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facts & arguments

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Last night I woke up at 1:30, so hungry I couldn't sleep. I tried to quiet my appetite with a glass of water. It didn't work. I got up and looked in the refrigerator.

Apart from some condiments, there was a bag with about a quarter cup of raw basmati rice. The salad spinner contained some freshly washed organic kale. I nibbled on raw kale while the rice was cooking. I noticed an almost-empty jar of miso paste, so I boiled some water, mixed it with miso and threw the rest of the kale into it. That was dinner, served fashionably late.

As I enjoyed my meal, I gazed idly out the window at the 24-hour grocery store kitty corner to my home. I contemplated getting dressed and heading over there to buy something substantial. Or something sweet. Or both.

The thought of being watched by the bored security guard on duty made the prospect of a late-night foray seem kind of desperate and pathetic. It's one thing to make a late-night run to stock up on groceries when you're young and have just returned from an evening of clubbing. It's quite another thing when you've had to change out of your slippers and leave the warmth and comfort of home to do so.

Even more pathetic was the thought of giving up so easily.

In recent weeks, I'd been thinking a lot about people without food security: panhandlers; the working poor; schoolchildren; the elderly; people reliant on social assistance, disability payments and food banks; young people who live on the street or couch-surf; the mentally ill; refugees; and people with addictions.

My late husband Ivaan lamented when food banks became common in the early 1980s that these would not be temporary stopgaps; they would quickly become permanent institutions.

"One day there will be a Ministry of Food Banks," he said.

If he were still alive, I'd tell him he was right. The CBC, our national broadcaster, has held an enormous food drive in support of food banks every December for years. It's almost as though the CBC has become our Ministry of Food Banks.

Ivaan knew something about hunger. His parents were child survivors of the Holodomor, Stalin's genocide of Ukrainians through starvation, which killed millions between 1929 and 1933. In 1943, his parents were rounded up and interned in a Nazi forced-labour camp. In 1944, Ivaan was born in that camp to a starving mother. She did not expect him to live.

For Ivaan's family, and for all the Ukrainian refugees who eventually found their way to Canada, amassing food was the single most important theme of their lives.

But poor as they were as refugees, I doubt any of their kitchens contained as little food as mine did last night. If I were to explain to them that I was living this way by choice, they would not have understood.

I have been trying to ascertain what food security means, in dollars and cents.

To do so, I decided that for the month of December, instead of buying groceries, I would eat my way through everything perishable in my refrigerator, freezer and cupboards, and when they were empty of anything that might make a meal, I would allot myself $10 a day. This would have to buy a day's food, plus any toiletries or housekeeping items I required. Next day, I'd get another $10.

To begin with, I had three huge advantages. First, I'm vegan. Second, I habitually live simply. Third, I work mostly from home. A friend who dropped in for a visit this afternoon said, "If you ate meat your budget would be totally blown on Day 1." He's correct, of course.

What surprised me most was that even by exercising considerable frugality, my $10 was barely adequate for a day's food.

I had the last of the miso soup for breakfast. Then I bought an avocado, a rye roll, two tomatoes, two apples, half a pound of green beans and some quinoa pasta.

Lunch was an avocado on rye, with an apple for dessert. Mid-afternoon, I was so hungry, I could have chewed my arm off, so I ate the other apple. I don't think I have ever eaten my evening meal so unfashionably early. I cooked the quinoa fusilli and made a stir-fry of green beans and a tomato. With a little drizzle of olive oil and some cracked pepper, it was excellent.

By 9 p.m. I was so hungry, I made the executive decision to go and buy tomorrow's food. I bought a Spanish onion, some carrots, a can of chickpeas, yellow split peas and a bag of whole-wheat pita bread.

I figured I could make a big pot of split-pea soup and some hummus, which I'll enjoy with a pita and the second tomato, saved from today.

I permitted myself a splurge, and blew my last 79 cents on a small stick of good quality liquorice. I ate it on the way back from the grocery store.

That did the trick; it is the only time all day that food has not been the most prominent thing on my mind.

In fact, this essay is proof of that. Without the sweet comfort of that small stick of liquorice, I could not have thought clearly enough to write the first sentence.

Eya Kotulsky lives in Toronto.

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