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…
The part of my racism story I want to share now is from 2007, though it includes a reference to the experiences I shared in my racism story, part 1 (or, “will you be my black friend?”). It’s my hope that my friends and peers who are white might read my stories and consider their own experiences as people in America who identify as white; who, therefore, benefit from the racist structures of our society. I have found it helpful over the years to get honest with myself about the flickering but problematic background thought processes that have blocked me from authentic relationships with people of color:
“she’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!”
“She’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!” was just about all my brain could handle. Maintaining a simple and polite conversation was barely possible. No matter how much we had in common, no matter how likely a future friendship, I could think of nothing but that amazing dark skin, the transcendent hair texture, and my entire personal history of race relationships. Oh, how I wanted to prove to this woman that I was not like just any white woman! I knew, of course, it was just this level of self-consciousness that would make me utterly annoying to her. But, I just couldn’t help myself.
Helping myself, though, is really what race relations is about for me these days. I do care about the greater socio-political issues (shocking disregard for people’s lives all across the continent of Africa, overt brutality in our country, job discrimination, and of course the list goes on). However, my personal journey with racism now centers around me, my husband, and most of all, my daughter…
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Reading a “facts of life” book last night with my almost-7 year old daughter, she stopped me after I read about what makes boys boys and what makes girls girls. She said, “That’s in the brain. It’s not there [pointing to the genital areas].” She was talking about the fact that there are people whose bodies are biologically one sex, but their identities are another gender. I’ll admit I felt a little proud of myself that I’ve been mothering my daughters to understand that gender is much more complex than biology alone.
A couple years ago, my older daughter called out, distressed, when she realized — admittedly after years of playing with them — her playmobil figures had only one person of color among nearly fifty people. We searched the website and found one brown skinned figure with what looked like a Native American set among hundreds and hundreds of characters. Looking at the site this morning, I see they have new figures that look like people of color in the top banner. Scrolling through the characters, I don’t see that much else has changed. The point I’m making here is that I felt glad when my daughters noticed the playmobil set was made with a foundation of racism. We talked about not playing with the set, what is our responsibility? How can we help? We talked about different things we could do (color with markers?) to make the set have a wider range of people figures. We ended up writing a letter to the company complaining about the issue. That’s not nothing.
There will be people who think these kinds of smaller exchanges are not as important or valid as participating in a drastic overhaul of our entire system. And, indeed, we need to change our whole system. We need to do more than have conversations in our own families. Personally, I am doing more. But there are times when “all I’m doing is parenting.” During those times I’m not missing my opportunity to help my children know more than I did about injustice. I want them to notice problems and think critically about solutions. I want them to practice responding to injustice with action. I believe these smaller steps count. They matter. They are more than “better than nothing.” My children and many like them are people who know that just thinking about and talking about changing the world is not enough; they want to walk the walk and, as my daughter said (she’s sitting on my lap and I asked her how I should finish this), “make the world a better place than we found it.”
There’s no crisis here; work is steady and strong so my cash flow should continue improving. That said, as so many Americans are, I’m one bad tooth or broken down car away from not having enough money to pay bills [side note: That link is to a Forbes piece that’s saying a Salon piece is wrong about Americans not having enough in savings. The Forbes guy says “most have credit for emergencies.” I won’t discuss here why that’s a terrible argument, but it is surely terrible.].
In the name of paying off my new debt that I gained and to rebuild my savings that I lost last year—due to oral health needs and a car repair, no less—I’m going to start another no groceries challenge.
A pattern has emerged as I choose to take on these challenges: At first, I use what I have on hand more efficiently. I have more of a tolerance for leftovers. And, I do more meal planning. Staying away from the supermarket entirely brings me to ask frequently, “do I really need that, or do I just want it?” After a time, as I begin going back to the market for fruit or fresh veggies, I start picking up one or two things that would be handy to have. A jar of tomato sauce for when I’m out of my supply of freezer sauces, fancy cookies for school lunches because it’d just be “nice for the girls.”
I slip down the slope until I’m back where I was before. I don’t really use what’s in my pantry, I forget to keep track of what’s in the freezer that’s usable, and I don’t “let myself take the time” for meal planning because it feels too decadent.
The decision to do this latest challenge — for those of you unfamiliar with it, I see how long I can go without going to the grocery store at all — was a bit impulsive. I haven’t done any planning. It’s a little bit more like the “real” one I faced a few years ago when I simply didn’t have the money for groceries, although it’s really not at all like that because I’m not terrified.
Posting about it on my blog seems to be part of my ritual for these challenges, so, here we are. I’m posting about it. Now I’m going to put the extra cabbages I got into cold storage, put the extra cheese into the freezer, and “let myself” figure out meals for the next week or so. Ta-dah!