Wow – our last post was 6 weeks ago and our lives look very different – and yet surprisingly unchanged. In our last post I told you we had delivered 25 bags of food to people in our community who are now unemployed. Today we will deliver our 1,000th bag! And considering each family is at least 5 people, that’s over 5,000 people who have been fed using the donations that our friends, family and coworkers have sent our way.
I have lots of stories and each day I have updated my Facebook page with pictures and musings of the day – I just haven’t sat down to update my blog. I promise I will.
When we started this feeding program, we spent time researching what should go in our bags of staples. We googled and we spoke to other groups doing the same work. We asked some of our local friends who themselves were struggling. Our goal was to feed a family for a week. After a few changes and substitutions – balancing cost with need – we came up with these ingredients:
- Macaroni – 220 g
- Rice – 900 g
- Oats – 1 kg
- Black beans – 900 g
- Milk – 2 L
- Tuna – 295 g
- Chicken bullion cubes or powder
- Corn flour
- Tomato Sauce
- Chicken – ½ or whole.
- Digestive Cookies
For those who don’t have refrigerators we give eggs instead of chicken.
We also include one lime cream dessert cooked by a single mom who we are trying to help get on her feet. She wants to start a restaurant and we thought it would be good exposure to send one of her favorite products out into the community. Helping Ana Luisa start her new business will certainly be a future project for us and a future post!
After a few weeks of delivering these bags, after spending so many hours shopping and bagging these items, we began to wonder how people were managing. Were these the right items to get you through a week? 5 days? So we did what any good researcher does – we staged an experiment. Could Grant and I live off the contents of one of our bags for one week?
We had a few rules to make it a bit easier:
- I could use any spices or condiments I already had in the house
- We could eat any food we found – ie fruit on trees
- We could eat food given to us – within reason. I did turn down one loaf of homemade bread that I really, really wanted but I knew was cheating
- Beverages were not part of the experiment – losing my coffee would not be good for anyone!
So how did we do? I’d give us an 8 out of 10. It was easier than I expected in many ways. I learned how to make tortillas from scratch, to take dry beans and make a delicious pot of savory beans, to use the basic tortilla to make tostados and taquitos and empanadas. Most of it was delicious.
What didn’t go well?
- Making food from scratch takes more time and creates more dirty dishes. The beans need to be soaked the night before, the tortilla dough need to be made and allowed to rest for a while. The rice wasn’t instant – neither were the oats. That was all difficult while trying to increase our food delivery work and being gone a number of hours each day. My slow cooker was definitely my friend.
- I really needed more vegetables. A salad please. More fruit. I admit I did grab some frozen berries from the freezer to add to the oatmeal today.
- Canned tuna is weird here. It’s not chunky – it’s runny. I’m not buying that again.
- I really miss eggs in the morning. And bacon. And toast. And bacon.
- You really have to watch packaged food down here for bugs. The day I opened the bag of macaroni to add to the soup, hundreds of little black bugs invaded my counter. Some got boiled – the rest just ran everywhere. As I was digging behind things on the counter to catch the bugs, I found a dead mouse in the Borax ant trap. That was just a bad day with lots of screaming.
What did we eat? Here is our menu and a few pics – honestly, that part went better than expected. A lot of Rice and Beans, Beans and Rice. But with different spices it wasn’t so bad. This was our menu:
Did we cheat?
Surprisingly little! I did put some peanut butter on the boring cookies. A tiny bit of pineapple in the Chicken Fried Rice. Some frozen berries in the oatmeal and empanada. We bought a mini croissant from a street vendor because he really needed a sale. One family we delivered food to insisted we accept their gifts of tamales and hot chocolate and jello. And one total cheat Meatball Stroganoff with friends who invited us to their home – because in the end relationships are more important than experiments and we needed laughter more than beans.
What did we learn?
This bag of food was enough for 2 of us for this week, but most certainly is a stretch for a family. Mexican families eat a lot more tortillas than we do, so I know that is a filler and we have lots of flour left. We have rice and beans left, and could have eaten much smaller bowls of oats each morning. The chicken went a long way and families could make bigger pots of soup than we did using the chicken stock. I would like to add a few more veggies – more carrots, maybe some peppers.
Our biggest lessons were the emotions we experienced and the recognition of how blessed our lives have always been. As self-employed entrepreneurs, we have had financial ups and downs. There have been seasons in my life where I took the calculator to the grocery store to make sure I stayed within a super tight budget and days where I had to put things back when the total ran over. I have clipped coupons and scoured sales flyers. And yet on our very worst day, we had fridges and cupboards overflowing with fruits and vegetables and staples. Our pantries have never truly been empty. We have never gone hungry. My children have never had to chase down strangers in a golf cart to beg for food. And nothing I have done has caused me to deserve the privileged life I have lived.
This experiment, this whole last 6 weeks, has messed with our minds. Last week (and probably tomorrow) when I ordered pizza, Grant reminded me how many food bags we could provide for that amount. The disparity is uncomfortable, and we want to learn how to be grateful for what we have and to turn that gratefulness into generosity, not into some kind of unproductive guilt.
I won’t lie – I am glad this week is over. I am ready to get back to eating what I want – a pizza, a big salad, some peanut butter on a slice of toast, a steak off the BBQ. Did I mention bacon? The people we are serving don’t have that option. For many we will deliver their 2nd or 3rd or even 4th bag and they will eat it all again. More rice, more beans, a couple of oranges divided up. And they will also be grateful that strangers from Canada and the US and Mexico donated money so that their children could go to bed tonight with food in their bellies. Thank you – your generosity has blown us away! I don’t know how long this will last. Every night before bed I look at the money left in the bank and tell Grant “We have enough money for 200 more bags”. 5 more days. And then it multiplies. And we keep delivering.
To Donate to Food for Families:
After I finished writing this post, I made our last pot of rice, warmed up the last bit of refried beans and reheated a few tortillas. Then we looked at each other and agreed …. we need meat. We grabbed a piece of beef from the fridge, heated up the BBQ and made some proper tacos. So 7.5 out of 10 it is…..