Day 4: Half Way!

I’ve been in my pyjamas all day. They have Christmas ornaments all over them. This is particularly embarrassing because everybody knows it’s Epiphany.

I was trying to figure out a way to blame being in the same pair of jammies since 6pm yesterday on my dietary challenges, but I can’t. I’m simply a lazy layabout in poorly themed PJs.

I just got off the phone with my amazing aunt. She’s super smart and she’s a nutritionist. I asked her if Jason and I could really be as affected as we’re feeling after only a few days of eating crappy food. I’ve been concerned I’m feeling awful because I expect to feel awful. Surely my physical and emotional state can’t be compromised this much after only three full days of eating simple carbs and refined sugar. I actually went to bed crying last night.  She assured me that it is absolutely possible and expected. And since I’m still breastfeeding Isaiah, my nutritional stores are becoming even more depleted because baby always comes first.

Isaiah is like a parasite.  A parasite whom I love. When I was pregnant, I spent the first four and a half months hunched over a toilet. I’ve sometimes thought about creating a coffee table book about all the places I’ve puked: garbage cans in the TTC, the Calgary International Airport, the Pacific Ocean, the sidewalk in front of the McDonald’s at Queen and Church, City Hall, the forest at Maple Lake during Jason’s baptism, etc. I felt worse than something my cat dragged in.  I felt like something my cat dragged in, ate, barfed up and then ate again.  I became so dehydrated that I had to go to the hospital multiple times. I lost weight.  I joked to my midwife that had I known having a baby was such a successful method for weight loss, I would have gotten pregnant ages ago. She didn’t get the joke.

imageBut I was concerned. I was concerned that the tiny person, whom I loved even during the period when he more closely resembled a cocktail shrimp than a human, wasn’t receiving everything he needed to thrive because I couldn’t consume anything except the occasional soda cracker and tiny bowl of cottage cheese.  My midwife told me not to worry and that although I was feeling awful, the fetus(!) was taking everything it(!) needed from my nutrient stores and was fine.  Just like a parasite.

And then Isaiah was born and we entered into a new phase of our nutrient dependent relationship: breast feeding.  Breast milk is a really remarkable thing.  Breasts and babies have this James Bond like secret code.  A mother is able to produce milk that has the specific nutrients, antibodies and caloric content her baby needs.  It changes over time.  It is a dynamic, living fluid.  And just like when I was pregnant, Isaiah’s nutritional needs come first.  If I am not getting all of the vitamins I need to keep Isaiah healthy in my diet, my body starts pulling from my nutrient stores so Isaiah will always have enough.  Amazing.  Exhausting.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking today about how parenting and breastfeeding connect with Do the Math and our Food Bank Diet Challenge.  I’ve read a lot of studies about breastfeeding, and all of them talk about how mothers with more education and from higher socioeconomic classes are more likely to breastfeed their babies.  Women with little education and who struggle to make ends meet are more likely to use formula (which, in my observation, is readily available from food banks and social service organizations – Nestle is more than happy to get as many babies hooked on formula as possible).  This discrepancy is usually explained with the assumption that women with more education are more likely to know about all the awesome benefits of breastfeeding.

However, may I humbly suggest that it would be almost impossible to effectively parent while suffering through the nutritional starvation that would inevitably come about as a result of eating nothing but the food I’ve been consuming this week?   Add to that the nutritional drain of breastfeeding an infant (and the emotional stress of financial instability) and it all becomes absurd.  I eat relatively well, take my vitamins and drink my VegeGreens everyday.  Still, by the time Isaiah goes to bed, I’m beat.  I mean, I’m a messy puddle of mud on the couch.  Sometimes, I just sit and stare around my apartment for half an hour wondering if it’s bad enough for the City to come and remove us a la Hoarders because of all the clutter.  This week…let’s just say I haven’t invited anybody over for tea (besides, I don’t have any tea to spare anyway!).

Speaking of tea, we found some coffee beans hiding in our cupboard that we had completely forgotten about.  I have no idea how old they are – certainly more than a year – but coffee beans don’t really go bad, do they?  More coffee means Jason won’t go through withdrawal which means I felt safe in brewing a cup of tea for myself this morning.  English Breakfast.  Not usually my favourite, but today it tasted divine.  I sat there drinking it while I watched Isaiah pull all the books of the bookshelf.  They are still sitting on the floor where they fell.

