How to be hungry

This is a bit of an odd post for me, and quite long, so I won’t be offended if poetry readers skip it. Mostly it is published so I/it can be there for myself if it happens again.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of a totally new and profound experience of hunger. Of course, at first I approached it like a problem requiring an urgent solution. You know, do something, anything, I’m used to overcoming problems.

I tried to take my little bit of money to the usual grocery stores but the buy-in price for something nutritious was so much higher than my available dollars, not even one thing that wasn’t junk food could I really afford, except perhaps milk.

Real food (the GST-free stuff) is ridiculously overpriced in this country lately. So-called fresh food is often shipped in from the USA so the quality is as terrible as the prices are high. Before anyone gets offended, a lemon that is shipped from the USA and made available to consumers here in Melbourne cannot have been anywhere near a tree for months, but it will still usually cost you nearly $2 and you would be lucky to get more than a tablespoon of juice out of it, naturally. They generally taste horrible (not actually ripe and never will be no matter how long you wait) and it would be a miracle if such an item still had any nutritional value. It seemed stupid to waste the little I had on fake food that might not even get me through a single day.

I live in a first world country, nobody should ever be hungry

Yes, I reached out to a friend or two, but they were totally unconcerned. For them my situation was impossible to comprehend. I live in a first world country, nobody should ever be hungry for long without the means to correct it.

Still, after a few days of just drinking litres upon litres of water, I couldn’t take the hunger any longer and my mind switched out. I was no longer in a familiar state, the demands of my body were so intense that decision making was becoming increasingly complicated – the more I tried to “think”, the harder things became. I did a bit of crying and stressing out, but then I noticed that behaviour produced such an intensifying of my discomfort, hormones or something, that I had to force myself to stop. Every standard behaviour used far more energy than I had available so I had to drop it all.

After a couple of days I was already dizzy, vague, shaky and very nauseous, not to mention the hunger pains and various other aches and stiffness all throughout my body. Low energy was probably an understatement.

So I waited. I was scared. Not thinking, not moving, except for just enough to get the occasional glass of water. Eventually a different mind took over, highly alert but in repose, knowing that to do or think anything that wasn’t going to immediately bring the nutrition I needed was simply wasting my limited resources. Awareness of even the most basic of bodily processes became finely attuned, I no longer had subtle urgings, instead loud and insistent demands, much like the intensity you experience when you’ve waited too long for the bathroom, except this intensity was for everything I needed: air, food, water, safety and even more surprisingly for me, physical contact with other humans.

Unfortunately, about half of the world’s population lives like this for most of their lives

It is not so easy to imagine this feeling unless you have experienced it. Thankfully it’s only happened a few times in my life, but never for this long and never with no prospective income on the horizon and the subsequent brain crash. Unfortunately, about half of the world’s population lives like this for most of their lives, first world or not.

There is no question in my mind that I am irrevocably changed by this experience. I can honestly tell you that all ideas about morality, social considerations, planning for the future, taking actions according to one’s will, etc… simply don’t come into it from such a state. You cannot morally judge a starving person’s actions and expect any message to be heard through their ears, other than “I would rather you starved to death.” If you bring them food, they will probably eat it but they will not hear your words nor be particularly grateful for your moralising, only for the food. At best they will act in a way that encourages you to bring more than they need right now so they can eat again soon. At worst, you will be trying to throw them in jail because of their behaviour.

I want you to really know that it doesn’t matter how the situation arose. Most of us would think that knowing how it happened and forming opinions or making suggestions on what could have been done to prevent it is relevant here, it truly isn’t. There is nothing theoretical nor hypothetical about such an overwhelming experience of physical reality.

So after just a few days of not having access to enough food, the fear is intense and real

So after just a few days of not having access to enough food, the fear is intense and real, the ability to process high level abstract concepts becomes extremely limited, instinct for survival is at the forefront of everything I do.

