My History With Hunger – Live Below The Line

I have been lucky in my life and have rarely experienced real hunger, the kind of unending chronic hunger that 1 out of 7 people in the world wake up to every day.

The only time I really had to face hunger was during 2 school-terms at university, but even then I knew that in a couple of months I’d be back on a work-term and everything would be fine.

The first time was the hardest since I hadn’t experienced this before and I didn’t really know what it meant to be hungry.

I was in 3rd year, and  at times I was spreading 1 can of tuna out to be my week’s protein. I would start out by making a white sauce with the flour and 99¢ margarine I had bought to last the term, and season with the salt, pepper and paprika I bought while working. The tuna water and tap water turned the roux into a sauce. (Though to be honest sometimes I would nick a splash of my roommate’s milk too.)  I’d add 1/2 a can of tuna and, if I had them, a little finely diced carrot and onion.  Those were the 2 things I bought when I had a little extra change. At the corner store 10¢ would get me a big carrot and 25¢ would get me a  big onion.
Carrot Appie
Then serve that on egg noodles, lots of cheap egg noodles. I’d thin the sauce every day with water and have it with more noodles, until it was essentially noodles.   Then I’d do it again with the other 1/2 can.

I knew how to cook, what it meant to be careful, to stock pile, to stretch your dollar, and to pad your meal with cheap carbs and water to feel fuller. But I didn’t know what that would actually DO to you.

About 6 weeks into living like that I was taken to the hospital by my roommates. Thank you Keith and Jane for insisting I go and for not “noticing” the milk thing.

A day or two later my friend Suzanne, who was directing me in a play at the time, pulled me to one side and asked why I was losing weight.  At under 125lbs I didn’t have a lot to lose and she said “I can see it falling off you”.  She is the only person I actually told about my situation and while I protested, Suzanne insisted on taking me out and buying me groceries. Thank you Suzanne.

Lex in FASS 1986 - The Scream Play
A couple of weeks later.
Note: I’m in costume for a play, this is not how I dressed in the 80s except on stage.

Things got better from that point.  I got an emergency Student Loan to help tide me over until the next work term.  Still, when I did get some money, rather than carefully stockpiling and preparing I would buy a big roast beef and have people over for dinner. I assumed other people were struggling like I was.

If you have read about the origins of Travel Bunny, you have already read about the second term I was hungry. While I was a little flip when writing about how much I needed food and did not need Easter cards and chocolate, it was a very real issue at the time.

By this point in my university career, I started every school-term with a big shop at Valdi Discount Foods to fill my pantry with canned and dried goods, staples to last for 4-months. But I was coming into this school-term shorter on money than I had before so my pantry wasn’t quite as full. I bought almost enough rice to last the term. I bought the biggest bags of onions, potatoes and flour I could afford. I knew I had to be careful to make it last.
Market Morning

I wasn’t hosting roast beef dinners.  You learn quickly when living this tight that sharing this week can mean you go without next week. This mentality can be hard to break if you are living that close to the edge for very long.

There was a period of about 3-weeks right before Easter when I was living on one meal a day and there was no slack what-so ever in that.

One day I decided my meal would be the box of Kraft dinner someone had given me. Even though I didn’t like it and didn’t eat it, it was food and I was hungry.  I decided to tweak it with garlic, some spices, a bouillon cube and some other stuff I had lying around to make it more palatable.

Bad choice. It was inedible. Literally, neither my cat nor my roommates would touch it and actually complained loudly about the smell.  Even though I was hungry I still couldn’t choke it down, though I tried. I had to throw out my one meal of the day.

Some of you reading this may be wondering why I didn’t say anything to you. Why I didn’t ask for help.

Well the blunt truth of it is, it is embarrassing to be this broke. It’s humiliating to be hungry.  The impact on your self-esteem and self-confidence is debilitating. While reaching out for help seems like the easiest solution,  it can be the hardest thing to do.

Almost everyone I know has a story like this.  Many had situations where they weren’t so lucky!

I was lucky, I knew it would end. I treated it, perhaps foolishly, as a challenge. Something that tested my mettle, forced me to be creative.  I had ways to cope.  I had people around me that could help me when things got bad.  I knew I didn’t have to live with it for months or years on end.

I have never been in a situation where I didn’t know when or how my hunger would end and I have never felt the hopelessness that comes with chronic hunger.  That’s something I never want anyone to feel.

Right now  1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty and 1 out of every 7 people in the world are hungry. 1 out of 7!


Note: this post is part of my Live Below The Line series where I will be on a $1.75 food & drink budget from April 29th-May 3rd.  You can support me in this challenge by donating on my behalf, donating to Bloggers Living Below The Line, or supporting one of my two local hunger charities: Second Harvest and Daily Bread Food Bank.  

If you want to know more about what I’m involved in, you can read my disclosure statement here.

18 thoughts on “My History With Hunger – Live Below The Line

  • April 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm
    Permalink

    This post includes not only a photo of me from 1986 (in a COSTUME!) but also a shout out to Suzanne Langdon Jane Dunlop Keith Logan (just so you know I’m talking about you!)

