latter holds connotations of simply suppressing the symptoms of your ailments while the former is a painstaking one that takes a longer time for you to fully recover which eliminates the root problem in the process. Sorry to those who practise Western medicine. These are just my humble opinion of looking at it without harbouring any intentions to offend.

    Great effort there Jen! Thank you for all the insights.

  3. emhuze says:

    Thank you for raising awareness. I look around and wonder now… about those whose pride will keep them from eating enough to stay healthy, will not ask for help, will silently go hungry. I’m looking at elderly folks on fixed incomes, barely able to keep their heads above water. I’m thinking about anonymously, discretely dropping off love bombs of non-perishable foods on their doorsteps. Would this be an ok thing to do? I don’t know. I don’t want to humiliate any one… I do want them to have a chance to thrive. Or at least not worry for a day or a week about food.

    I’ve suggested to my granddaughter that her scout troop might want to do community service by having each scout bring a non-perishable food item to every meeting. I think the flame of awareness is getting brighter. Just think Jen about the exponential force of your awareness efforts. It’s working.

  4. Dani says:

    Though I don’t know you beyond your blog (and Twitter) I feel like I would love to be your friend. Seeing your compassion, and the depth of your understanding of the issues is truly inspirational. You are inspiring me to want to be a less judgemental person (and a better cook!) Shouldn’t everyone be entitled to be treated with respect unless and until they do something to lose that respect? Being poor or hungry or homeless should not automatically take away someone’s dignity or cause others to treat them as “less than” or lazy or undeserving. As you have said, we are the ones who are ignorant of what the poor really have to deal with. I apologize if this isn’t coming out right. It’s late and I tend to wander when tired. But I’m lucky that I get to relax in front of a tv with a snack and then go to sleep in a warm bed in my safe apartment. I can dream of the cup of coffee with cream that I can have in the morning. I am lucky. Thanks for helping me see how very much I have to be grateful for. I’m not smart enough to come up with real solutions, but least I will to longer be indifferent the needs of others in my community.

  5. Kathy says:

    Jen – You said much of what I think about this subject. Thank you for using your blog as a medium for getting the message out there. Hopefully, you ignited a fire under the feet of those who live life in a fog.

  6. Kristin says:

    Very thoughtful wrap up to the project. And, not to get Biblical but…, sounds like you chose a great “teach them to fish” charity.

  7. Carrie Neal Walden says:

    Jen, wonderful “summary” post! I had a lot of the same feelings and am still mulling over my ultimate write up (I am doing it as a guest-blogger for another site next month when the editor goes on her honeymoon), so still “digesting”!! Love your blog.

  8. maybelles mom says:

    wonderful, wonderful summary posts.

  9. rmd says:

    Hey, I know that you’re trying really hard to be understanding of the kinds of issues faced by people who go hungry and I appreciate that you really are trying to be sensitive, but I do want to say, as one of the people who left a personal experience comment on your earlier entry, actually, it *is* about us. For one thing, I’ve been on and off food assistance programs in the past and it’s entirely possible that I’ll find myself applying for them again in the near future, and for another, blogging (and blog response comments) are usually based on something to which people have a personal connection. Of course there’s no excuse for being judgmental about someone’s worth as a person based on whether or not they, themselves, can live on N dollars a month, but by saying that it’s not about you you seem to be making a pretty broad sweeping generalization about the people who read your blog, that they aren’t struggling to feed themselves and that they don’t have some personal knowledge of what hunger is like. I just want to point out that that’s not necessarily true. One of my jobs involves a desk with a computer and an internet connection, so yeah, I have access. I also have $72 to last me until the end of the month, and that’s for everything–transit, food, bills, you name it. I read food blogs because I like to live vicariously through other people’s yumminess and because I think it makes me easier to be flexible in my own cooking, but yeah. Just. It kind of is about us.

