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The Rice and Beans Challenge: Experiencing A Taste of Poverty


The Rice and Beans Challenge

Grabbing the church bulletin, I peeked through it, to see what goodies the church was publishing this week. What I saw immediately grabbed my attention. "Rice and Beans Challenge" was what the insert said. Fascinated, I immediately started to read.

Eat rice and beans for five days, and learn to identify with those in third-world countries. Wow. Talk about living out your faith, and getting out of your comfort zone! Later on in the service, the drama team did a play showing a family, at the kitchen table, experiencing the "Rice and Beans Challenge." The pastor also talked about it extensively, and showed pictures of children from Swaziland, who were receiving food from missionaries over there, sent from the church.

We had just recently started attending this church, and I was impressed at how the leadership of the church was getting behind this project. They truly seemed to put reaching out into the world as a top priority.

Whispering in the Pews

Talking In Church

Smiling, I turned to my husband. "Do you wanna try it?" I whispered.

"You're going on a diet?" he asked, being somewhat deaf, especially when I try to talk to him while surrounded by 300 people singing.

"Do you want to do this challenge?"

"What? You want to go the lounge?" he asked again, puzzled.

"Never mind. I'll talk to you after," I replied.

Half an hour later, the service was finished, and I asked my husband once again if he would like to try the challenge.

"Naah ..." he responded. I expected as much. He was a man: used to being fed, and this just sounded like a bit too much.

"Okay, well, I'm just going to go over and sign up." So we ambled over, and went to sign up on the pictures of beans they give out for you put up on the wall.

"Okay, so I'll just put my name?" I ask, angling a bit for him to take this challenge with me.

"Sure! Let's try it!" my husband says, with enthusiasm.

"Are you sure?" I ask, finding it hard to believe what I was hearing.

"Yeah, let's do it!" he bubbled.

Well, my husband sometimes takes a while to get used to a new idea, but once he's in, he has to be one of the most enthusiastic people on the planet. So he was in. And we were officially enrolled in the "Rice and Bean Challenge."

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Eat Only Rice and Beans

"The Rice and Beans Challenge" was hosted by our church, in conjunction with a series called "The Justice Journey," about social justice in our world. The challenge was designed to let pledgees experience what it is like to eat as someone in a third world country. Here is how the challenge works:

  1. The first day we eat only rice and beans. This is like the 1.1 billion people world-wide who survive on a $1/day.
  2. The second and third day we can add one seasoning for the day, and half a cup of mixed vegetables. This is like a family who has been sponsored.
  3. The fourth day you can add a piece of homemade African Chapatis flatbread. (one piece a day) to what you are already eating. This represents the 3 billion people across the globe who live on $2/day.

So, it's a five day challenge. It sounds challenging, for sure. Will we make it? We will try. I go out to stock up on rice, and beans, and get ready to go, the following day. Surprisingly, we do not pig out the night before. I feel calm.

by sfllaw.

by sfllaw.

Words to Ponder

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

Matthew 25: 44-45

Jesus said that if we turn our back on those that are in need: hungry, or thirsty, naked, sick, lonely, or in prison, we are turning our back on Him.

Feeling Light-Headed

The night before, I soak the beans for half an hour, and then place them into the slow cooker. I am used to cooking with a lot of spices, and it feels so strange to not use any seasoning. I will cook the rice tomorrow morning.

The next morning, I get up earlier than my husband, and cook up the rice. I grab a bowl of the rice and beans together. Not too bad, but the beans are bland. Better than I expected, though. When my husband gets up, I serve him a bowl. He has a slight frown on his face, not enjoying the idea of rice and beans, at all. But he does not complain.We remind each other that some people eat like this every day. The rest of the day passes by without incident. We both are off work that day, so we are fairly relaxed.

The next day, we have the option of adding a spice, and a half a cup of vegetables. This is to mirror the conditions of a third world family that has been sponsored by someone from North America. So, instead of just plain rice and beans, they can have plain rice and beans, with a tiny bit of veges and one spice. Still not a lot to get excited about, from my bloated Western perspective!

