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Writing, learn-ing, jewelry, deconstructing t-shirts and reality - it's what I do. I live to be inspired, and to inspire.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The November Experiment a.k.a. Project “Don’t Starve. Thrive.”

Week 1 Groceries. Photo by Kelene Blake

This month I am starting an experiment. Each week I will go to the grocery store with only a $20 bill and attempt to buy healthy food to last a week. People say that eating healthy is expensive and to some extent that is certainly true. Buying organic tends to cost more. Healthier frozen meals cost more. Yet I don’t believe that all healthy eating has to be expensive, so I have given myself the challenge for November to eat healthily 5-6 times a day (3 meals, 2-3 snacks) on $20 per week. I’m doing this for 4 reasons:

  1. Because I told an acquaintance of mine that I would prepare a health workshop for low-income housing communities on eating healthy even with a low budget;
  2. Because this study (link) by Dr. Katz et al concluded that healthy food does not necessarily cost more and I want to see if it holds true for people with the tightest budget;
  3. Because many people’s food stamp benefits are being cut due to the U.S. government budget deadlock and people still need to eat, and eat healthily, but now have less money to work with;
  4. Because it’s just that kind of month (the kind where the less money I spend, the better). The struggle is real. But hopefully I can learn from it and benefit others too.

This isn’t a highly controlled research experiment. I am starting off with some food already in my pantry – mostly rice and peas/beans, seasonings, baking ingredients. This experiment is only for food and any non-food items are not included in that $20 grocery list. What I am doing is a real-world experiment. In the real world we don’t go to the grocery each week with a blank slate. However the reality is some people do go to the grocery store with very limited funds and they do their best with those funds to not go hungry. They are forced by their financial restrictions to buy cheap bulk foods just so they and their families have something to eat and avoid hunger pains, even if that something has little nutritional value. Instead of foods rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and other good things that help our bodies function well, the cheapest foods in most grocery stores have mostly empty calories, are nutrient poor and not particularly wholesome – made with white flour, sugar, chemicals, preservatives and unhealthy fats. It is a backward system where it is cheaper and easier to be unhealthy than healthy.

My hypothesis is that with $20 each week I can use the skill set I have to prepare for myself healthy, tasty meals that are nutrient-dense, full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals. It will be a mostly plant-based diet but will still provide enough protein and healthy fats. It will require more food preparation time than typical convenience foods, but with careful planning and efficient use of time I will be able to fit it into my schedule. I am hoping it will reveal what skills are most useful under these circumstances so I, as a health professional, can better educate the wider community. I also want to help those who have not experienced it understand some of the basic health challenges of poverty.

I already have my first week of groceries as shown in the photo. It came up to $18.91. I’ve already learned a bit in the process. I experienced quite a bit of anxiety on the way to the grocery store; worrying about whether I can actually do this, worrying what people would think of me, worrying about the embarrassment of going over budget and having to ask to remove some items at the cash register. That first worry I defied by actually doing it. The last one I combated by plugging each item price into my calculator to check the total to make sure I didn’t go over, and took note of which items were on sale to make sure they weren’t rung up at full price. And the one worrying about what people think… I came to the following conclusion: 

When you tie your self-worth to how others think of you or treat you, then you tie yourself to a burden that will inevitably drag you down. Your worth as a human being, a creative, intelligent, magnificent creature of this earth is intrinsic and unchangeable. No one can give you your worth. No one can take it away. All that remains is for you to see and accept your own immeasurable worth, wear it fearlessly and live your greatness.

The most difficult thing I learned so far is that in addition to the tangible hardships of life, these anxieties are a constant part of daily existence for many people in poverty. $20 U.S. a week, roughly $2.86 a day, on food alone for a single person is still more than millions of families around the world have to supply all their needs.  It is not fair. If this project can help people caught in this unfair system to lead healthier lives even with financial restrictions, then that is far more important than a little anxiety. I will keep you updated on this blog on how this experiment is progressing. In the meantime I have some food prep to do. Bless.

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