Last week, my wife, Rabbi Stacy Rigler, and I, along with many others in our area, participated in the Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge. The program challenged us to do what 1 in 7 people in the greater Philadelphia region do every day of their lives: experience what it means to live on $5 a day for food.
This experience had many lessons for me and my wife, and for all who took the challenge. We realized first hand the lack of nutritious food available at a low cost. We also realized how much food we waste and how we take our meals for granted.
The challenge for me was just that — a challenge! From the first shopping trip, when I started seeing the lack of quality nutritious food at low prices, I knew it would be a long week.
After a few uncomfortable hunger-filled days, I decided to put the effort in to making some special meals within our budget for the end of the week. As the cook in our family, I spent several hours using the sparse ingredients that we had to accomplish this task. I prepared a health salad with an $ .89 cabbage, salmon burgers with a $1.00 can of salmon, a cold pasta salad, a tofu salad and a few other items.
I felt great! I even took a picture of all the food spread out on the table for my Facebook friends to see. For the first time, I felt like getting through the rest of the week without too much discomfort was a distinct possibility. We went to bed ready to face the end of our challenge with understanding, compassion and confidence.
On Friday morning, when we woke up, I opened the refrigerator and everything was warm. Ugh! Instead of food being in the fridge to help us through the challenge, by Friday late morning we had a repair man in the refrigerator. The food was in the garbage and I was frustrated!
When I discovered the refrigerator malfunction, I immediately said to Stacy, "I guess our challenge is over." Without hesitation she looked at me and said, "Doesn't this give you even more perspective?" Honestly, in the moment, it didn't, but then I realized she was right. Things happen all the time. A fridge can break, eggs drop, beans burn and pasta sometimes over cooks. So we ate oatmeal, onions, sweet potatoes and pasta for the final three days but, finally, our food challenge came to an end.
We finished the week without a celebration. We know we are truly fortunate, that this is just an exercise and not our life. For 1 in 7, food and planning is a never-ending battle. Even if you think, as I did, that planning well for $5 a day will get you through, sometimes it just doesn't!
It is my hope that participating in such a program helped us all to raise awareness and will lead to action to help those in need. I pray that we will soon live in a world where there will be enough food for all and that no child will go to bed feeling the pangs of hunger. How do we make that dream a reality?
Peter Rigler is the rabbi at Temple Sholom in Broomall.