Thursday, May 8, 2008

Almost a Rant

There was a documentary on television the other night that has stuck with the Bag Lady. The program was about a Canadian family undergoing an experiment. The family of four had agreed to live on the rations provided through a relief organization to people in need in disaster zones or third world countries. The rations consisted of a bag of cornmeal, a cup of lentils, half a cup of oil and what looked like about a tablespoon of salt. (The Bag Lady may not have the exact portions correct, but that gives you an idea.)

The traditional family (mother, father and 2 young daughters) were willing to live on these rations for three days. Only three days. The mother was a little unsure of how to cook any of the rations, but she did her best. She made cornmeal mush and cooked the lentils. The only one who did not complain was the father. The mother, partway through the second day, was ill from hunger. The younger daughter finally cheated on the afternoon of the second day and had a cup of tea and a scone. Her rationalization was that she was doing gymnastics and wasn't getting enough energy from the rations.

Their rations were cut in half the third day. Apparently this is what has happened with the aid agency - the high cost of food and fuel, etc. has had a detrimental effect on their ability to provide even those meagre rations they had been supplying. The parents in this case did what most parents would do in those circumstances, and gave the children the lion's share of the food.

The Bag Lady found the program interesting, but has to admit, she was perhaps a little disappointed in the family. There were tears, and complaints, and the Bag Lady couldn't help but think; "But, but... you agreed to do this, it was your choice!" They threw away the portions that they didn't eat! In a strange way, it embarrassed the Bag Lady that they would choose to do this experiment, then whine and complain and waste the food.

For breakfast on the day their "ordeal" ended, there was such an abundance of food on their table, it again was almost embarrassing. Eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit... Almost as though they were rewarding themselves after this terrible ordeal they had gone through. That they chose to go through. It was an experiment, a chance to experience what so many others have no choice about.

Here in North America, we take so much for granted. Could any of us survive for 3 days on cornmeal and lentils? We live in a land of abundance; food, fuel, clothing. Our concerns are trivial in comparison to what others are suffering. We make our choices based on want rather than need. Our nations waste an amazing amount of food - just look at what is thrown into the dumpsters behind any restaurant in any city. Stop and think of what you yourself have thrown out in the last week. That last bit of leftover whatever that was turning green in the back of the fridge, or the apple that was a little soft.

And then we donate a little bit of money and pat ourselves on the back for helping those in need.

The Bag Lady finds herself a little confused about how she feels about the experiment. Could she have survived through three days of cornmeal and lentils? She is pretty sure she could. She has survived the cleansing procedure one must go through for a colonoscopy, which is far worse than cornmeal and lentils, she can assure you! Well, unless you have a deep and abiding love for clear broth and jello, and very strong laxatives. (Oops, was that too much information?) Makes cornmeal and lentils sound pretty appetizing!

So, is the Bag Lady totally off the wall? Is she being too judgmental? She admits to being a little confused as to what these people expected out of this experiment, and she wonders now what they learned. She also wonders, a tiny bit, what the point was.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you are being judgmental - I find it hard to believe that they complained so much when it was only THREE days and they knew it was going to be over after that! Guess that says alot, doesn't it? My sister did an experiment where she had to live on what the average food stamp allocation was (think it was sometime last year) and it was pretty tough. It made me realize how fortunate I was and how much others need our help.
/on soapbox
If possible please donate to your local foodbank or soup kitchen - they are really running low. Thanks!
/off soapbox.


the Bag Lady said...

I think it was an eye-opener for them, for sure.
There were a couple of "letters of comment" last night on the news, and both of them praised the family, so maybe I saw something different than the rest of the world did...

And yes, everyone should donate to the foodbank or soup kitchen!!

Crabby McSlacker said...

I get REALLY whiny when I'm hungry, but gosh, I hope that if I signed up for the experiment I'd have a little more fortitude.

However, we're so spoiled in North America, I wouldn't be surprised if these results were typical.

the Bag Lady said...

I was under the impression that they had discussed this as a family before agreeing to it, so the whining that started almost immediately kinda surprised me.

Spoiled? Who, us?

Hilary said...

You wonder what the point was. I did too, briefly. It makes for good watching, good sponsors and good money. I'm a skeptic when I see these reality-type shows. I'm thinking that they weren't the only family trying this experiment but they were probably the most colourful. If others coped well, it wouldn't be exciting enough. I think it's kind of like the old Candid Camera show. We never got to see the wise ones that figured it out right away, only the ones that made watching worthwhile.

That having been said, it sure doesn't detract from the validity of your observations and concerns. Good post, Baggie.

Leah J. Utas said...

