by Hannah Laufer-Rottman
During the recent Live Below the Line campaign, I opted to eat rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Having lived in poor countries in Africa and Latin America, I wanted to reconnect to the life of most people in poor countries by joining them in their everyday diet. This is usually rice and beans, corn and beans, sometime millet with a peanut sauce, sometimes potatoes and beans or potatoes and corn.
Usually no more than two basic ingredients
compose the everyday meal that people consume in poor countries, often no more than once a day. Sometimes breakfast is the main meal, especially for farmers who leave at sunrise and return home close to sunset. Other times it is dinner. Rarely, and often only at very special occasions, is a chicken served or a piece of meat or some fish. Indeed, on my field visits I was often honored with more elaborate dishes served to guests who were visiting from the capital or abroad and they were always prepared with love and care.
I struggled to enjoy these meals,
knowing that the many children surrounding us with curiosity were not going to be served that food and were not asking for it either. I strongly recall the only time I saw children asking for food: one of my colleagues offered a small water bottle to a group of kids. Dozens came running but the tallest one finished it all by himself with an air of victory.
I soaked the rice and beans in two large bowls of water overnight to soften the grain, improve the nutritional value, and reduce the cooking time – this is an important energy saving practice in poor countries to minimize the use of solid fuels like wood, coal or charcoal. The next morning I boiled the beans for about one hour, in water and a little bit of salt; I cooked the rice. I heated some coconut oil and added about 6 large spoons of beans with their cooking juice, and after a few minutes of low cooking, added about 2 cups of rice. This was my breakfast and the leftovers were my lunch and dinner.
Cooking and eating that day was simple
perfectly functional and geared towards a simple goal: fill your stomach and ease hunger. As I went to bed I reflected on my day – I did not feel hungry. I even looked forward to the next day’s rice and beans because I knew they were the only foods I was going to have and that they would keep me fed.
I have always found it fascinating to get close to people’s minds.
As I ate my rice and beans breakfast the following day, I felt grateful for the food but increasingly aware that I would be eating the same dish for what felt like an endless amount of time. The monotony of food resulting from the absence of options is intimately connected to a life with no opportunities and no other options but to survive. This is a life with no hope or expectation of brighter tomorrows, a life that no one should have to live. This forms our commitment at Palms for Life Fund