One of the practices I’ve undertaken this Lent is to refrain from purchasing groceries (except for 4 basic ingredients I’m allowing myself). Since cooking is a major hobby and stress reliever of mine, I thought at the outset this would be a good challenge for me. I knew it would be easier at the beginning because I had fresh produce on my shelf, but that as the weeks would pass it would be more challenging as I am required to look into the back of my freezer and see what I’ve stored there.
My goal is to cut some of the excess out of my life and a lean pantry is a concrete way for me to begin. I always have an abundance of food in my pantry and I haven’t faced lasting hunger. And never was it more noticeable to me than during my last trip to Guatemala.
We visited the home of a young student in CoEd’s Culture of Reading Program. She walked us from the school to her house, taking the dirt path leading to a cluster of small buildings with mud brick walls, dirt floors, a single windowless opening for light, and a tin roof. The group squeezed into the tiny building meant to be a kitchen and spoke with the mother about their life. There wasn’t quite enough room for me to fit, so standing just outside the door I asked, “What does an average day look like?” Knowing already what the basic answer would be, I only half listened to her answer as she talked about waking and first thanking God for the gift of a new day then beginning the prepare the meals for the day, hand wash laundry – never mind carrying water from the town well to do it – and tidying up the house after her nine children.
“What kind of meals do you prepare for your family?” someone continued.
“I make tortillas. And we gather herbs and eat whatever God gives us.”
Tortillas. 3 meals a day for their entire existence. Pulled from my absentmindedness immediately, I still struggle to grasp what it would be to eat a few corn tortillas for three meals a day. No protein, a few vegetables here and there if I could afford it or grow it, and the corn I grow for tortillas. Those would be the contents of my pantry. None of this excess I have where things grow mold because I buy more than I can eat or tire of it before the leftovers are gone.
Hit to my core, I stumbled back a few steps to realize the gravity of the poverty facing this family. Lost in my thoughts, I encountered one of the younger daughters and began learning of her life. With maybe a year of formal schooling, she was illiterate and would depend on the strength of her back for her existence.
Hunched over in the sun each day, she works at a blackberry farm picking berries. Those tiny containers I eat in one sitting? She spends her day picking them and quite possibly never tastes the delightful burst of sweet and tart after popping one into her mouth.
I cannot remember the names of the mother and daughters I met that day. It does not matter to me, honestly, because they have left their mark. Their story I will carry with me to remind me of the resources I have and my call to give generously where I am able for the others whose stories I don’t know. I must learn to live a leaner existence so I am able to give more generously and this Lent, I’m starting with a leaner pantry.