Coffee Table

We had some leftover pasta from Monday night’s dinner sitting in our fridge.  It was really awful the first time and I didn’t have high hopes for a second round.  But when I looked in the cupboard, I realized I had to eat it.  We only have so many meals left in our cupboard.  I tried to pawn it off on our kitty, Coffee Table, but he wanted nothing to do with it.  So I ate it.  It was awful.  I was hungry again within 45 minutes.  I made more pasta – the only food item we seem to have an abundance of.  I couldn’t believe I was making myself more pasta.  I put in half a can of tuna and gave the other half to Isaiah.  I felt pretty sluggish and gross for the rest of the afternoon.

image

While making dinner (macaroni and cheese with hot dogs), I became curious as to whether cooking the hot dogs first would enhance their flavour.  It was a disappointing experiment.

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After eating no fresh vegetables for four days, this tomato was AMAZING!  Jason and I each had half a fruit. Isaiah is allergic to tomatoes, which is the only reason we’re getting the these at all.

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Since I had some tea this morning, I was willing to share my lime with Jason.  Drinking water out of our wine glasses only added to the experience.

Here’s the food report for today:

Breakfast

1 packet of instant oatmeal
tea

Lunch

Pasta with tomato sauce and canned vegetables (originally there were kidney beans in there, but Isaiah needed some protein at lunch so I sucked rinsed the tomato sauce off the beans and gave them to him)

Second Lunch

Pasta with tuna

Supper

Macaroni and Cheese with hotdogs and half a tomato
Water with a slice of lime

Nutritional breakdown:

Nutrition

Ok…I’m off to bed.  Something happened to the interwebs and I ended up having to write most of this blog twice.  I thought Tumblr had autosave.  Oops.  I assure you what I had written before was better. 😉

In case you were wondering, I’m still in the same pajamas.

Day 3: Community

Tonight will probably be a very, very short update because I am absolutely exhausted. We’ve had no child care this week, so my work has been piled on to the end of the day after Isaiah goes to sleep. However, what I’d really like to be doing is sleeping. I feel like my brain is in a fog and my body is wading through water. I’ve reread that last sentence seven times. I hope it makes sense.

Isaiah and I went for lunch today at The Stop Community Food Centre. This is where the Do the Math Challenge began. I was shocked at the quality of the meal: rice with beans, homemade coleslaw, a most delicious meal loaf and olive bread. I’m sure the olive bread was amazing, but I never got the chance to try it. Isaiah downed the whole piece before I could even get a bite. Isaiah ate my veggies, coleslaw (which had apples in it!) and some of my rice. He was a very, very happy camper.

The atmosphere at The Stop today was very different than at St. Peter’s. Although the food was good, I felt pretty awkward the entire time. It’s a very busy place, and instead of having a table to myself, Isaiah and I shared a table with 5 other men I didn’t know. My primary concern was making sure Isaiah was okay. There was food in front of him. He was fine. The volunteers were very, very busy. The room was very loud. There were no donuts. But I could tell there was a community there – a community of people who come together to laugh and share meals frequently. On one level I was glad to see it. On another, I was acutely aware that I am not part of this community, and everybody around me knew that I didn’t belong. I’m a stranger. The complexity of the feelings I have about all this is greater than my ability to articulate right now. I just can’t think, yo.

Isaiah was simply excited about the bread and apples.

A few people have questioned me about going to food programmes to eat when my family has the means to purchase enough food for ourselves. Our intention is not to take resources away from anybody who needs them. At the end of The Challenge we will be making a donation to each organization we have received hospitality from. The donation will more than cover the cost of the food we have eaten.

Speaking of food, here is what I ate today.

Breakfast

3 flatbreads with peanut butter

Snack

Granola bar

Lunch

Meatloaf
Rice with Beans and Lentils
Homemade coleslaw

Supper

Alphabet pasta with hotdog wieners (a bit of a let down after the meatloaf)
Chocolate bar (Bounty…my favourite!)

Alphaghetti

Here is today’s nutritional break down. It was helped significantly by lunch at The Stop.

Nutrition

Absolutely no Vitamin D today. I must look up how quickly vitamins are depleted from the body. Especially if one is breastfeeding.

UPDATE:

Alarmed by my lack of vitamin D, I drank a glass of milk.  Here is the updated nutritional information.

