The Luxury of Choice

It’s a strange night. I’m on the eve of something I’ve been excited about for weeks. Not the contained kind where I’m excited about something and it’s there on the horizon but I can function normally. Not dissimilar to a new toothbrush, super exciting for me, not so much for you. No, my excitement has been the kind where I can’t shut up and have been telling everyone I know about this great thing that is happening. You gotta hear about this amazing thing that I am doing, everyone!!! Listen to me!

That is how the last few weeks have been.

Up until today, that is.

Perhaps you are wondering what I have been excited about and why I am here telling you about it?

Here it is.

Big breath.

I’m teaching a cooking class.

Not just a cooking class, mind you. A cooking class to teach a people who live in transitional housing. What is that? It’s an apartment for people who have transitioned from being homeless to now having a roof over their head.  I get to help them learn what it is to cook again. But tonight I find myself in a somber mood, the reality of what I am doing is kicking in and my heart is heavy. The luxury of choice is setting in.

The question I am asking myself is this.

“What if I had $20 this week and maybe $5 next week, what food would I buy? What could I do with that cumulative $25 to feed myself for a week?”.

This came about while planning the first meal. I had these great ideas of things that I wanted to teach them to cook. The first meal my partner and I decided on was eggs and fried rice. Pretty innocuous, right? Delicious? Absolutely. You make the eggs, you make the rice, you add a bunch of veggies to it. Deal! We’re done!

Then the reality of cooking fried rice set in. All the things that you need to consider when cooking fried rice.

  • How are you going to cook the rice?
  • What are you going to cook the rice in?
  • Do they have utensils?
  • What about all the ingredients?

….and then the final one,

  • How much does it cost?

Imagine that for a moment if you will. This puts a depth to my class that I had not thought of previously. Yes, I had thought of budget, yes, I had thought of shelf stability and what goes bad quickly and what last longer, but for some reason I never applied a static dollar amount to it. This is where it made me realize the luxuries that I am presented with everyday. The cost of fried rice. Between fresh vegetables, soy sauce, rice, eggs, garlic, etc, I’m well over $20 just to purchase the ingredients for this meal. I haven’t even added a meat to it yet.

The idea of fried rice has me thinking about my class from a different perspective that I am not just here to help them transition into a fabulous new meal, no. It’s an opportunity to help educate people on the wisest choices they can make to put food in their belly for a week at a time. It has me thinking about how I would stock a pantry for the inevitable moment where I know hunger would strike. While I am nearly 18 years removed from it, there was a time where I was in that position. When I could not afford groceries living off of $800 a month and my rent was $450, before utility bills. There were moments where a box of mashed potatoes had to last me an entire week. If only I had purchased a sack of potatoes instead.

Had I known then what I know now about cooking, or even trying to cook back then, I would have had far fewer nights wondering where my next meal would come from. Living in Seattle I am confronted with the reality everyday that there are others who not only are hungry everyday, but they lack the roof I was able to put over my head. It’s been slowly reworking the canals and vessels of my heart for the greater part of two years and I have tried to find anyway possible to feed those around me. It was those moments that brought about the excitement I was writing about earlier, finally, something I could do to contribute. But it’s not just contributing. It’s accepting that while I was hungry at one point I can help others not necessarily change their circumstances but hopefully lessen the chance of hunger.

Not only is food a shared dialect, upon which this blog is built, but so is hunger. While you may not speak that language there are millions that do and they live in the same cities that you do.

The current reality is that that we make pariah’s of those who cannot afford what many of us can. We isolate them and say they are less because they have not had the same opportunities or maybe they had life happen. Life does that, it doesn’t tell you what it’s up to and gives and takes without prejudice and none of us are immune from it. I count myself lucky that I was able to fight back. Not everyone has the will to fight, or the hope to give them that will. With the direction our country is going, this will happen on a more frequent basis and it will become less easy to sweep it under the rug and hide it away from visibility.

When presented with the $20 weekly budget I can see why families struggle to feed themselves. When they are given an option like $1 Totino’s pizza rolls vs. $1.99 red leaf lettuce I would choose the pizza rolls every single time. Eating healthy is something that few of us think of as a luxury because we can afford it. We buy the quinoa and the free range meats because we can. I am not the family who has to count every cent as they are buying their groceries and have to make the ultimate decision of what to put back because they absolutely cannot afford it.

Thinking about that tonight I have a renewed sense of purpose. It makes me want to go out to the grocery store with a specified amount and see what I can do with $20. I want to see how many meals it can support and give my class options for the ultimate moment when their stomach is fighting their will. Did you know I can buy a whole chicken for under $5? I bet I can make that last for a week if I plan it just right.

You may be wondering if I am still making the fried rice tomorrow for my class. I am not.

I’ve decided that the best thing I can do is teach them breakfast to start. Good ole’ eggs and toast with a side of whatever fruit I can find. Then those eggs can go in a cheap package of ramen with a bunch of cabbage and carrots. Then after that runs out, egg sandwiches for the win.  I’m even going to throw in a bag of potatoes, cause those last forever and I might be hungry next week.

I’m hoping that they can help me learn more about what choices they make on an everyday basis, and while maybe I cannot speak their shared dialect of hunger, I can translate it for others.









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