I’m marking National Hunger and Homelessness Week by participating in Hunger Free Vermont’s 3SquaresVT Challenge, in which participants eat off the budget allotted to an average 3Squares benefits recipient. My daughter and I are doing this as a team, for the second time, so we have $54 to spend between the two of us on a week’s worth of groceries.
Over 32% of Vermonters cannot afford either enough food or enough nutritious food. I’ve known some hard times, both growing up and as a young adult striking out on my own with limited job skills (and a degree in dance), and I’ve benefited from forms of public assistance at those stages of my life, but these days I’m blessed with a comfortable income that allows me to eat bountiful and healthy meals, and to enjoy and support Vermont’s vibrant local foods movement.
This shouldn’t feel like a luxury, but it is. The point of the 3Squares Challenge is to gain new understanding of the daily realities of food insecurity. Like the panic I feel when I open the bread we bought on Sunday and realize it’s already almost gone on Tuesday morning, because my daughter made herself an extra peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a snack. I mentally calculate how another loaf of bread will impact the ten dollars worth of grocery money we have left for the week. I take sandwiches off my own menu.
Normally, my diet focuses on nutrient-dense choices like high-quality, locally-raised meats and organic fruits and vegetables. I play around with things like paleo and special elimination diets, to see if it makes me feel healthier. I special order grass fed gelatin to add to smoothies. This week, I’m eating pasta (2 for $1), oatmeal, potatoes and white rice as staples, to try to stretch out the frozen vegetables, chicken, tuna, peanut butter, eggs and beans.
I don’t pretend to know, at this point in my life, what the realties of hunger and food insecurity are week in and week out, but I will work to end hunger in our community. Twenty-six percent of Burlington residents live in poverty. In homes where a woman is the head of household, that number is closer to 40%. When we talk about what makes Burlington a healthy and livable community, we have to also ask ourselves who really gets to live here with ease and comfort. And then we have to ask how to do better.