Day 0 of the 5 Day Challenge: The Bottom Billion and Chocolate Chip Cookies

The truth is this: 13,000 children will die today because of hunger, while today Americans will spend nearly 1 BILLION dollars on eating out.  –World Vision.

So at Willow Creek we’ve been doing a “Celebration of Hope”.   It’s about bringing awareness and understanding–an attempt at empathy–for the ‘bottom billion’, the world’s poorest people.  The idea is “We Stand”, “We Serve”, and “We Give”.

As of last night, we just finished up part 1 of “We Serve”, by filling packs of seeds to give to families in Zimbabwe.  The idea is to provide the means and training to start a family garden, with enough to feed up to 8 people throughout the year, and they can sell the surplus at the market.  Last year seed packs enabled some families to triple their income!  In a nation where 4 out of 5 people live below the national poverty line, even having reliable food on the table can mean the world.  So yesterday I was blessed enough to spend my Saturday night packing spinach seeds with over 300 other volunteers.  It was incredible, and the only reason we stopped is because we ran out of seeds!  Over 63,000 families will be helped because of these seed packs.  It’s amazing what God can do with just a few hours of our time.

Today, however, begins the process of “We Stand”.  We stand in solidarity with over half the world as we eat less than $1 a day, less than 2 cups of food per meal, or even per day depending on what demographic you’re looking at.  This is what Willow provided for us as 1 day’s rations:

5dayfast: 1 day's rations.

I actually think that this is too much food.  The oatmeal is for breakfast, and you’re supposed to have 1 cup of cooked beans and 1 cup of cooked rice per meal.  In many places of the world, it’s 1 cup of cooked rice and 1 cup of cooked beans per DAY.  What they provided was 1 oatmeal pack, 2 cups of beans, and about 2.5 cups of dry rice–about 5 or so cups of cooked rice.

As soon as I saw it, thoughts started whirling in my mind–ways to make this palatable.  What kind of cooking techniques, what kind of spices, what kind of beans can I use to make these next 5 days easier??  My mind jumped to the Mexican rice I made last week–essentially just white rice, chicken stock, spices, and a little veggies.  (a small amt of veggies and one ounce of meat are allowed).  Then to the can of refried beans in my pantry.  Then to the bag of yellow split peas bought for Indian dhal.  I can do this, I thought to myself.  I don’t know if I’m still ‘in the spirit’ of the challenge, but I can do this.  That determination stemmed from this desire I have to try to hold on to whatever comfort I can, however shameful those desires may be.  I feel like those teenagers who ask “How far can you [physically] go in a relationship?”  Like we’re toe-ing some line to see if we’re still in the clear, to see how far we can bend the rules. :/

I looked up things online to try to find an ‘official’ set of rules.  I found people asking similar questions–is it cheating if I add spices?  If I add veggies?  I asked my mom what she thought, I read some comments online, and some responses were “Of course it’s okay–people anywhere will try to make their food taste good!”

Then I read an online blog about a group of people that went to a country in Africa (my apologies I forgot), and taught them how to make chocolate chip cookies.  To us, the chocolate chip cookie screams all things wonderful.  Security, home, childhood, happiness…sometimes a cookie and milk is all you need to turn a bad day around.  So these Americans brought the dietary emblem of comfort and joy to a new place.  And they watched as their friends tasted that goodness for the first time.  They finished the cookie, but there were no smiles of delight, no gasps of ecstasy.  “Didn’t you like it?” the Americans asked, both surprised and a little disappointed.  “Didn’t it taste good?”  To that, the Africans replied “It tastes like any other food.  We just eat to survive.”

That stopped me in my tracks.  The mentality that we have as Americans is so…completely different.  I can’t say that one is worse than the other, or that one is more reasonable.   And it brought me back to the Broken Bread  Meal at Urbana 2009.  I worked the dinner crew as one of my responsibilities.  As Greg Jao put it: “Jesus fed the 5,000.  We’re going to do it 4 times in 2 hours!”  That was my job,  trying to be as efficient as possible in herding people into chairs and filling tables.  I was in the last section,  so usually we filled it in about 3-4 times each night.   One night, we had a Poverty Meal.  We had scoop of black beans, a piece of pita bread, and a dixie cup of water.   At first, the swarms flooded in just like any other night, and we filled the last section once…then twice (slowly)…then we wondered if we would fill our section again.   People had chosen (for various reasons, some health, I’m sure) to go out for dinner instead of eating the poverty meal.  And a scarce few others who came, drank not out of their dixie cups, but from their starbucks drinks or water bottles instead.  Still others tasted the bland food, and chose to forgo eating it entirely, throwing a good portion of it away.  I remember how even I had to force myself to swallow the watery, tasteless, pasty beans even though my body was telling me to stop, to just get a Jimmy John’s sandwich later.  But eat I did.

This is what I thought about as I packed my lunch.  One cup of Mexican rice, half a cup of refried beans, half a cup of black beans.  2 cups of food.  And that’s when I realized how small that really is.  I’ll upload a pic later, but it’s half of a Glad container.  These 2 handfuls of food, a generous daily portion for billions of our brothers and sisters.  As I stared at it, I made a mental commitment to try to eat only 2 cups of food per day for the next 5 days.

“Be thankful that hunger is an experience we create at a conference.  Not only do we have food, but we live in a culture where we have the choice to finish it or not.” –Greg Jao, in reference to the Broken Bread Meal


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2 thoughts on “Day 0 of the 5 Day Challenge: The Bottom Billion and Chocolate Chip Cookies

  1. Zee says:

    I think Willow knew that they were giving out too much food because it’s not consistent with all of the written materials I’ve seen handed out. If they added a second pack of oatmeal, then it would’ve been enough food for two days.

    As for making it palatable, I don’t know that everyone around the world has the option of adding spices or split peas or chicken stock. And I don’t know that refried beans are really an option for that “bottom billion” either.

    You can do whatever you think is right, but keep in mind that there are real people who eat less than a cup (total) of food per meal.

    • j says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. They echo what I was telling myself all of yesterday. I think in part I was looking up the ‘official rules’ because I was hoping that someone outside of myself would not only ask the same questions, but would justify my actions so that I could continue to be comfortable.

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