Howard Fisher: Reflections on the 3SquaresVT Challenge

Howard Fisher, who assisted the Vermont Foodbank in receiving accreditation for Community Kitchen Academy, recently participated in the 3SquaresVT Challenge.  Challenge participants were asked to live on the average 3SquaresVT benefit for one week, which, for an individual is $36.  He shared his reflections with us.

In the daily blather, who stops to think about what you are eating and how much it costs? Some folks have to do this, not for their romantic and often obtuse culinary interests but rather because they and their family members are hungry.  Hungry?  I may have an inkling of what that means. Perhaps, once a year during our high holy day of Yom Kippur in the Fall, I might fast sunset to sunset. Even if I may possibly feel some pangs of being hungry during that day, I still don’t go to bed hungry.

In this context it would be intriguing to see what I eat regularly for a week and how much it costs with the reality that I can’t spend more than five dollars and change each day. Given my post-retirement age, mellow diet and going to the gym every other day: can it be done? For example, what would my typical measure of steel-cut oatmeal, flax, grits, raisins, dried cranberries, banana, honey concoction, egg white, feta, tofu, spinach omelet, milk, clementine, coffee and toast for breakfast plus my multi-vits and fish oil tabs; whole wheat bread, tuna, bread and butter pickles, mao, tomato, lettuce and milk for lunch; veggie burger, bun, catsup, mao, tomato, lettuce, side salad and milk for dinner; and raisins, edamame, leftover Halloween Raisinets and mixed nuts for a snack cost? Gets complicated and challenging – particularly if it’s for real.

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That was written as the Challenge began. Now that I’m six days into it, my habits are being adjusted and my wits challenged. I’m cutting back on the snacking, skipping a meal, stretching the salad dressing, eating more potatoes, pasta and rice, not dining out, substituting ingredients based on shared ideas and recipes, relying on my NECI experience trying some different combinations (I think I’ll suggest this challenge be included as a requirement in the curriculum),  drinking more water – an unexpected benefit – and finally watching A Place At The Table. Some of the ingredients and recipes suggested work for me, for example, green pea soup and spinach (several of my favorites), apples (free from my neighbor’s yard) but too late for corn on the cob. In the spirit of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, I have a better idea of what they carry.

Could I continue to eat on five dollars and change a day? Probably/barely, but I’m not working full-time nor growing and developing as I once was. And, of course, my bills keep arriving in the mail and my other expenses keep adding up.

Did I like this experience? No.

Did I learn something of value? Yes.

Would I do it again? Since memory tends to fade, maybe I’ll sign on to do it once a year, perhaps this Spring. I’ll let you know.

 

To learn more about the 3SquaresVT Challenge, please visit our website.  The Vermont Foodbank will run this Challenge once per year, before Thanksgiving, but anyone can take the Challenge – with friends, family, colleagues – at any time.

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