I cheat a bit, and test a couple of the spices to see which one tastes the best. I go with the garlic salt. I am craving flavour, much more than I am, food. This morning, I go to work, and my husband stays home. (He has taken some of his holidays.). At work, I share with one of my coworkers that we are doing this challenge. She doesn't say much. I am in the classroom for three hours, and I start to feel a bit light-headed. I find myself less alert, when students are asking me questions. This is actually getting harder. I feel a wimp!

My husband and I eat a dinner together. He prays with power, and asks the LORD for our needs. I find myself feeling so grateful for the portion that I have. I still feel calm, although a bit light-headed.

Swaziland Video from 2009

Getting Crabby


Words To Ponder

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

James 1:27

The Apostle James wrote that pure religion was taking care of the needy in our community.

The Challenge Was Over

The third day, we both get up, ready to go on the challenge, but both of us feel so light-headed that we start getting grouchy and crabby with each other. We feel tense, and start to spout stuff we wouldn't normally say. We are already have a lot of stress in our lives, right now, and are dealing with some very difficult situations. This was one more thing, and we just caved. It's hard to believe what a comfort food can be, when in the middle of a crisis.

We decide to start eating again, a lot just because the other stresses in our life that we were dealing with, seemed like too much, and it was hard to concentrate on doing the challenge. I feel bad, knowing we were not able to stand up in solidarity with the billions in the world who have no choice, but to live like this every day of their lives. It did not feel good to give in, but it was also eye-opening. Those in countries with these poverty issues countries do not have the luxury of deciding to eat, if they feel stressed out. They don't have a choice about eating, at all. And that is a harsh reality. We do depend on the comfort and sustience of food, to carry us through the difficult times.

Even the acting of eating a delicious meal together bonds us as a family, and a couple. Through the hardest times, we still manage to have meals, and decent food. Going without this basic of life, when other things were difficult, too, seemed so difficult!

Our challenge is over, but we have been deeply moved by this experience. It has given me a newfound gratefulness for all that God provides for us, every day. We are so blessed to have so much: even when we feel broke, according to North American standards.

My husband says that he has experienced a fresh desire to read the Bible, and he too feels grateful for what we have.

We were not able to go the full journey with our brothers and sisters in those countries that have nothing. This speaks to our North American pampering. We had a choice to go off of this diet, but they don't. We were able to stop our symptoms of hunger and extreme discomfort, merely by deciding to eat again. I know that they can't. I can't imagine living in this reality, day in and day out. But for over 3 million people, there is no other reality.

How can we help? Sponsoring a child from a hungry country is a good start. Being aware is the first step. And consuming less, so we can have money to send is very good. We can't change whole countries, by ourselves, but we can be part of the solution.

During the challenge, we also had one more person involved: my stepson. He did not take part in the challenge, and so he watched us, as we were eating this food. We talked about it, afterwards, and we agreed that him watching us, was akin to the way North Americans sit and watch the rest of the world, while they starve. There's something not right about half the world regularly spending $30 every time they go out for one meal, while the other half gets by on $2, or even $1 for feeding a family, for one day. It's definitely not fair, or right.


Bluebella on March 23, 2015:

I don't know why you were experiencing lightheadedness. Perhaps you were dehydrated and not consuming enough water, which is seriously dangerous.

I have gone for long periods with rice and beans, or rice and occasional fish (it is the only meat I eat), or only rice and water. I am disabled on a small income and feeding my children is my priority, leaving me often to have much simpler meals.

I do not mind.

I find I am healthier, have more energy, and am more mentally alert, when I eat this way. Especially when I refrain from eating bread, pasta, processed food, and really anything with sugar.

Sometimes for breakfast I have a bowl of rice with a small bit of almond milk and organic raw honey. Adding in fresh fruit is great, too. It is delicious!

I do not enjoy dairy products unless they are organic and see them as treats, same goes for eggs, which once in a while I buy from my local farmers market where I get organic eggs from truly free-roaming, grass fed hens.

I am hoping one day in the future when my circumstances improve (which I am working on) I can have a garden and grow my own fruits and vegetables, as well as keep my own chickens for eggs.

Rachel on April 08, 2014:

You'd be surprised at how many people IN THE UNITED STATES do this out of necessity on a daily basis too. Open your eyes. And then DO something about it, more than just -attempting- to eat a perfectly nutritious meal for a few days. There was no reason for you to get light headed - the fact that you did gives me cause for concern. I suggest you go see a doctor about nutritional deficiencies, gut imbalance, or parasites. There is no reason that a healthy individual cannot do this.

