When you suffer from physical hunger there’s a terrible discomfort: dizziness, headaches, and an inability to focus. A hollowness echoes through the self.
Late in 2016, while still an Oregonian, I experienced that feeling for the first time. My girlfriend and I were renting a small apartment in the heart of telegenic Portland. At Christmas, my bank account had gone dry. Meals became less frequent and I was drinking water by the liter to stave off pangs of real hunger. Not that casual feeling of which we most often speak, but the profound longing for food.
Because a digital connection with friends might make the deprivation feel more practical, I set up a Facebook event for a New Year’s cleanse. Ride the horse in the direction that it’s going, as the Hollywood producer Lynda Obst’s expression goes. Sure enough, my stomach shrank a bit and, as an added bonus, gave actual deprivation a bourgeois burnish. Were there others out there tricking out hunger and poverty so that it might pass for fitness enthusiasm?
When I say “hungry,”I mean I qualified under the USDA’s definition of “food insecurity.” That means a lack of consistent access to enough food for everyone in a household. Food insecurity strikes about one in eight of the nation’s households, a number that has remained consistent in recent years, but the subject is freshly relevant, because the political party in power wants the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) slashed—again. In Donald Trump’s first budget, he proposed slashing $191 billion (roughly a quarter of SNAP’s budget) from the program, during the next decade.
My last paid gig, pre-cleanse, had been hosting an NAACP event in Northeast Portland, two days after the historic election, last year. After that, the money dried up. Stories approved via digital handshakes went away. The check that was supposed to show up. and absolutely had not. failed to do so days before Christmas. My partner, always game for the financial variables that must have seemed a lover’s tax, went through the holiday hysteria without a complaint. Less indifferent were my three out-of-state children.
Our apartment was small. We tended to eat apart, she at work and I wherever I could cop it for cheap and/or free. A short documentary I’d made was premiered days after the cleanse, and at the event on its behalf I hovered by the cheese and fruit table as though it was the only reason to be there. My food insecurity meant that I scheduled my meals before I needed to write, so I could maximize my mental acuity. Two or three times a week, I’d carb-load and then go as hardcore as possible at yoga or spin to avoid dwelling on what was happening to me; nothing makes a grown-ass man question his life choices like appetite unaddressed.