Confession: I have way more empathy now for people on a meager budget who buy mainly junk food. As someone who typically eats vegetables at every meal and prefers kale chips and tempeh over pretty much anything any day, I have secretly wondered sometimes at people who fill their grocery carts with processed, nutrient-void food crack. Yet three weeks and three days into this month long challenge and I find myself drinking diet Pepsi for breakfast and eating top ramen for lunch and dinner. Anyone who has hung around me at all would probably find this shocking…
Obviously, this isn’t to say that everyone who fills their cart with junk food lives in poverty, but there is a definite correlation between socioeconomic status and diet/health (click here and here for a sample of the research supporting this finding). Jumping into this whole thing wasn’t too difficult at first, but the novelty has worn off and it’s actually become more challenging to maintain this diet as the month progresses. You might think that living off $1.25/day would get easier as time passes. Nope.
I managed to scrape by eating a somewhat balanced diet for a couple of weeks through meticulous planning and preparation of the basics: rice, oatmeal, legumes, pasta, and potatoes. After a while, this semi-decent diet started to feel unsustainable because of how time and energy intensive it was. Since I was busy with work and other responsibilities, I started to prioritize convenience. Also, the lack of variety and fresh produce inevitably results in malnutrition; at this point, I often feel lethargic, irritable, and have a hard time focusing. So why diet Pepsi and top ramen? Because caffeine and fake sugar are a temporary pick-me-up and the carbonation tricks you into feeling full. And because it’s a lot more appealing to throw a packet of top ramen into a backpack than it is to cook and pack a bowl of spaghetti and clean up afterwards. This kind of diet leaves you feeling pretty awful, though.
It’s a catch-22: either stress out trying to plan and prepare a barely adequate diet on a budget of pennies, or save time and relax consuming a really poor diet. Regardless, lack of money will be a stressor. This cycle of stress and food insecurity and feeling awful is vicious.