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Lent – Being Aware

2009 March 4

So we are one week into Lent. I posted on Ash Wednesday about my ambivalence regarding how to observe the season this year. At this point in my life, I feel the need to build up faith instead of eliminate random habits in the name of discipline. But I really didn’t know how to do that. I finally decided to spend the season simply being more aware.

Now of course being aware could just be a euphemism for doing nothing – and it just well might be. It’s easy sometimes to open our eyes to the world around us and then fail to act upon what we see. That’s me most of the time these days. But when I’m at the point that my main goal some days is just to make it to the end of the day without having gone utterly insane from being trapped inside the house with screaming children – to open my eyes and get past my self-absorption seems like a good place to start.

So being aware…

Here’s where I show how really pathetic I am. I’ve been reading through the Lenten Guide provided by Mustard Seed Associates. It is a fantastic resource, full of faith and community building suggestions for the season. I was drawn to the meditation they had on Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.” It resonated with my desire to be more aware of my world and get over myself. And it’s a way more spiritual of a prayer than “God help me not be a selfish bitch.”  But part of the Lenten Guide is a suggestion to take the Mutunga $2 Challenge. The idea is for a family to commit for a week to eating on $2 per person per day. Since most of the world only makes $2 a day, this is an exercise to help foster awareness as to how most of the world lives. If anything, it serves to highlight how much we truly do have. I think it’s a great idea, but (and here’s the pathetic part) I’m not doing it. But in a strange way that too has helped me be more aware.

When I first heard about the challenge, I mentally started adding up the cost of what it takes to feed Aidan each day. At 8 months his diet is rather fixed and I quickly realized that there is no way that I could feed him on $2 a day. That shocked me since I already try to be economical with his food. His diet consists of breast milk, formula, oatmeal, and pureed fruits and veggies. So the breast milk is free and if I was a bit more diligent about using the (expensive) breast pump I have then perhaps I wouldn’t need the formula. But the reality is that he gets formula in his oatmeal and generally one bottle a day. I’m already over a dollar there. Granted I use organic formula – the stuff that doesn’t contain hormones, steroids, and melamine. Perhaps I could save a few cents by feeding him those poisons, but really? On top of that I make all of his pureed food. I save a ton of money (and disposable jars) doing that, but even 8-10 oz a day adds up fast (between $1-2 a day). But if I were buying the jar food, that same amount of food would cost between $2-5 a day.

But as I thought through that I was reminded that it is generally the poorer mothers who are forced to buy the more expensive foods. For a lot of women because of job circumstances using expensive formula is the only option. And finding time to make babyfood is hard – it’s a lot easier for busy moms to just buy jars off the shelf. Even ignoring what is healthiest for the baby or what is most environmentally friendly – the bottom line is that it costs more to get by when you’re stressed out trying to make ends meet. So I have to ask – what causes this? Is it culture? All the other moms use formula, so it seems like the only option. Marketing? All those free formula samples supplied to hospitals and doctors making their mark. Lack of education? Do women not know the cost difference and health benefits? Or simply systemic injustices that prevent poor mothers from fully focusing on their family. This is not just about the poor in third world countries struggling on $2 a day – but its about minimum wage single moms here that are caught in a system that holds them back. When those that can least afford it have to spend the most on food there are cultural issues that seriously need addressed.

What am I doing about that? I don’t know. Yet. But I know it helps to be aware.

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. March 4, 2009

    $2 a day? Interesting. Not sure how viable that is for most of us (certainly it seems like it would be hard for me), but it brings up a question. How much do most of us spend on average for food per day? I’ve struggled for years to keep at $10 a day on average (made more difficult by the fact that neither my wife nor I cook. I’m certain that I’m higher than many who will read this). I could conceivably get down to $8 for a week, perhaps, but since $10 is something I seem barely able to do (long-term), it’s really hard to imagine going for $2….

    A humble suggestion: how reasonable would it be to suggest that, as we “become aware” of whatever our food consumption rate is, we work to cut it by, say, 20% for the season?

  2. Karl permalink
    March 4, 2009

    I think part of the problem lies in the fact that in the parts of the world where people eat on $2 per day, they aren’t for the most part eating nutritionally balanced (and certainly not varied) meals. When we try to eat on $2 per day isn’t part of our problem that rather than duplicate the diet of the poorest in the world, we try to improve it somewhat so that we are getting more nutritious meals and at least some variety?

    I’m not sure what brown rice (bought in bulk), and dried beans (also bought in bulk) and water would cost per meal or per day, but I bet that if we were willing to eat that diet it would at least come close to $2 per day. Most of us aren’t, but there are significant portions of the world where they’d be overjoyed to get 3 servings of rice and beans per day, along with drinkable tap water.

  3. March 4, 2009

    Julie, what a great perspective! I actually am following the same guide, and I never would have thought about its implications for infants and their mothers. Initially I was intrigued by the $2 challenge, but after grocery shopping last night I’m a little more in shock at its difficulty. Definitely more aware.

  4. Scott M permalink
    March 4, 2009

    Red beans and rice was one of our staples growing up. And there would be no meat of any source with it when money was tight. I still love it, but we’ve had enough times in years past that we got by some weeks on little else, that my wife and kids can’t stand it any more except on very rare occasions. Good point, Karl.

  5. March 5, 2009

    I think the $2-a-day goal is meant to point out exactly what Karl is saying–women in third-world countries who are living off of $2-a-day are not buying or preparing nutritionally balanced meals, mainly out of necessity, but partly out of education and food storage options. Which only points out even more the need to provide women with the education to prepare healthier food, but also the resources. There is some incredible work being done with women refugees from Darfur to teach them to build and use solar cookers as well as “pot-in-pot” refrigeration that doesn’t use electricity. If the $2-a-day challenge can help bring more awareness to these needs, as well as the challenges for women in the US, then I am happy of the awareness it’s raising. Good idea!

  6. March 5, 2009

    Very true that $2 a day doesn’t cover nutritious food. What really upsets me there are the countries that are so tied to debt repayments and stipulations that the government has forced families to stop growing their own varied and nutrious foods and grown only cash crops (which they get nothing for).

    This is part of why I’m not doing it right now. I don’t want to skip out on feeding my baby healthy foods just for an experiment. I could be fine with beans and rice – I eat that a lot anyway, but having the education and knowing what is healthy – I want to help others have that as well instead of cutting my kids off from that. It is selfish, but I’m trying to explore the issues anyway.

  7. Karl permalink
    March 6, 2009

    CNN.com has a story up that is relevant to this topic:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/06/callebs.eating.food.stamps/index.html

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