by Chris Holcomb —
Firstly, this would’ve been much more difficult if I wasn’t in the house that I am in now, most notably because of the garden. I may do a future experiment where I outlaw things like getting food from the garden, as not everyone has that kind of access. But I think the lesson that can be taken from this is that trying to grow some of your own food really does pay for itself, especially in Seattle where watering isn’t so much of an issue. Not only is it cheaper to get food out of the garden, but it’s also easier. I don’t have to drive to the store to buy lettuce, I can just walk out and tons of it is growing. It’s simple.
Another thing I noticed is that this experiment forced me to eat more healthily. When I was limited in budget, I wanted to make sure that each meal I ate gave me the most nutrients and energy for my money. For the first time in my life I found myself looking at nutrition labels, doing research on what I really need to integrate into my diet, and tracking the foods that I ate. I compared the nutrition totals from the days that I was doing the experiment to the day before I started it, and I actually ate much better spending less money when I paid attention to these simple things. On a related note, you definitely don’t need to eat meat to get enough protein for the day. The recommended daily intake for me at my level of activity was 56 grams, according to the SuperTracker I mentioned earlier. I ate almost no meat in this experiment, but my average daily protein intake was still 90 grams.
On the con side of observations, trying to experiment this way definitely took up more of my time. Part of this was my inexperience; I was calculating nutrition information and looking up recipes for things I didn’t know how to make. Also, even though I used an extremely easy bread recipe, a no-knead kind, it took up time. Walking down to the produce store daily to get cheap bananas took time as well. Because I was buying the past-ripe kind, I wasn’t able to stock up for the week, afraid that none of the bananas would last longer than a day. So, especially with the social constructs of America, where nearly all shopping is done by car instead of foot, the lost productivity from undergoing this experiment is something that has to be factored in. But then again, there is something to be said for the sense of accomplishment one gets from baking his own bread, buying food from a local store, and getting some exercise daily. As I mentioned in my leadoff post for these experiments, there is also something to be said for human ingenuity. I got to exercise resourcefulness in this adventure in ways I never had before, and I learned some new skills while I was at it.
One final interesting story: One morning while walking back from the produce store, bananas in hand, I ran into a guy on the corner who was begging for change. I offered to get him some food from home, but he was many blocks from my house and couldn’t afford to leave his corner. He was also asking for money, but I explained to him that I couldn’t afford to give him any; I was trying to live on 2 dollars a day for food myself. When I had told others of my experiment, they had all been impressed, saying things like, “wow, I don’t think I could do that,” or, “why would you put yourself through something like that?” His reaction was different, only a nod of affirmation and some words of appreciation: “Yeah, I know how that is, I understand where you’re coming from.”
In light of that, my experiment was nothing. For me, it’s just a four day experiment; for others, it’s a lifestyle. I have come nowhere close to feeling the pain experienced by that man on a daily basis. I probably never will. The point isn’t for me to feel pain though; the point isn’t for me to brag about how much I’ve dealt with or how great I am at being poor. It’s not about how poor I can act like I am, but rather how rich my life can be while living with less. Perhaps as I undertake these experiments, I can learn more about what really constitutes “the good life” while gaining an appreciation for the struggles the less privileged undertake. Judging from my conversation with the man on the corner, it seems I’ve made a good start.
Chris Holcomb is an intern this summer with Mustard Seed Associates. Hailing from from Elkhart, IN, Chris will be a senior this year at Purdue University majoring in Economics with a concentration in Statistics and minors in Sociology and Environmental Politics and Policy. This post is the second in a series he’s been doing on his experiments with simplicity and human needs. You can also follow along at his blog, The Llama and the Cow.