The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hungry for Change

A group of friends and I decided that the week of May 7-11 (Monday-Friday) we would eat on $2/day in solidarity with hungry of world. We had heard about it from Trade as One's Hungry for Change which sells packets that help you with your challenge. The packets cost $25 and have enough beans, rice, and oatmeal that mimic the caloric intake of someone who was eating at $2/day. That $25 dollars goes to supplying a farmer in an impoverished area with enough beans to grow and sustain him and his family for a year. Further, at the end of the five days, Trade as One encouraged use to calculate exactly how much we would have spent on food this week and to donate it to an organization that helps the poor of the world.

Later, I found out that this week is also Live Below the Line's $1.50/day (USD) global fast for the world hungry. How exciting it is to think of all those out there who are also (albeit unwittingly) together with me during this time. Live Below the Line nicely has a place where you can raise money in support for your fast as well as direct links to where the money raised goes. They don't have a proscriptive diet (which I actually like better but for others could be super hard), so you are left pretty much on your own to define the rules and ways you will eat on $1.50/day. One couple scavenges from the neighborhood. Another person gets free samples from various stores. People are definitely being creative. And most are limiting themselves to a very set diet with staples that are used around the world because they are filling and inexpensive if not perfectly nutritious.

Further, in my obsession about what I was not eating, I stumbled upon a North County San Diego couple, Kerri Leonard and Christopher Greenslate, who, way back in September 2008, decided to live on $1/day for the entire month of September in order to build awareness of world hunger. Since then, they've published a book and seem to be strong advocates of eating well and also providing out of our richness for those who don't have the ability to eat well.

I love these ideas (and still do). I could totally regale you with my own personal limited-food drama (lack of variety is the hardest thing for me) or how we need to act concretely to ensure that no children starve, that no families suffer hardship and malnutrition; however, all that's being done way way better on those other sites.

My thoughts during this week (besides the obvious) focused more on how this fast was marketed (and yes, I am using that term intentionally) to us. It was promoted as a fulfilling and exciting experience that would be fun, and baring all that, "at least you'll lose some weight." Yes, I suppose that at the end of this week, I will feel fulfilled in that I will be tangibly giving something to others. Yes, I suppose that at the end of the week, I felt a sense of success that I finished something that was difficult. Sort of like finishing a marathon or something, I guess. And yes, I suppose that at the end of the week, I lost some weight (not from the eating so much as the complete lack of alcohol these five days). And I was be stoked to be more svelte--however short-lived that was. But is that why I did this?

Is it about me? What I get out of this?
Or is it about the hungry of the world?
Is it about dying to myself?

Why can't we just do this fast solely because we are doing it for others? What happened to just doing something because it is hard and we need the mindful discipline?

We are a culture of mindless ease. We are inundated constantly with a paradigm that tells us to adamantly seek our personal comfort. We eat out because that is easier than making dinner. We choose the shortest line in the checkout and don't let the old lady behind us go first. We hire people to watch our kids so that we can pursue what is more interesting to us. We pay someone to clean our house. We stream movies instantly wherever we are. We have phones that will post to Twitter for us.

I am not against babysitter or housekeepers or eating out or Twitter. In fact, I love all those things. However, in the midst of all my food "deprivation" that week, I thought about all the times I say, "I gave myself permission to" do something. As if I lead this austere and deprived life of great discipline and that permission is my only treat.

When I say that magic phrase to people, they nod sagely as in "you are so self-sacrificing normally. You work really really hard. It is good for you to indulge." But really I give myself permission to indulge so many time a week, it is no longer an indulgent activity. I could have given myself permission to end this fast. I could have still donated the money and told people that I was just not able to be a good parent or friend or wife or something because I was so calorie deprived (I won't tell them that I chose to drink my calories in the form of wine). And people would nod sagely, telling me that I did the right thing that relationships matter more than an esoteric fast.

And they are right.
Except then it's back to being about me.

We aren't good at dying to ourselves.
I am not good at dying to myself.

If everything lived up to the hype about how awesome and fulfilling an experience it will be for us, then this world would be amazing and a much better place. If life were easier, there'd be fewer of us in therapy. If living a true and considerate and loving life didn't require dying to self, there'd be more successful marriages, friendships with greater longevity, more breastfed babies.

But dying to self isn't easy. And no amount of promotional hype will trick you into feeling it is because eventually there's that long night when it is really hard and you are all alone and sweating blood and all you want to do is just give yourself permission.

What then? Do you think, "This is so fulfilling and exciting. And I bet I've lost some weight"?
Probably not.

I think that if more people were honest about how hard things can be with little to no reward, we wouldn't feel so desperate and convinced that it just doesn't work for us because everyone else is fulfilled, excited, and skinny. I think that we would have more people completing hard things that actually change the world.

Part of dying to self is getting to the courage to say "I don't want to die to self": I don't like my kid most days, I don't want to be married anymore, or I don't really care about hungry people I don't know or see, I want a big mac. With that honesty, you may be received with scorn and appalled stares. Or you may be greeted with recognition and love in someone else's eyes and they say, "Oh me too." That's when real dialog starts. That's when we do get the benefits. That's when we can operate as a community to take our focus off our individual selves and put it on others. That's when we stop giving ourselves permission and simply do. That's when we realize that living a life of hard truth does entail suffering. But it's also when we know it's worth it because in dying to self, you get to live for others.

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