It’s the first day of Vegan Mofo III, the annual daily blog-a-thon of bloggers around our little globe through the month of October. I signed up this year — well, if you could call it that. I just added this little fromage-free page to the list, it wasn’t like I got accepted or anything.
I’ll kick off our month of vegan blog-a-logging with a minor amount of bitching/prosthelytizing. If you don’t want to read it, you can look at this picture of my cat and then move along.
I must have had some kind of unconscious ESP when I started this blog — it really couldn’t have come at a better time. Joe had lost his job early in the summer, and we’ve been ducking in and out of a tailspin ever since. When things look up, they careen down again — and just when they get really bad, something good happens. It’s an exhausting cycle, but one that I feel like I’ve distracted myself pretty well from by cooking.
This isn’t the first time in our relationship that we’ve struggled to make ends meet. But it’s by far been the toughest, I think, because we truly are working the hardest we ever have. Each period when we’ve gone through rocky spots with cash, I turn to cooking. It distracts me from thinking too much. For a couple of hours, I forget about money and landlords and jobs and futures and collections agencies. I have a pretty good track record too. Some great vegetarian food has emerged from my misery. Since my tastes have long been more attracted to vegan ones than to the more lavish end of things, it’s become pretty easy for us to whip up really tasty food on the cheap.
Until recently. Our cash flow has been so minimal and so sparse, we’re having to get really creative. We’re stretching 50 cent cans of food and watering down soy milk. Hell, the other day I made an entire soup from a head of broccoli and that watered down milk. Our days of running to the store for a quick $30 bag of groceries are in hibernation. When we’re out of something, we’re just out.
Today I forgot my lunch. And that sucked. I had a little brown rice to eat, but no apple and no snack (which I rely on pretty heavily, and we don’t have the cash for easy grab-n-go snacks right now). A nonexistent cash flow made it so I couldn’t leave work for a quick snack. I bummed a rice cake off a co-worker. But I finished the day off frazzled and famished.
As we drove home, I realized something: Being hungry is exhausting. Having to constantly scrounge for food is tiring. Joe and I are lucky that we know how to cook — but as I was looking out the window of our car, my hunger made my mind turn to our problems. Where’s rent going to come from? Why can’t we get a break? How can we find more? How did this happen? When will it end? How much more can we take? I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, and I realized they were starting in my stomach. My hunger was making my mind spin out of control, leaving me feeling hopeless.
I’m lucky I have a rational husband that understand when I snap. I’m lucky I got a paycheck yesterday that will cover the rent. But for those people that don’t have those things, it made me realize how difficult it truly is to be hungry. It’s all consuming. Don’t get me wrong: I am fully aware that hunger is much, much, much more intense than what we are experiencing, but what I am gaining a glimpse of is this: when you’re hungry, it’s hard to think about anything else. You can’t think about changing the system that keeps you hungry. Or digging yourself out of a deep hole of debt. You just think about getting that next meal — and that’s it.
I’ve always scoffed at people who dog on panhandlers. Or those people who look down on the poor, homeless and hungry, dismissing them by saying “why don’t they get a JOB?” Or those people who look skeptically from their cars at the line of clients who come to the CK Community Dinner (a meal I try to help out at once a week). Because I think those people have never truly understood what hunger is. When you’ve got an empty pit eating away at your stomach, it’s hard to launch a revolution against the institutions that keeps you hungry.
Now how does this relate to being vegan? Lately, that’s the only way I’ve been eating — and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t because we’re poor. Cheese is a luxury — one that I sneak if I get the chance. But I’m learning that it’s not key to my survival. Now, I didn’t think I’d die without cheese — hellooo, not that dumb. But I didn’t realize that in this time of sparse-living, my diet would become focused on other things: where my protein was coming from, where I’d get some whole grains today or if I could score some free grub from work.
Being poor and exploring veganism has taught me a lot these days. About what I want. What I value. What kind of lifestyle I want to live. What’s necessary to my survival. And a lot of that is coming from how I’m eating. My mind centers itself at the table — and if I can’t sit at a table to consider my life’s options because of financial strain, then food becomes my new goal. Furthermore, I can pave out my goals by determining how I want to eat. Do I want to be able to afford fresh produce, or do I want to be able to eat on the fly for the rest of my life — a pizza here, a burger there. I’m realizing that my life is so much more fulfilled when it comes from my own kitchen. We may not have a pot to piss in, but I can look at the food I make each evening and say, “damn, this girl knows how to stretch a buck.”