Nutrition

Day 2: Fuzzy Wuzzy was my Brain

Day 2 is in the bag.  I’m hungry in a snacky sort of way, but I’m trying to stay out of the kitchen because I don’t think we can afford to be frivolous with our food supply.  When I first lugged all our food home and set it up on the table, it seemed like a lot.  I figured the issue was going to be simply the quality of the food, not the quantity. Turns out it’s both. I was prepared to feel crappy.  Grumpy even.  I wasn’t really prepared to be hungry.  Our diet for the past two days has been composed almost entirely of simple carbs.  So although the food is filling us up quickly at meal times, we’re finding we’re hungry again within the hour. And looking at how much food we have left after only two days, I’m worried we won’t have enough to get us through to Saturday night.

Isaiah has it pretty good.  Today he got an egg, sweet potato from a jar, soda crackers, pablum, mama juice and freshly steamed carrots.  We get four carrots to last the week.  Jason and I decided Isaiah gets all of them.  Thing is, Isaiah is not so much a fan of carrots, unless they are in their “baby” form.  What he wants more than anything is something I can’t give him. This kid wants an apple.

Here’s a photo to give you an idea of how much my son loves apples:

Isaiah eating an apple

Jason has just walked into the living room now.

“I think you should write about our olive oil controversy.”

He makes it sound like like western democracy is at risk.  The Great Olive Oil Controversy of 2013.

Here’s the deal:

In our instructions for this challenge, as supplied by The Stop Community Food Centre, we have a list of food items to purchase that replicate what a family might expect to receive in a food bank hamper.  In addition to this, we are allowed five pantry items;  things like coffee, tea, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, flour, margarine/butter, ketchup, mustard, cooking oil, spices, vinegar, etc.  We chose coffee, tea, flour, cooking oil and margarine/butter.  The rule is that they had to already be in our pantry, and we weren’t allowed to go out and buy more once we received our instructions.  We had what we had.  What I DIDN’T realize until yesterday when I was making our flat bread was that we don’t have that much olive oil left.  I made another batch of bread tonight.  I could do another half batch, but that’s pretty much it for the oil.  No big deal.  We have a huge bottle of vegetable oil in our cupboard.  Except that bottle isn’t oil at all.  It’s apple cider vinegar.  Oops.

So Jason thinks we should just go out and get more oil, because it’s on our pantry list, and we wouldn’t have chosen it as one of our items had we known we were almost out.

I’ve asked Jason to dictate what else I should say about his position.  I want to make sure I’m representing his point of view adequately.

He’s declined. “You just go ahead,” he says.

Asking your fiancée to explain a controversy you are a part of is like dating Taylor Swift and thinking the song she writes about your breakup is going to be fair and objective.

Oh wait!  Here’s what he has to say:  “I was just really looking forward to those potatoes.”

Yes, it’s kind of sucky.  Jason, the son of a potato farmer, really does know how to make a delicious potato. He was counting on olive oil to aid in the roasting process.  It was likely going to be our big treat in the middle of the week.  Salmon from a can, and a roasted potato drizzled with olive oil and salt – salt that he nicked from the local hamburger joint, thereby preventing us from needing to count it as one of our pantry items. I asked him if he can use butter.  I know I can use butter to make the flat bread.

“It’s not the same.”

[As a side note, I had to search to see if we had butter in our fridge before the challenge began.  We did, but I didn’t (and still don’t) have any idea how long it’s been in there.  I used it in making Kraft Dinner last night.  I first had to cut off the discoloured (rancid?) bit on the outside.  Everything seemed okay, but it is possible any strange flavour from the butter was masked by the “real cheddar taste” of the florescent orange powder.  Don’t tell Jason.]

Here’s what I think about our “controversy”:

So what?

So we don’t have oil for the rest of the week. Sunday afternoon we can go out and get more olive oil and have a roasted potato for dinner.  I’m okay with going sans oil because I belive it’s realistic to think people who regularly rely on food banks could run out of oil and not be able to immediately replenish it.  I don’t want to make things easier, or look for loop holes.  I want this to be as authentic as possible.  I want to be reminded of what it’s like to not have what you want, when you want it, how you want it, etc.

Jason said something at the beginning of our preparations that I really like:

This challenge is really an act of compassion and love.  There is love present in suffering with others.

At least I think that’s what he said.  I’ve just asked him to repeat it but he can’t.  His brain is too fuzzy from simple carbs and a lack of caffeine.

I’d be a bit of a drama llama if I called what we’re doing this week suffering, but I keep coming back to Jason’s words.  Even though we are having some disagreements on how this week is going, I know that deep, deep down, we are on the same page.

