I like eating.
Anyone who knows me, knows how true this statement is. Whether they’ve made the mistake of looking away from their dinner for more than two seconds, or accidentally tell me they’ve ordered pizza, one of my best skills is making food disappear.
So, when the Mustard Seed put out a challenge for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, I thought the most difficult of all the Awareness Adventures would be to cut down on how much I eat everyday. By a lot. So for the last week:
1– I haven’t eaten breakfast.
2– I haven’t snacked.
3– I have eaten lunch and dinner at specific times. No eating outside those two meal windows.
4- Meals I do eat are smaller portions than normal. No food comas allowed.
5– All the meals have been inexpensive, high calorie, and accessible to the inner city community.
I’ve tried to adopt the routine that directs life on the street: organizing your day around when you can eat. If you aren’t at an inner city community agency when food is served, it means you’ve missed a meal, or maybe even having food that entire day. This danger causes a lot of stress, and put limits on health, well-being, and happiness.
Aside from my 5 point eating plan, I tried to keep everything else in my schedule the same. This meant working full-time, exercising 1 to 2 hours a day, and going to the social events I’d promised Facebook I’d be attending. At first, it was kind of fun not to eat any vegetables, but after a few days I was actually craving broccoli. And carrots. When all of a sudden the foods you’re used to having when you’re hungry (or just feel like eating because you’re bored), are out of reach, it changes your daily frame of mind.
Food becomes the main priority. Going to bed with your stomach grumbling becomes the new norm. After a few days, my energy levels dropped, exercising became harder, and it took my body longer to recover. Sleeping more seemed like a sneaky way of countering this, but since homeless people don’t have that option, I instead started sleeping less every night – from 7-8 hours to 5-6. Focusing on tasks was more difficult, and articulating ideas was harder than usual.
Then, 5 days in, I started getting a sore throat, which soon turned into a harsh cough. Normally, when I get run-down and feeling sick, I eat lots of good food, and get lots of rest. Unfortunately, homeless folks don’t have that option either, and so I stuck to my diet plan. There’s vitamin C in cheap bologna, right?
On the last day of the fasting challenge, an awful feeling in my stomach was added to my symptoms. My body was starting to get really mad at me. It was my final indication of what it’s like to be homeless everyday. To set your routine around eating. To be worried about going hungry. To be tired. To have your body feeling sore. To get sick, and not have an easy way of getting better. And then, while facing these problems on a daily basis, the homeless have to confront other issues, like finding work, shelter, and staying warm.
Good food goes a long way to giving folks a foundation to take on these other problems. To contrast a week of eating meals people in the inner city have access to, for the next week I’m going to do the reverse: eat balanced, healthy meals which are unavailable to the homeless. It’ll be more expensive, but I’m guessing the benefits will outweigh the monetary cost.