If I did not systematically and strategically go to each store I could find until I discovered a shop with reasonable prices on the basics I think I would have stolen food and I would be in the (in)justice system right now. Early morning deliveries to shops just sit there on the pavement tempting all kinds of very hungry folk like me and it took a bit of convincing myself not to just walk off with at least one of those loaves of fresh bread. If I had dependents I am sure I would have done it (and then perhaps got myself shipped off to a new penal colony on somebody else’s land where sooner or later we ended up hunting the natives for sport). As it turned out I could manage no more than two outings per day to scout around and I learned that on an empty stomach, three glasses of water in quick succession gets me about 40 minutes of walking around for each outing.

I admit I was a little jealous of his beef strips and mountain of frozen veggies

After much deliberation, I managed to get some food for about $3 first, then another $6 worth using coins that I found around my flat. The shop assistant was mystified by the process of counting coins as though she had never seen such strange tokens nor learned arithmetic, and I felt ashamed. The African bloke behind me smiled and said, “Yes I know it, you have counted out what you can spend.” I could tell by his shopping and his attitude, he was or had been in the same situation. I admit I was a little jealous of his beef strips and mountain of frozen veggies which was more than my budget at the time. He was right though, it took me ages of checking out the price of almost everything and adding up on the calculator and counting coins from one pocket to the other before I made my final purchases. My brain was so sluggish but nutritional value for money was the only thing in my mind. That food has kept me going. I don’t remember any meal I have prepared before this period as being so satisfying.

I will admit I am still at a loss as to how to get regular vitamin C on this budget though.

This week I have a little bit more cash, through some unexpected good luck for which I am eternally grateful. I have to tell you how much fun I had planning out my next food shopping with this new awareness. Body speaks. Must eat.

It still took about three hours and four trips to various places to get all these items. If I’d gone to my usual stores I might have spent over $100 to get a similar volume of food, but there’s no way it would have been this coordinated and calculated to maximise nutrition and would have required a second or third spend later in the week. You can see how I used my $49 budget below if you’re interested.

What I bought and prepared

  • lots of chicken drumettes 5
  • lots of very ripe tomatoes 4
  • capsicums 2
  • fava beans 3
  • olives 7
  • garlic 2
  • frozen spinach 0.9
  • frozen pastry 2.3
  • feta 4
  • eggs 3.5
  • onions 2
  • olive oil 8
  • parsley 3
  • brown sugar 2.5
  • lemon 1.4

Things I still had left over

  • carrots
  • turkish bread
  • pasta
  • yoghurt

Today is advance cooking day

You have to know how glad I am that I know how to prepare delicious meals or I would find this entire experience depressing. However, I also know how much energy being depressed actually uses now so I am doubtful that depression would be considered a viable response to very many situations in the future. (No I didn’t know it was optional until I was starving.)

This morning I prepared the sauce for shakshuka. Some I will use with eggs and some with the remaining chicken drumettes.

The fava beans are soaked and ready for ful mesdames which will slow cook all afternoon. Will eat with bread, olives, tomato and a parsley, lemon and garlic dressing.

With the pastry feta, carrots and spinach I will make two types of pastry parcels (carrot/feta, spinach/feta).

Some stuff will go into the freezer until I need it. If there is any yoghurt left and I can track down some mint, I will also make cacik with a donated cucumber I have.

That last capsicum is yet to find a purpose so I will probably grill, peel and store it because they usually cost me $3-$5 each, but right place-right time last weekend to get a couple for $2.

Already done

I had dinner with a friend yesterday, puttanesca pasta with a kind of garlic bread the day before, half a dozen roasted chicken drumettes the day before that. I still have yoghurt and apricots left for early in the day until that runs out. Over the weekend I made breakfast coffee cake with oats, brown sugar and five spice and that took me 5 days to get through. So yeah I had oats and flour plus a load of spices at home when I was super hungry but I couldn’t figure out how to prepare them without other ingredients.

I also made snagball pasta late last week from marked down sausages and canned tomatoes and shared it with my friend who donated the funds — would have come in handy when I was really struggling but he didn’t hear anything I said until I had restored enough energy myself to recount the whole story. That was $5 of beef sausages, $2 of canned tomatoes, onion, chilli, garlic and $0.65 pasta, so about $9. I can hardly believe how many meals that created, it makes you so full and satisfied. Snagballs is my name for meatballs made by frying chunks of raw, skinned butcher sausages which is cheaper and quicker than doing it all from scratch.