Jason has now gone back to studying.

Here is what he had to get through the day:

Breakfast

1 Single serving “fruit at the bottom” yoghurt
1 packet of instant oatmeal

Lunch

Left over macaroni and cheese (yum…)
2 hard boiled eggs
1 granola bar
4 pieces of flat bread

Supper

Pasta with a can of tomato sauce, kidney beans and canned mixed vegetables (I think the canned vegetables might have contained Berti Bott’s Every Flavour Beans because the wax beans really did taste like wax!)
1 donut
1 roll

Here’s what I had to eat:

Breakfast

1 Single serving “fruit at the bottom” yoghurt
1 packet of instant oatmeal

Lunch

1 can of pork and beans with molasses  (okay, maybe that was close to suffering…)
1 hard boiled egg

Supper

Butternut squash soup
Shepherd’s Pie
Roll
2 Donuts (woo hoo!!!)

My dinner didn’t come out of our food rations.  Tonight I had dinner by myself at a meal programme in my neighbourhood.  In the instructions for this week, we’re encouraged to eat at least one or two meals at a drop-in centre.  I decided I wanted to go once by myself, once with Isaiah and once as an entire family.  The idea is we’re supposed to go to a programme where we don’t know anybody, and that we haven’t volunteered at before.  We’re simply supposed to show up and eat, just like any other guest would.

I coordinated an Out of the Cold lunch last year, so not only have I met a lot of volunteers and staff at various meal programmes, I know a lot of the guests too.  It means I can’t go to any lunches or dinners in the downtown core.  I was fairly certain I wouldn’t run into anybody I know at the dinner I went to this evening at St. Peter’s Church.

I felt completely awkward when I walked in.  I realized I didn’t want to be there.  I was exhausted from looking after Isaiah all day and not having any energy. I didn’t really want to interact with anybody.  I was grumpy.  I was hungry.  I felt out of place.  I wasn’t sure if I could just sit down, if somebody would tell me where to sit, if I was supposed to line up, etc.

This only lasted a few seconds, because almost immediately a duo of teenaged girls swooped towards me with bright, cheerful smiles and asked if I was there to eat.  I said yes, I was, and they told me I could sit sit anywhere I liked.  It was soon very clear I had only just made it to the end of the dinner.  I sat at a table by myself.  One of the girls asked if I would like some soup and quickly brought some over.  A boy came over and asked if I would like some juice.  I bet I had at least five high school kids waiting on me.  They brought me bread, juice, water, soup, butter and finally…a donut!  I don’t know why this was so exciting.  It’s not as if I’ve been lacking is refined white starch and sugar the past two days.  But this donut was DELICIOUS! I asked if there were any leftovers I might be able to take to my husband. “My husband” seemed easier than “my soon to be husband”, “my fiancé”, “my common law husband”, “baby daddy” or “the man I’ve been living in sin with for the past two years”.  There wasn’t any leftovers, but they told me I could take as many donuts as I liked.  I took two, plus another roll, and brought them home for Jason.

We sat on the couch together eating our donuts and I told him about the kids who served me dinner.  They totally made my night.  I felt awkward and out of place, and they made me feel…normal.  And welcome.  They made me feel like I was supposed to be there and that they were happy to see me.

And honestly, it was exactly what I needed in that moment.

Here is my daily nutritional analysis:

Nutrition
I hope I don’t need my blood to clot this week (Vitamin K).  It looks like scurvy is on my horizon (Vitamin C) and that I’m not going to get any restful sleep (magnesium).

Or maybe I’m just being sad and pessimistic because I’m just don’t have enough Vitamin D in my life…

Day 1: Negotiations


Tonight marks the end of Day 1 of our Food Bank Diet challenge.

Here is what Jason and I each ate:

Breakfast

1 packet of instant oatmeal
4 saltine crackers with peanut butter

Lunch

½ can each of Beefaroni
~3 saltine crackers with peanut butter

Supper

Macaroni & Cheese from a box
2 hot dogs
Flat bread*

*We didn’t actually get any bread in our food bank hamper list, so I made some out of flour, oil (the recipe actually calls for ghee, but I ran out of that last week) and water.  Recipe courtesy of our friend Heather, who is also doing the challenge.

The recipe was only supposed to make 12 pieces of bread, but I managed to stretch it to 16.

