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Stress and Health

For more information, check out the National Geographic website for the documentary.


Day Three of Living On Less

The reason I decided to participate in HungerFast is two-fold. Firstly, I had just read an article on Salon called “The Brits Are Furious-Why Aren’t We?” which discussed the recent protests in London over the budget cuts, which are just now going into effect. Although I currently live in the States, I used to live in the UK and am a British citizen. I was feeling disillusioned that more wasn’t being done here (or at least where I live) to speak up about what’s going on with our budget. When I read that Americans were organizing a different kind of protest, I was proud to do my part to say that this isn’t okay.

The second reason I was inspired to join in is because my sister, who was the one who told me about HungerFast, had decided to fast and I was inspired by her and her commitment.

Before I agreed to take part, I wanted to make sure that I would be willing and able to actually do it. I did not feel able to fast because I have some health issues (my first lesson from this experience is realizing the privilege I have in terms of being able to make this choice), so I decided to “Live on Less”: eating no more than $2 worth of food a day. I went to an online grocery and calculated the costs of single servings of food. I tried to maintain as healthy of a diet as possible (making sure I got some fresh food and protein, etc).  I then decided to go for it and pledged my commitment on the website.

Here are some of my experiences so far:

  • I am hungry. I am not normally a “big eater,” but dinner time on Monday, when I realized I could only have half a bowl of soup (when I normally eat two bowls), my stomach was not satisfied.
  • I feel borderline obsessed with money. Everything I’ve put into my mouth, I’ve thought about in terms of how many pennies it is worth. When I looked at how much soup I normally eat, all I could think is “That’s my whole day’s budget on one meal!” I also feel like I am secretly calculating other people’s spending on what they eat (and worse, what they throw away). I have also begun thinking about the cost of everything: how much did I just spend in toothpaste, in shampoo, in washing up liquid, in cat food? How does that compare to my food budget?
  • I have not been well for the past 24 hours. This may not have been caused by my reduced diet; however, it’s certainly been affected by it. I have chronic muscle pain in my neck and shoulders, which, when bad, also triggers awful headaches. What I would call a “proper meal” of healthy fresh food can sometimes help the headache. But that wasn’t an option for me yesterday. I have always felt strongly that the American health care system is morally wrong, that so many people who need treatment or medication cannot afford it. But yesterday I was reminded how not even being able to afford a decent diet can affect your health (in both the long and short term). I do have medicine that can help with the headaches, but I generally try to take it with food. My pain causes nausea and adding medication to an upset stomach leads to vomiting, which doesn’t help and which can cause me to throw up the pills, which cost $6 each (with insurance). But it was late evening and I had already eaten almost all of my $2.
  • I’ve also become so focused on food: last night all I wanted was an orange—it seemed like it would help with my medication problem and it just sounded so delicious—fresh, juicy, healthy. But an orange costs 89¢ and that’s almost half my daily budget. So I ate a little bit of applesauce (33¢). I felt cross that I couldn’t have the orange, but man, did I do my best to savor that applesauce.
  • I am also extremely guilty. This experience is a choice for me. For the 2.1 billion people living on this budget, it is not a choice. How dare I complain when I know that I could stop at any time and will stop at some point?

I am also participating in HungerFast to protest the proposed budget cuts, so I realized that just living on less, despite what I personally was learning from the experience, was not enough. Someone had to know about my protest. I drafted this letter:

According to the organization Food For The Hungry,

In early March, Congress proposed a resolution to slash:

  • U.S. food aid programs by 41 percent ($687 million)
  • Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance funding by 67 percent ($875 million)
  • Development assistance by 30 percent ($747 million)
  • Global health and childhood survival programs by 15 percent ($365 million)

The budget cuts would deny approximately 18 million poor and vulnerable people life-saving help. “These programs account for less than one-half of 1 percent of the total federal budget, thus cutting them to the bone will have absolutely no measurable impact on the federal deficit; instead, it will result in millions of people around the world falling deeper into poverty,” said Dave Evans, U.S. President for Food for the Hungry.

I am personally protesting these cuts by “Living On Less”: I will live on $2 of food per day to acknowledge the 2.1 billion people who survive on less than $2 per day.

I am an American citizen and I vote. I ask you not to support these cuts. Do not make the poorest and most vulnerable people pay for the financial crisis.

I sent the letter to my two senators and my representative via their websites. I also sent it to the White House. On three of the four sites, you could click “I would like a response,” so I clicked it, though I have not had any responses yet.

I also made a poster to hang on my office door, explaining the effects of the budget and what HungerFast was all about. I posted my intentions on Facebook as well.

This morning when I was driving into work, I heard the reports on the lack of progress regarding the budget and how the government might have to shut down.

I’ve been hungry for three days and feel even more depressed about the state of our country, about the levels of ignorance and/or indifference so many of our politicians seem to embrace. How depressed must those who are truly hungry be—those people who don’t know proper meals are in their future, who don’t have headache medicine they can afford, who will never be able to treat themselves to a few oranges? How betrayed by our country must they feel?

We cannot make poor people pay for the mistakes of the rich.

UPDATE: As the government shutdown looms on April 8, please read Miss Agatha Whitt-Wellington’s straight-to-the-point analysis of the budget crisis: “Let America Be America Again.”

UPDATE: On April 11, I did get a response from one member of Congress whom I contacted. His response was mostly focused on foreign aid (but did not respond to cuts affected poorer Americans). He said that he appreciated my commitment, but “given our nation’s current economic situation, Congress must make difficult decisions about the future funding of federal programs across the board.  We must find solutions that advance foreign diplomatic, humanitarian, and security efforts while being mindful of the massive burden of debt facing our nation.”

UPDATE: On May 10, I got a response from the White House. Unfortunately, it was a generic form letter.

UPDATE: On May 23, I got a response from a senator. It dealt specifically with my comment and explained that he had voted to cut foreign aid because it is a “step in the right direction” to control the spending in Washington that is “beyond its limits.” He said he valued knowing my views and encouraged me to contact him again about my concerns.