Drop a note if you would like to know how to do any of these meals or if you are local and want to know where I found the bargains. I am sure there are Facebook groups for this kind of thing, but you need a lot of energy for all that scrolling, and seeing as nobody plans ahead for how they will handle the threat of starvation, it’s most accessible when you don’t need it.


Breakfast Coffee Cake
Breakfast coffee cake with oats, brown sugar and five spice

The experience has created a simple rule for me. If someone is hungry near you, including yourself, give them food or help them get it. Never mind setting up a plan to eat next week or next month, filling in forms and waiting for approval, this is how the government and charities work. I didn’t qualify for any of the free food around except possibly dinner once per week and at the time I found that out, I couldn’t wait another 5 days for it. Many places still need you to pay even after you qualify, so if you are homeless (how would you prove this so you could qualify?) and can’t find any coins, you are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

… we all need food every day.

Nothing else can be done until a person has enough food. Everybody needs it. Social welfare programs repeatedly fail to understand this if I am being kind, but it’s rather obvious that you are punished severely for falling below the poverty line, or any other line, in our society, regardless that it seems the system is designed to get more and more people into a desperate state of need rather than less. And don’t get me started about those who will feed you God and/or shame with your dinner, hunger exists prior to religion or morality. The only saving you need at that point is the kind that puts food in your belly, sinners or not, we all need food every day.

To me, it says a lot, to live within a social structure that requires people to pass all kinds of tests repeatedly, to get fed. Excuse me, but our Mother, the Earth, already provides. How much extra work and overwhelming stress do you put into getting yourself fed properly in this system? We have been sold on the convenience of our current system, but is it convenient? Ask your body. If you really listen you will be surprised.

You gotta love a system that leaves newborns to self-manage because they are too black for the country’s assimilation policy.

I have since noticed that a large part of my long term dissatisfaction or challenges in life are simply this basic problem in one form or another; difficulty getting my basic needs met. It’s been a significant challenge since the day I was born judging by the stories from my adoptive mother of how at 10 days old when she took custody of me, I had huge boils in various places and did not bother to cry any more when I needed something. You gotta love a system that leaves newborns to self-manage because they are too black for the country’s assimilation policy.

Also, nobody really wants most of the types of jobs on offer these days, they don’t suit conscious human beings and it’s only that we must do them if we are able or we may not survive. Even when you do have a job or other kind of income, getting the essentials is not a given and frequently just moves the problem around. Particularly when you try to follow the social dictates but you’re not able to be conforming enough to make it into the privileged class (more people than is ever acknowledged).

Whether you have lots of money or not, whether you are in this or that social class, I bet most of you don’t have the time because it’s still a bit complicated and stressful to get good wholesome food that keeps you healthy unless you are living in a situation where you can grow/forage or exchange with others and your job is awesome and not stressful at all and doesn’t take all your time and attention and you aren’t bothered by the news and, and, and… I can hardly believe I used to go on diets when I was younger, what kind of absurd mind trick is that?

After months of trying to survive on very little I still feel a bit guilty for eating more than one meal per day at the moment, but my body tells me I am too depleted to sustain such a stupid idea in the first place. I also still feel kind of weak so it’s tough to also feel very confident about the future at the same time. Thus I eat now and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

It was a short time in the scheme of things, so this is not any type of complaint. It’s simply an underscored experience.

What makes me happiest about this entire story is now I try to share more meals with others without obligation. I know that whether or not they express gratitude, eating well is one of the most important prerequisites in the world for a human being to thrive; as grandmothers and mothers the world over have been showing us since the beginning of time. It’s also the simplest and purest expression of love I think anyone can offer – I want you to survive – please eat!

Much love to you all.

I want you to survive – please eat!

Shout out to Leah Potter at Sunset Soup Kitchen who shares food with long-grassers in Darwin every night, no questions.

