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.
In October, I spent $150.02 on groceries. Some people will see this as not much money, some will think it’s a lot. Regardless, my “no groceries challenge” has been successful thus far for a lot of reasons. Most important to me, beyond the money savings, is my return to awareness of and appreciations for the freedoms that come with having “enough” money.
Every time I think about this voluntary activity, I’m reminded of what it was like when I literally—and I mean literally—had less than $10 to my name. No credit. No cash. That level of financial crisis didn’t last very long for me, but it made an impression. Part of why I do these “no groceries challenges” is so I’ll remember what that was like; when there was no choice.
I spent $70 at the start of October to stock up so my no groceries challenge would last longer. A few bags of flour, for example, and bags of dry beans, and milk, and bacon, and almond milk, and chocolate…
What I hadn’t thought about was the impact being “without” money for groceries can have on our social life. We had friends visit us at my parents’ summer place and I wanted to feed our friends. They all chipped in, too, and my parents were fine with my using stuff they already had on hand. But what about people who don’t have the money to buy food for friends? My friend is coming from out of town tonight, and I’ve talked to her about this no groceries challenge. She knows about it, but I got upset and anxious because I wanted to try and keep going — how can I be a good host if I need to use only what I have on hand?
Of course, I could do it. I’ve been feeding my children just fine, thanks to the freezer, the pantry, and a lot of talent and creativity in the kitchen. My friend also understands and asked if I’d mind if she got herself some things in support of my decision to avoid grocery shopping.
Over the course of the month, I got cider and cinnamon sticks (for the Halloween gathering with friends) and I got milk and yoghurt. I must have gotten other items, made other “exceptions” beyond fruits and/or fresh veggies? to have a balance as “high” as $150.
I’ve decided to stock up again, today. I’m still considering it a no-groceries challenge because after this I will go back to not going at all. I’ll buy the items on this list, which includes some green tea and heavy cream for my friend, and then we’ll hunker back down again and not go to the grocery store for as long as possible. I’ll get a small turkey, or maybe even a chicken, and some cranberries for our Thanksgiving — I can make the rest of the meal with what we have.
It’s now an intellectual exercise borne of necessity, but avoiding “grocery shopping” like this continues to open my eyes to many issues: efficient use of our food, the impact of poverty on social lives, what are our family’s values? So, it’s not truly “no groceries,” but it’s still a challenge from which I’m learning a lot.
Continuing my “no groceries challenge,” I had to resist the temptation to replenish staples as I usually would. Typically, I keep on hand an extra jelly, peanut butter, olive oil, soy sauce, diced unsalted tomatoes, and other base ingredients. That way, when I run out, I’m not stuck missing a key ingredient. With my no groceries challenge, I must not buy anything unless I “have to.” That means, when I run out of peanut butter, I don’t go buy more, I just don’t use peanut butter.
My daughters are pretty amazing when it comes to enjoying food. I shared a plate of kohlrabi leaves sauteed/braised in bacon fat and balsamic vinegar and they devoured it. [Funny, as I was writing this, both were complaining about the lame choices for snacks…] That’s just one of the ways in which I’m (mostly) lucky. It’s one way the no groceries challenge could be more challenging, though, if my children balked more at “weird” foods.
Back to stocking up on staples. I think of the time when I had so little I couldn’t afford to keep that extra jelly, peanut butter, or olive oil on the shelf. When I ran out, I was just out. It’s just one more way that having money makes life easier. We can afford to not run out of staple ingredients; we can afford to use our time efficiently. It might seem a little thing, but running out of cooking oil and not being able to make the planned meal can—when life is overwhelming because of lack of resources—feel like an enormous burden. It could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
It’s amazing to realize how having a pantry full of extra staple foods is a luxury. Of course in so many cases, just having food is a luxury. Having the time and energy to cook is also a luxury. That said, doing these “no groceries challenges” continues to open my eyes to the many ways that having enough money makes life so so so much easier in ways far beyond simply buying groceries.
A good friend on Facebook is an activist for animal rights. Another spends her time fighting for the rights of trans* people. I also have friends who raise money for good causes, friends who focus their energy on their children, or use all their energy just getting through the day.
There isn’t time in the world to be an activist in every cause. We have to pick and choose where we spend our time.
Black and brown skinned people don’t get to choose whether or not racism affects them, but even they, to some degree, can choose how much time they dedicate to the “cause” of fixing our system.
I care about getting clean water to all the parts of the world where people are dying because they simply don’t have clean water. I care about stopping Apartheid in Palestine. Some issues spark my passion and some issues, like clean water and Palestinian rights, I have to put aside and say, someone else has to do that.
I was thinking this morning about how much #blacklivesmatter, #sayhername, and ending mass incarceration means to me. I wrote about realizing that people fighting global warming are also social justice activists. In that same vein, I want my friends to know that I recognize we choose our battles. I don’t judge you harshly for your apparent lack of interest. When we are watching our children play, or enjoying a potluck, or chit-chatting online, I enjoy you and your life with all of your varied choices.
I won’t be quiet about the issues that matter most to me, but I don’t expect you to make the choices I make. I respect your right to focus your energy in different places.
I believe everyone—and I mean everyone—does what they need to do to make the world a better place. Keeping lines of communication open feels more important to me these days than force feeding my beliefs into other people’s life choices. We are all in this together.
As I was vigorously yanking weeds and easily avoiding vegetable plants, it struck me I know more than a lot of people might about gardening. This is not on purpose. Through decades of being around my parents and their gardening—and having household chores that included gardening work—I just absorbed the information; a kind of osmosis. I don’t remember ever being told how to recognize the early leaves of the squash-types of plants (they also look sort of like early sunflower leaves), for example, or which plants like having their lowest branches snipped with pinched fingers (tomato plants) because it makes them grow stronger.
My older daughter weeded “her” section of the garden and that’s when I realized it’s happening for her, too. She said, “Weird, there’s basil here!” and kept weeding. Then she said, “No, it’s not,” and she pulled it. She then recognized it as a bell pepper plant and re-planted it. (We think it’ll be fine — I know from experience that vegetable plants as a general rule are pretty darned hardy.)
As I kept working on the rest of the weeding, I got lost in thoughts about how my life path has been affected by the odd and useful bits of knowledge about plant life. I thought about children who have never seen vegetables growing in a garden. When I go for walks, I can pick out loads of different edible plants — when did I learn those things? I don’t know — all of it makes me feel very connected to the earth.
Then I think about all I don’t know. Like how surviving on “the streets” would require knowledge I don’t already have. Getting by on a minimum wage job sounds impossible to me, in part because it’s absurd to expect people to survive on such low incomes, but also because those survival skills are not a part of my life experience.
Weeding the garden this weekend, I found a peaceful place—centered and fleeting—in both gratitude and humility.