Ten Days Without a Glass of Milk

November 11, 2009 § 1 Comment

bill_bwWilliam Hubenschmidt
Development Research VISTA

I am the opposite of lactose intolerant. Since childhood, no food or drink has given me the feeling of nourishment quite like a cold glass of milk. Milk is such an irreplaceable part of my diet that dinner does not feel complete without it. However, a recent experience changed that.

I’m an AmeriCorps VISTA service member and have the privilege of working at the Food Bank as a Fund Development Researcher. I entered AmeriCorps with the goal of serving those in poverty, but also with the awareness that I would personally experience poverty. AmeriCorps pays a biweekly living stipend of $429, low enough to qualify for SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits. Even with food assistance, I am barely able to make ends meet. Recently, I had a glimpse of what life would be like without food stamps.

glass of milk

Photo courtesy of Essenmacher on Flickr

Recently, my monthly SNAP benefits were exhausted ten days early. Unsure of what to do and with little money in my bank account, I decided to approach hunger on a meal-to-meal basis. In the subsequent days, I experienced something between food insecurity and outright hunger. In borrowing tactics from someone who had experienced hunger, I simply chose to eat very little, rather than let hunger control me. This strangely empowering decision worked well for a few days, but the constant thought of food—any food—began to override.

On a Saturday toward the end of this experience, my only meal was a bowl of cereal. As the night approached and my stomach groaned, I couldn’t take it anymore. Impulsively, I decided to splurge on a Jimmy Johns sandwich rather than muster the energy and mental strength to enter a grocery store full of food that I could not afford.

When I entered Jimmy Johns, the smell of bread took on an entirely new dimension, as my nose barely had time to process what my stomach knew instantly. As I ordered, the cashier asked me if I wanted a drink. Normally, I avoid drinking soda, but this time I ordered a large. Before my sandwich was ready, I filled and gulped almost the entire Coke. My habit of avoiding refined sugars went completely out the window as I eventually drank two large Cokes with my turkey sandwich. Although I knew it was unhealthy, the pure calories in the soda felt as nourishing as a glass of milk! At that moment, I was starving—health, nutrition, and bank account empty. As I got up to leave the restaurant, I bought a bag of greasy potato chips and refilled my soda.

This experience taught me that hunger has a powerful effect on psychology and the very perception of food. Only a couple of hours passed before I was hungry again. Soda was a poor choice, but when you’re hungry, any calories will suffice. Even the simplest, most processed sugars. I was no longer in control of my diet.

So, why didn’t I try to get help at the Food Bank? I was naïve about hunger and I thought I could deal with it. Well, I can’t deal with it, and no one should have to. If it happens again, I know the Food Bank is here to help. Hopefully I can get a glass of milk, too.

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