  10. jenyu says:

    rmd – it isn’t about you, hon. I apologize if you read so much implication into my statement – I never said people who commented didn’t know what hunger was like. The personal connections are understandable and welcome. This is how we relate and learn. The majority of my readership does not fall into the category where they require food assistance and so when they dismiss the plight of others out of hand by touting themselves as an example for saving money, then yes, it is not about them. The assumption that people on food assistance can get by “just like me” by supplementing with a garden or driving around to four different grocery stores is a fallacy and I’m pretty sure you agree. You yourself are a college graduate and in that you have an advantage over many others on assistance. The thought and calculations you put into your expenses show that you, while on a very difficult budget, have the tools to cope (and impressively so, I might add). Kudos to you. I addressed this in my post. It’s not just about hunger. It’s also about life skills, education, culture, socio-economics. It’s about a much larger problem and so… as I said: it is not about you – you the individual. But I agree with you that it is about us and what we as a society are going to do about the problem.

  11. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Really liked the wrap-up, Jen. You really synthesized all of the elements at hand into a coherent, thoughtful piece. Well done.

  12. Wendy says:

    Jen….of all the folks who took the challenge, you seem to be the most aware, sensitive and empathetic. Thank you :-) I went to college for 16 years, but ended up disabled. It could happen to anyone. This is long, but tells about what it’s like being me and being “poor”.

    My life for many years was as a homesteader and organic CSA farmer, then things changed.

    I had very serious congestive heart failure. lupus, myasthenia gravis, etc. My partner of 18 years gave me an hour’s notice and left me for another woman. I sold the farm and remarried too quickly. Ended up in a domestic abuse shelter 4 months later (April 2006). The new home I had paid cash for and stocked was awarded back to me at the divorce hearing…but he still lives there…

    I was penniless and homeless. I lived in my van. $573/month disability and $10-$30/month food stamps. It was tough, but I tried to make it seem like fun. I was often cold/hungry/lonely, etc…

    Got a subsidized apartment for seniors/disabled folks. Moved from my van to here a year ago. YES! I have a big garden, filled the place with garage sale finds and am doing better, but always struggling.

    Despite digging the raised beds with an oxygen tank on my back, I did it :-) I had a big, productive garden :-)

    Income and expenses for the last year….

    I read every post you wrote about the challenge and every comment. Thank you!

  13. Wendy says:

    I guess I should be happy my comment made it at all, but I am very bummed you cut out the 2 other links. They had the most to do with food…in my organic farm years in the underground house, then detailed lists of food I could afford on $100/month groceries and what I ate while living homeless in the van. I should have also mentioned I was a cook/chef for 20 years, so what I eat as a poor, disabled person is VERY different from the foods I prepared in my professional life before disability.

  14. Erin says:

    Jen, I’m so touched that you guys chose to donate to the Women’s Bean Project. I started volunteering there as a kid and I just think it’s the greatest.:) It was fun to read about other people’s favorites in the area, too. Thanks!

  15. Amy says:

    De-lurking again to say that I think another problem is the preponderance of fast food joints with all their $1 menus, no preparation/planning required. Heck, I’m tempted by them when I’m really tired, even knowing how little nutritional value exists within these menus _and_ having been traumatized by Eric Schlosser’s _Fast Food Nation_. In Baltimore, where I work, there is 1 Whole Foods, 1 Safeway, and 1 Superfresh, all of which are located in the more well-to-do areas of the city. In the not-as-well-off areas are the fast food joints and little convenience stores. Not that this was a part of your challenge (or to be redundant), but given the options, I can’t blame the residents living in the not-so-well-off areas for going to fast food places and/or not making nutritionally balanced food purchases. As you and your fellow participants said, with little resources in terms of equipment, time, etc., it’s nigh impossible to do otherwise. Consequently, obesity is more prevalent in the families in the lower income areas. There’s a quote somewhere (can’t remember the original author for proper attribution, sorry) about the fact that being thin is a luxury, literally.

    Sorry for gassing on but again, as you’ve said, this issue is intertwined with other social and economic issues that would take a serious and concerted effort to address. Maybe subsidizing the establishment of more community gardens and encouraging local farmers’ markets – and allowing the usage of food stamps at these markets – could be one part of the solution? As well as changing the food items on the food assistance program list to more nutritional items? And finally, more education as part of the food assistance program?

    Thanks for bringing attention to this problem.