Galling. The poor North American had to three days with less food than usual. Give them a medal.
Cornmeal and lentils would be quite good together and filling if you knew what to do. Clearly these spoiled brat whiners didn't and that's sad.
Perhaps the abundance of brekkie foods served to underscore just how spoiled we've become and was meant, in a way, to make fun of them. I hope that was the point.
Anyway, dfBag Lady, this is your blog not mine so I'll stop.

the Bag Lady said...

Thanks, Hilary. Did you watch it? And I'm sure you're right about the fact that it made better television to have them whine and complain. Perhaps that was the point.

dfLeah - I am sure there are ways to cook the cornmeal that would have been more appetizing - they didn't seem to have as much trouble with the lentils. They finally resorted to frying the cornmeal, but even that didn't seem to go over well.

And you can take as much space on my blog as you would like!

JavaChick said...

I'd like to know what the purpose of the experiment was as well.

I can see that it would be tough. It sounds like a pretty bland menu (bland food makes me cranky), but they signed up for it and they knew it was only for 3 days. It seems like they could have handled it better.

Hilary said...

No Baggie, I've not seen it yet, but a bit of Google-sleuthing led me to the CBC page with the 17 minute video, so I will.

the Bag Lady said...

Javachick - Bland food does make me cranky, too, but after all, didn't they understand what they were getting into?

Hilary - I'd really like to hear your opinion of it after you've seen it!

Scrumpy said...

I completely agree. Not only did they agree to it, they knew they were appearing on television. This would lead me to believe that they behaved better than they would have had no one been watching.

There is a "freegan" movement that has been getting a lot of press lately. Perfectly normal folks who take the food being thrown out from grocery stores and restaurants. I don't think I could ever go that far, but it certainly makes you think.

Geosomin said...

I don't think you're being judgemental at all. Three days isn't too long to endure...I know small children might not endure it too well without complaint, but despite the lack of flavour...I can't believe they cheated..or that they threw out the leftovers.
I've done the 72 hour famine, when you just have fruit juice and nothing was very hard, but instead of complaining about how hungry we were we kept ourselves busy. And it was for a good cause.
It's tough sometimes when some people don't have enough food to live and we have an abundance. i admit that food is the one thing I splurge on..when I graduated and got a "real" job I swore I would eat healthy and well. I see the wasteage at grocery stores and wonder...just because produce isn't perfect looking, why throw it out? Why not give it away? If I had nothing to eat I'd put up with slightly dodgy produce jsut to get some veggies in me. I remeber in university buying al lthe marked down expired stuff to make do, and with a little imagination it was OK...
And yes...the foodbanks need our help. They never have enough produce...

Anonymous said...

Scrumpy - I have heard about the freegan movement (though didn't realize it had a name). I know store and restaurants do throw out perfectly edible food, but not sure if I could ever go dumpster diving. It does make you think though.....
I think there was another movement where people did not buy anything new (except for food, personal products, stuff like that) for a year. If you wanted clothes, furniture, etc., you hit the thrift stores and yard sales. Anyone here think they could do that?

the Bag Lady said...

SB - I've heard of that movement, too, but didn't realize it had a name. I'm kind of a freak about germs, so I'm not sure if I could rescue food from a dumpster (guess it would depend on how hungry I was), but I have been known to bring stuff home from the landfill - furniture, mostly, that just needed a little face-lift. It annoys me when people throw perfectly good stuff away!

Geosomin - that's something else that annoys me - why don't the grocery stores donate that imperfect produce to the food banks rather than throw it out? Just because people need to get their food from food banks doesn't mean they shouldn't have fresh produce, even if it is slightly blemished.

Missicat - I'm not too proud to admit that I buy clothing second-hand, or bring things home from the land-fill! I truly think we need to give a little more thought to our environment. A lot of us are guilty of the "throw-away and buy something new" mentality!

Unknown said...

I completely agree with you. Someone choosing to take on such an experiment should be trying to get something out of it and understand their privaleges rather than complain the whole time and feel superior for having undergone a whole 3 days of what some people are forced against their will to do their whole lives. And you're right. That IS really embarassing, that that's how spoiled we are.

The other day I found a really wrinkled apple that had been forgotten about in the kitchen, so I grilled it in the toaster oven and ate it that way. I know that I still throw out far more food than is necessary- but I'm glad that I figured out a way to enjoy that apple. And sometimes when food starts to go bad and I know no one in the family will eat it I'll leave it out by the dumpster- the homeless people appreciate all kinds of food, even if I'm too picky.

PS I love your rants.

the Bag Lady said...

Sagan - thanks for the compliment about my rants!
And I'm glad that someone your age is aware of this kind of thing, and willing to do something about it. Every little bit makes a difference!

Anonymous said...

I also buy clothes from yard sales and on Ebay - you'd be surprised at what you can get for much less then at a store. Coming from a large family (7 children) I am used to passing around furniture, clothes, dishes, etc.

