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.
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.
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.
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.