  16. Eat on 30 – Day 5, 6 & Summary | Eat It, Atlanta says:

    […] to summarize my thoughts on Eat on 30, especially after reading such great wrap-up posts from Tami, Use Real Butter, and Trouble with Toast. So here are some random thoughts on what I did to Eat on < $30, […]

  17. barbara says:

    Very good wrap up Jen. I’ve always been aware of poverty but you have caused me to think beyond that. Many of my generation grew up with very little money. I think we were fortunate our parents had been through the depression and second world war and were experienced in feeding their families on very little. I remember my mother trapping rabbits and skinning them to put meat on the table. Everyone had vegetable gardens back then also. Things are so different now. Many on the poverty line live in high rise housing where land for a garden isn’t available. Trapping rabbits is no longer an option because of myxomatosis. Even fishing can be risky with polluted waterways. Foraging usually requires a car and money for petrol to get out to the countryside. On top of this is the skills required. I have plans to try the $30 challenge myself. You have wonderful insight Jen and I love you for it.

  18. Eileen says:

    Jen, your insight is appreciated. My life revolves around food and I see now how I might be able to apply my passion, knowledge, etc in helping others in my community – spread the love, so to speak. I could go on about my own experiences, but you’re right, it’s about shifting the focus… again, thank you.

  19. kazzles says:

    I was a bit late to find out about your $30 challenge, but I coincidentally have been deciding on a budget of this for myself now I have had a change in circumstances and am on a reduced income.

    It is very, very hard!

    I have just finished a fasting time of being vegan with no sugar or processed food, so it was pretty easy to stick to a budget then and I have to admit I thought so much about poorer people around the world who are forced to eat like that all the time – without the variety I have either. I am going to miss eating out as well and the socialising that comes with it, but I can’t help but feel that we have our priorities really, really wrong in the West too. I have a sponsored child in Africa that I’m not sure if I can afford anymore, but I think I’m going to commit to spending less on food myself so I can support her community, which is in the poorest country in the world.

    The funny thing is, for years as a student and when I was first working I’m pretty sure $30 a week would have been ample to live really well. Food has gotten so expensive in the last couple of years!

  20. jenyu says:

    emhuze – well, I always worry about dropping things off anonymously for fear that folks might throw things away. Maybe offer up bags of non-perishable foods as a kind gesture with a smile?

    Dani – I do agree although I’ll say this… I am pretty sure most of us have been the beneficiary of an individual’s forgiveness for having made a bad decision in our past. So while yes, repeated bad behavior shouldn’t be tolerated, I do try to make an exception once or twice :)

    Wendy – I’m sorry, but if you want folks to go to your website, just point them there. I appreciate that you want to share, but my comments section isn’t really the appropriate place to post four links to your own blog. Otherwise, everyone will want to start doing that. Thanks for understanding.

    Erin – no, thank YOU sweetie. :)

    Amy – you touch on a lot of good points. Poverty and hunger is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. I think it demands that we as a society should attempt to identify and address those bigger problems.

  21. Diane says:

    I’m a big foodie, but with limited client work this year (no work for 9 months), I’ve been on a more limited budget for the past several months. My monthly food budget is $175 – which is $35 to $45 a week. I recognize the stresses you mention, and find that I have gotten a bit wiggy about savings. Refusing to buy a flat of eggs at the supermarket when I needed them because I knew if I waited five days I could get them at the Oakland farmer’s market for half that price. Not buying anything out of season. Debating for 15 minutes if I could afford olives. Not buying organic veg any more. Buying cheap cuts of meat at the Chinese markets vs.the fancy pasture-raised stuff. Giving up most of the fish I prefer and only buying the cheap options – squid, rock cod, catfish.

    In one sense it was easy – I have always cooked from scratch and never buy juices, snacks or processed foods, so I’m already a frugal shopper. But in another sense it’s very hard. I never feel any more like I can just buy an orange without wondering what it’s doing to the budget.

    In a sense this is artificial – I have emergency savings. I know I work in a volatile industry and I have $ to fall back on. I haven’t turned off the heat. And in fact I still have my “entertainment” budget – wine, dinners with friends, etc. But the constant focus on meeting the budget targets has distorted my view. I can only imagine what this is like to do all the time.

leave a reply