    Reply
  • April 27, 2013 at 4:34 pm
    Permalink

    My heartfelt thanks for this posting.

    Reply
    • April 27, 2013 at 8:44 pm
      Permalink

      PatAnderson You are more than welcome Pat. I’d love to know what you are thanking me for. Thank you for reading it!

      Reply
      • April 27, 2013 at 9:14 pm
        Permalink

        AlexaClark I remember being a broke student at UW, too… collecting pop bottles to get enough change to go buy millet over at the bulk food store in Kitchener (I think I walked over there). It was never much more than a month of being totally broke, and then I’d be back to a work term or would take a part-time job because I couldn’t stand it any more. 
        But things are harder now than they were (and they were pretty bad with the recession in the early 80’s). When you sent out your invitation for people to join you in this effort, I seriously thought about it, and then started to think of all the emotions that went along with that time I was broke… wasn’t sure I could deal with it right now. 
        I really feel we need to do something serious to bring food insecurity issues to people’s minds, and I think you’re doing it, Lex: and for that, I thank you. I hope we can get action.

        Reply
        • April 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm
          Permalink

          PatAnderson Thanks for sharing your story too!  
          It’s part of hunger that people often forget, the emotions.   Not only does hunger change your emotional state, but not having money (which is often the root of hunger though not always) has such wide reaching impact on your daily life and that can wear a soul down!
          You looked at this challenge with wider eyes than I did. I have been completely surprised by the past emotions that are coming up as I deal with the money-side of things and I haven’t even started the restricted eating part of the challenge yet.

          Reply
        • April 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm
          Permalink

          AlexaClark Ah emotions. It’s important to document them, too, because they play such a huge role in how we develop, how we grow.
          I’m suddenly reminded of something I learned while a master gardener. Plants don’t heal. They can’t heal. What they do is isolate and seal off the damaged area.
          One of our challenges as humans is to remain open, and to be able to recollect those emotions — in tranquility, if possible, as the Romantics  would have us do — and to be able to communicate them so others understand.
          This week will be short — you will see the end of it, and know when the end of your hunger is scheduled. But please communicate the emotional side as well as the dollars and cents and sense side of the story, too 🙂

          Reply
  • April 27, 2013 at 8:30 pm
    Permalink

    wow… you would not believe the effort she is putting into this experiment.
    I am getting hourly updates on food and budget and things she could try.

    Reply
    • April 27, 2013 at 8:44 pm
      Permalink

      grrrr and thank you for your patience and for agreeing to be involved.  (And for being involved even before you agreed to!)  I know it’s hard when you are sick.

      Reply
  • April 27, 2013 at 9:23 pm
    Permalink

    Lex, I remember being shocked and dismayed that someone I knew was too poor to afford food. That your wildly successful weight loss program was the result of starvation, not determination. I was horrified to learn that you were buying the dented cans because they were cheaper. That you had no meat and had no prospects for buying meat.
    Then, as now, I felt extremely fortunate that I could afford food, every meal, every day. And I was happy that I was in a position to help a friend. And thankful that you confided in me so I could do something and not remain ignorant while you were hungry.
    Suzanne

    Reply
    • April 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm
      Permalink

      @SuzanneVL Thanks Suzanne, it’s wonderful to have you comment on this from your experience with my hunger.  I know that sounds weird, but this outside perspective is often missing for those of us going through it.  And frankly, a good reminder that your friends may be struggling and you don’t even see it.  Lucky for me, you did!
      When I read your comment I had an interesting reaction to your use of the word “poor”. I got immediately defensive and thought “I was broke not poor”.  It’s a tiny language nuance, and yet I’m reacting as if it’s very important. I had a very visceral reaction even today, 20 years after the fact.  
      Something else to add to the pile of things to think about.  My friends, and this challenge just keeps on giving!

      Reply
  • April 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm
    Permalink

    Pat Anderson & Anna Foat thank you both for your comments on this post about your own experiences with hunger. It’s a big conversation with lots to say from many angles.

    Reply
  • April 28, 2013 at 9:18 pm
    Permalink

    I recognize that outfit!!

    Reply
  • April 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm
    Permalink

    OMG Alexa – you could have had as much of my milk or tuna or whatever as you wanted – I had absolutely no idea – I guess because we all kept such erratic hours. Yeesh. I feel bad I didn’t help you, and am very glad you survived all that!

    Reply
  • April 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm
    Permalink

    Lovely Jane Dunlop you did help me, a lot! You may not remember how insistent you were that Keith take me to the hospital, but I wouldn’t have gone without you. Besides if memory serves you were eating cold soup on noodles… I’m not sure I wanted that help 😉

    Reply
  • April 30, 2013 at 4:18 pm
    Permalink

    Wow. Poverty and scrounging for food is very real and very common. It could be any one of us, at any time.

    Reply
    • April 30, 2013 at 6:24 pm
      Permalink

      Andrea Toole And no one would ever know.  
      That’s the main reason I shared this. Thank you for making the point so succinctly!

      Reply
  • Pingback: Readers Speak Back – Len Senator – Live Below The Line | unsweetened.ca

  • Pingback: Wrapping Up–Live Below The Line | unsweetened.ca

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: