This no groceries challenge is still going, and I’m being more faithful to it than I had been.
Instead of sticking to it strictly, though, I’m going to make exceptions. The exceptions bring to light something I learned during that time several years ago when I was in a financial crisis: people who come from privilege (like me) have no idea what it’s like to be poor.
That seems like stating the obvious, but until I found out how much I didn’t know, I had no idea.
If I didn’t have the money for food for my family, I’d most certainly have to say “sorry, I can’t participate” in providing treats for my daughter’s graduation. This goes deeper than simply not having the money. It means I’m forced to be outside, looking in, at a community.
I found out in 2010-2013ish that it’s humiliating to say, “I don’t have the food or money to offer cookies at this celebration.” Regardless of how people will actually view my non-participation (surely most wouldn’t notice), I will feel like I’m not doing my part.
The people in my communities are loving and accepting, but there is still an awkward and uncomfortable stigma attached to poverty. It makes well-to-do people uncomfortable, I found (beginning with my own discomfort), to be faced with the fact that we don’t have to think long and hard about every dollar we spend. We just don’t understand.
For financially comfortable people, it requires effort to be mindful of the reality that not everyone can afford to chip in to group activities and efforts. It’s an effort I continue making, and these “no groceries challenges” help keep me awake.
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.