Peach Jam? Yes! Homemade peach jam from my Aunt Laine no less! Sadly, I can’t eat it this week.  However, it did come in very handy when I realized I have no idea where my rolling pin is.

The whole process to make 16 pieces of flat bread took about an hour and a half – kind of extravagant for a meal of Kraft Dinner and hot dogs, no?

Today has been marked by negotiation.  I’m concerned that Jason won’t have enough coffee to get him through the week, so I’ve offered to save my tea in order to stave off the symptoms of withdrawal.  In return, I asked to have full access to our one lemon, so that I might at least have hot water and lemon to sip on.  That didn’t quite work for Jason, who had visions of it being used with our can of salmon and a baked potato.  So instead, I get the lime.  I haven’t tried it yet.

The biggest negotiation came when Jason asked how many chocolate pudding cups we have for the week.  The fact that we even have chocolate pudding cups in our house is foreign to us.  We have four.
“And how many chocolate bars?” (Yes, we have chocolate bars as part of our food hamper)
“Four.”
“Hm. Can we make a deal?”
He asked to lay claim to all four pudding cups.  I could have all four chocolate bars.  I countered with him having three pudding cups and one chocolate bar so that I could have one of the pudding cups.  I was curious to see if I was missing anything since the last time I had one in grade 8.  He agreed, on condition he could choose which chocolate bar he got. He chose the Snickers.

And so it goes.

We don’t normally need to have these negotiations.  If Jason wants pudding cups and I want pudding cups (we’re speaking hypothetically here), I’ll just go out and buy more pudding cups.  It’s not really about the pudding cups.  It’s about the allotment of finite resources.  This is it.  This is all we have for the week.  Once it’s gone it’s gone.  Any other week, once our fridge is empty, I just go to the market and buy more food…and pudding cups aren’t ever on my list.  There is nothing finite about our usual food situation.  I think if we were doing this more than one week, negotiating the little food we have could possibly affect our relationship.  Because then it wouldn’t be about pudding.  It would be about who receives our even more limited supply of fresh protein and vegetables.  It’s about getting enough food to feel full (and not cranky).

In other news…

I just looked at my nutrient intake for the day.

nutrients

I already feel bloated from all the sodium.  The Vitamin C count means I’m bound to get a nasty cold.  The B vitamins are so low that I’m not sure how I’ll have the energy to do anything this week.

And this has only been one day.  And I’m only doing this for one week.  And there are people who have no choice but to eat Beefaroni and Kraft Dinner all the time, with no end in sight.

Not having the option of purchasing healthy, nutritious food is exactly whatPut Food in the Budget is trying to address.  They are asking the Ontario Government to add $100 to social assistance payments for people to have the option of buying healthier food.

Please check out their website.

Agency and choice are absolutely essential to human dignity.

And, I suppose, the ability to buy more pudding cups if you want them.

I am going on a diet!

Do the MathHow much does a single person on social assistance in Ontario receive each month?*

What does a parent who earns minimum wage have to cover the costs of food, heat and rent for their entire family?

In a couple weeks, my family of three will be participating in Do the Math: an educational event exploring the discrepancy between the resources available to those receiving social assistance, and the “working poor”, and what is needed to live with health, dignity and safety in the City of Toronto. “Do the Math” was created byThe Stop Community Centre to highlight the failure of Ontario’s current social assistance rates to support healthy, dignified lives. Starting January 20th I will be on a diet – The Food Bank Diet!

The Food Bank Diet is an opportunity to attempt living off the contents of a typical food bank hamper. Along with some of our friends, my family has committed to following this “diet” for one week. I will be blogging and tweeting as the week goes on. Looking at our food list, I already suspect some issues due to my intense dislike of Kraft Dinner. And…I just found out that a mother can only expect to receive 10 diapers a month from a food bank! Read that again. 10 diapers amonth! Time to get creative…

I encourage everyone to fill out The Stop’s “Do the Math” survey. It takes approximately 6 minutes to complete and asks what you think it would cost YOU to live frugally, but with dignity and health. It is an educational tool and attempts to draw attention to the impossible choices faced by hundreds of thousands of people on social assistance in this province every day.

You can also check out Put Food in the Budget. PFIB is calling for the immediate introduction of a $100 monthly supplement to the basic needs allowance for all adults receiving social assistance due to the existence of widespread food insecurity and chronic illness related to poor nutrition.

Stay tuned for more as the project unfolds.

And please save any surplus diapers.

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* maximum $604