A friend on Facebook recently messaged me to thank me for my “no groceries challenge” posts. Her family was out of money so she couldn’t buy food. She told me she remembered the no groceries challenge and it helped her find a way to look at what food she had on hand so they could get by. My heart is full that she took the time to thank me, that she found my writing helpful, and that she was able to find cook-able food in her shelves.
I told her that maybe I’m due for another “no groceries challenge.” When I did it the first time, in May of 2013, I did it because I had to. We were in serious financial trouble and I had to find a way to spend less. Doing a challenge like this when I don’t have to feels fake and shallow on many levels. But, it’s true that money is still very tight (relatively speaking). More importantly, I’ve paused and paid attention: I’m spending more and being more wasteful than I need to be. I’m not helping the earth or my bank account.
My heart started racing a little, in that not-good way, when I thought of doing a no groceries challenge. I immediately thought about taking stock of everything I have, making a shopping list, filling up my shelves so I can make it for a long time. I felt worried. Nervous about getting back to that kind of thinking — don’t let leftovers go to waste, do plan meals, do appreciate everything we have — because it reminds me of how scary it was then.
This morning, I didn’t want to do my meditation. My 8 year old said, “You might feel glad you did it if you do it.” She was right this morning. I bet the same is true about embarking on another no-groceries challenge again, even without any “prep work.” So, here I go…
Today I thought of a very simple example of how my privileged background puts me at an advantage, no matter what my own pitiful bank accounts look like at the moment.
Over the last few months, I’ve been going for walks in shoes that weren’t great for walking. I ended up causing quite a bit of pain in my feet, legs, and even up into my hips and back. (It’s all connected, yes?) Because I have friends and family who are financially more comfortable than I am, I received gifts for my birthday this summer. One of them was a gift card to Lamey Wellehan shoes.
gift card for my birthday to Lamey Wellehan —> I get to buy really good shoes for walking —> able to go for walks without damaging my feet or the rest of my systems —> general physical and emotional health improves —> am not in physical pain and am better able to carry on my day-to-day tasks —> no need for time consuming medical appointments to deal with physical pain problems –> my overall life has less stress because I’ve been walking and because I’m not in pain from that walking.
There are countless threads like this for people who come from privileged backgrounds compared with people who come from real poverty. Many people will say, “well, DUH, this is obvious.” But maybe some of you will read it and have an “ah ha!” moment or two of your own about some of your own threads of privilege and the advantages it affords you. Awareness isn’t creating change in our broken systems, but it’s a step in the right direction. And, in this case, it’s a STEP IN REALLY GOOD SHOES. (Ha.)
I’ve been to the grocery store a couple times since I last posted about a new “no groceries challenge.” I’ve felt like I’m mostly remaining faithful to the challenge, though, as I haven’t gone to the grocery store and filled up my cart with a month’s worth of food. A few times I’ve gotten fresh fruit and vegetables (acceptable on my challenge) and a few snacks-for-camp-lunches. Oh. And tofu. And laundry detergent.
It’s true that I haven’t let much go to waste in the refrigerator, and I’ve used much of what was stored in the deep freezer. That’s good. I haven’t purchased unnecessary items. That said, I’ve been seriously kidding myself. I maxed out our restaurant budget line (pizza and Chinese takeout, pre-made food at the grocery store, all the way up to actually going to a sit-down restaurant) two months in a row — I only started this “challenge” at the end of June!
Playing poor isn’t at all the same as actually being poor.
My bank balances are perilously low, and I depend on every check I get to meet my expenses. I’m not financially comfortable. My nerves get shaky and the stress of it does impact my life, but it’s nothing like actual poverty.
As a cost savings exercise and as a return to more environmentally friendly behavior, I’m doing another “no groceries challenge.” We go out of town next week, so I expect I won’t even need to buy much in the way of fresh produce; fresh produce is one of my few exceptions to the rule of not purchasing groceries. I won’t say much here, as I’ve written about the challenges quite a bit. I will check back in if/when something happens I find interesting enough to share.
Just some notes from the time I was doing the no groceries challenge. The influence of the challenge is still with me, though I wouldn’t consider myself in a challenge right now.
- Playing this game is nothing like actually not having enough money to buy groceries. Nothing at all. Knowing if I really “had to” I could get anything I needed makes the experience a personal growth exercise unrelated to poverty. I wrote about this in my newspaper column.
- Homemade whole wheat tortillas are *really* easy and so much better than store-bought they are worth the effort. I can keep the dough frozen if I don’t have time to cook them all up at once. I used the breadmaker to mix the dough, which made it feel even easier.
- Friends are supportive and generous when they know about the challenge.
- My grocery shopping is much more cost-efficient. I recognize impulse buys for what they are, for example, and don’t succumb.
- Ordering take out pizza or Chinese food is CHEATING and it started seeming like a reasonable option after a few weeks.
- The creativity I force myself to tap into has helped me work on time management skills. I don’t do it as much as would be helpful, but meal planning and pre-prep work make being so tired takeout seems like a good option a relatively rare experience.
- I’ll do one of these no groceries challenges again soon.