5 thoughts on “How to be hungry

  1. Robyn, this brought tears to my eyes and believe me, I have been there, multiple times. I sometimes say that I had nothing in the freezer and even less in the fridge because both were empty. I walked to work with the soles of my shoes gone and my feet were touching the pavement and my toe was sticking out of the top.

    No one should have to go through this. NO ONE! I SO wish that there was something that I could do for you. Please tell me that you are doing at least a bit better, please!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jamborobyn says:

      Ah Shelby, I have thought about you often recently and all the posts of yours I have read over the years. For a while I couldn’t accept the extent of damage being done to the people an the planet by this system, so I kept trying and trying and all that trying got me here… like a lamb to the slaughter. I know you know it from experience and I wish you didn’t. With all my heart I wish nobody ever had to know these things ever.

      Hey, I picked up a small bit of work a couple of weeks back and the funds from that have me eating like a queen in comparison to the previous couple of weeks. So things have improved a bit. Not sure what happens after those dollars run out. I am really just focussed on regaining my strength and intellect so that I can create/respond to any further opportunities for improving things. Trying not to feel too much shame for this or that decision in the past that might have got me a few more days or whatever if I had found a way to put in even more restrictions, because it’s just small change and ultimately makes no appreciable difference except to make me feel responsible for the outcomes of a system I have no way to alter. I am defiant though, if the system doesn’t want me to survive, then I absolutely will do everything I can to oppose that idea and live a good life until I am really really old and annoying. And I will keep pointing out just how ridiculous all this shit is in my own way and continue being kind, open-hearted and non-judgemental to those who fall into hard times, which of course will be everyone sooner or later.

      Billionaires need things produced by us, so they will keep on with it until they run out of humans. First Nations and Black folk, are just the canaries in the mineshaft. At least I am not in one of those countries that keeps getting bombed, invaded and subjected to drone strikes by those ruling-class lunatics. I am grateful for that and for you. Truth-telling like no other, stay strong, stay you. I love it!

      See these words a friend wrote to me recently… “who in their right mind would stand in the way of a strong black woman? A force of nature that almost defies the laws of thermodynamics.” 😉 If there is a way through, you and I will find it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It is devastating to read about your experience Robyn. No one, in this day, age and country should have to go through starvation, and I salute your detailed account of all that you went through. I concur with your view that we are lucky we don’t have to deal with the daily bombardment that victims in war zones have to deal with.
    You put it so succinctly in describing the desperation of hunger and how your mind is oblivious to any thing other than assuaging that deep, gnawing hunger.
    Please know that if I had prior knowledge or lived near you, I wouldn’t hesitate in taking you shopping for all your nutritional needs. Your account touched my heart! Bless you! Keep on, keeping on Robyn!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jamborobyn says:

      Bless you, Wendy! I guess the only thing I can say is there are lots of people in Australia right now going through this same thing and the hoops they are required to jump through to get help are really difficult to navigate. It doesn’t matter at all how they got where they are, things won’t improve for them unless they get some food and other basic needs sorted. I heard in Darwin the council even remove the taps on drinking fountains making water a massive issue for the down and out folks there as well as getting food.

      Our culture doesn’t encourage speaking about or dealing with hardship in real terms. If it wasn’t for especially kind and thoughtful humans who we’re sometimes lucky enough to have cross our paths, a lot less of us would make it through these times. Our overriding system doesn’t seem to have value for our lives, but a significant number of people think all the poor people are getting looked after somehow. They aren’t. Thank you for your thoughts, I truly appreciate your support and encouragement. May the year 2020 bring you much joy, Wendy!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on The Beauty Along the Road and commented:
    I’ve been following Robyn’s blogs for many years and have enjoyed reading her poetry and prose, sometimes funny, sometimes acerbic but always astute, in her observations of the nature of humans and the predatory cultures we have created. Even though we were in touch via email recently, I did not fully grasp the desperate situation she was in – and will be in until she manages to find another IT job. In the meantime, if you are moved and have some spare change, feel free to send some funds her way. She’s an IT expert who has worked on large corporate projects as well as my own business website, and she would be happy to take on a new project.

    Liked by 2 people

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