Hilary said...

I watched the video and agree with most of your observations.

One significant difference that I noticed was that the family had unlimited access to fresh water - tap, bottled and iced - something that's often not available to those on such limited rations in the real world. I also got a bit of a snicker out of their use of paper napkins alongside such an experiment. It just seemed really wrong.

Latin Lupe Lu said...

I know people here in MN, U.S. that are part of the movement to not buy anything new for a year. I do buy clothes second-hand for myself but have a harder time finding clothing for my teenager and 8 year old second hand. Also, my husband, who is a longboarder and musician, feels he needs to buy bearings, skate and music equipment new...I suppose. Living in the U.S. I see everyday the results of our gluttony -a few people could stand to live on beans and cornmeal for MORE than 3 days!!

Emily said...

There is so much crap on TV these days! And to me, reality shows are the worst...I think they show how out of touch with reality most of us are. It sounds like this show was a prime example!

Reb said...

I just watched the link that Hilary gave (thanks Hilary) and then read the comments. Many of which agreed with you Sis, some however thought the Smiths did a wonderful job!

I am appalled that these people are so ignorant. That they threw away huge portions of their allotment for the day and then had the gall to whine that they were hungry! The children didn't know what cornmeal was? Or were they coached to ask, so that CBC could explain to the watching public? Either way, it is just an embarrassment to have them portrayed as a typical Canadian family.

Good rant Sis. Yes, everyone should donate to the food bank in their area.

Anonymous said...

I often think this when watching reality shows:

"But, but... you agreed to do this, it was your choice!"

I guess Im (and youre?) not their target market.

the Bag Lady said...

Wow, I'm sorry I had to go to town today and missed out on responding to all these comments!

Missicat - both of my parents were from large families, and I have 3 siblings. We were accustomed to "making do with what we had", and I still find it difficult to throw anything away, in case I might need it!

Hilary - thanks for posting the link, and I'm glad I wasn't the only one who felt this way!

latin lupe lu - welcome! I know exactly what you mean about more people could stand to eat beans and cornmeal for a few days! Our nations are both gluttonous!

Emily - I don't watch reality shows, either, but this was an article at the end of the news broadcast, so we watched it.

Reb - they played a couple of comments on the news last night in regards to this article, but they were both favourable. Slanted?! The CBC?! *Gasp*

Mizfit - I'm guessing that you and I would definitely not be their target audience! (And it sounds like most of the rest of the commenters here today would be with us...!)

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

I suspect that they don't want to hire those most likely to be successful for these shows. What's to see if everyone is contentedly nibbling cornbread and offering thoughtful insight?

I once caught part of a show where people were supposed to live like they were in neolithic times or something like that. They tried to cook a chicken by sticking the whole thing over a fire for hours until it was burnt outside but still half-raw inside. They ate it anyway and got sick. All I could do was sit in stunned amazement that it occurred to NO ONE to cut or tear the chicken into little pieces and cook it that way.

I was later told that the producers of these shows seek out the stupid and whiny so they can get better ratings.

Whatever. I'm just glad I don't watch TV unless one happens to be on at a place I'm at.

the Bag Lady said...

BG - sometimes, it's the producers themselves, too, who really have no idea! There was a program on the Canadian History Channel a few years ago where they had two couples who tried to live like pioneers for a year.
They had no idea about so many things that country people do as a matter of course, they finally had to enlist the aid of a Hutterite Colony nearby.
It was an interesting idea for a show, but inadvertently highlighted how far some people truly have gotten away from their roots, and from common sense.

Dawn said...

Sounds like a really interesting show. Why on earth do people volunteer for this sort of thing if they're so inept at cooking basic foods.

the Bag Lady said...

Dawn - perhaps that is the whole reason they were chosen - because they were so totally and completely ignorant of the way some people have to live in order to survive...

Anonymous said...

nope, not being judgmental. I suppose the point was to put themselves in the position so many other families in need find themselves in. They couldn't hack it, which is the message that should be taken away - we always complain about how bad we may have one thing or another (I'm freezing to death!" "I'm so hungry I could die!") Um, no, we're not freezing to death or dying of hunger, but millions of others are. What I got from your post is to be thankful and not take things like food and water for granted. Thank you for that!

the Bag Lady said...

Weightinggame - thanks for stopping by, and thanks for commenting.
We are all guilty of exaggeration at times, but we really do need to give some consideration to the folks who really ARE starving to death, or freezing to death!
I'm glad this post touched so many people! And if that program helped at least to open our eyes, then it was a success, right?

Sarah said...

Bag Lady: You are not being overly judgmental AT ALL. That is pathetic of that family really. Like you said, they signed up for it AND it was only 3 days!

the Bag Lady said...

Sarah - so glad you agree with the majority!