There are plenty of people who eat far less, who are actually starving, who would be THANKFUL for some rice and beans, let alone a spice and vegetables!

Go check out the statistics for hunger in this country, and then go help. Volunteer at your local food bank. Homeless shelter. Find out how many children have school lunch as their only meal. Find out how many can only afford cheap, unhealthy processed junk, and what needs to change about that. Volunteer (or start!) a soup kitchen. Fight for wage equality. Stop funding corporations that cause these problems in the first place. Learn about the slaves that still exist IN AMERICA. Buy fairtrade products whenever they are available.

It's one thing to do a "challenge." It's another thing entirely to take up the challenge, and do something about it.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on May 06, 2012:

Audrey, thanks so much for the insightful comment. Yes, we really do forget how precious it is to have food and everything we need. Have a wonderful day!

Audrey Howitt from California on May 05, 2012:

What a great challenge. I am thrilled that church communities do this--that yours did--we --I --we all forget and take food for granted--

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on February 28, 2012:

Keri, it is so interesting to talk to someone who has actually lived in Africa. And spices do make a big difference, don't they? I like rice and beans, too, but without the spices or any drinks with it, it does feel very sparse.

If you do try it, I would love to hear of your experience. Perhaps you could make a hub out of it. Thanks for your wonderful, kind comment. Take care!

Keri Summers from West of England on February 26, 2012:

This is very interesting. I lived in East Africa for a couple of years, and rice and beans was one of my favourite foods, but it was nicely spiced and flavoursome. I still make them occasionally, it's economic, and a humble reminder. I think the observations you made with your son are very powerful. I'm tempted to try this challenge as you have done, starting with the really basic rice and beans.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on August 26, 2011:

Adam, I am delighted that you found this hub while looking for information on living cheaply. How astute to try to look at eating that way and I wish you all the best in your journey. Blessing to you, as well!

adam on August 26, 2011:

I found this posting searching for information on surviving on minimal varieties of food. Have hit hard times and have decided to approach eating as survival and not pleasure to save money. This has oddly inspired me to take the step. Thank you and bless you.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on April 23, 2011:

Shogan, you got it! If your wife wanted you to, well ... right on! Thanks for the great comment!

Tammy, that's such a true statement. And how easy to judge without really understanding. Thanks for the comment, and take care. I hope you have a good Easter!

Tammy L from Jacksonville, Texas on April 23, 2011:

Reminds me of a saying someone once told me, "never judge a man for what he is until you find out what made him that way."


shogan from New England on April 22, 2011:

I imagine, too, rice and beans without the benefit of a slow-cooker or a nice kitchen. Agh! You're right, we are pampered creatures. I'm not sure I'd be up to this challenge, but then again, if my wife had her mind set on it...well, you know how that goes!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on April 21, 2011:

RG, that is a brilliant way to teach the lesson of disparity. I bet that really made everyone think, those feasting out, and those barely eating. Great idea! Thanks for dropping by.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on April 21, 2011:

Bumpsy, that's exactly it. With no alternative, it doesn't seem as fun. I do actually like beans and rice as a healthy meal, but it's always enough to feed me, not just enough to survive. And I cook with spices, and a drink, and whatever else. The hard part to come to grips with, too, is that we sit here in comfort every day, while millions don't at all. Thanks for dropping by!

Radioguy from Maine on April 20, 2011:

Wow! This is great! At a church supper once, everyone took a number on the way in. Those with odd numbers had a feast of turkey or steak with dessert and the even numbers had a third world meal of mostly fish and rice. I got the fish and rice deal. It was an eye-opener!

Bumpsysmum from Cambridgeshire on April 20, 2011:

I have done this, but as so rightly said it was by choice and for a limited time, can't imagine doing it for months or even years with no chance of any alternative, great hub :-)

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on April 20, 2011:

Kashmir, it is a total shame. A shame to us all, really. And yes, the little challenge that we did, was an eye-opener to this reality. Thanks for the great comment! Take care.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on April 20, 2011:

RHW, we really are pampered, aren't we? I didn't realize how much so, until trying this for myself. I know what you mean about dinner time. I think we as women who cook derive great pleasure out of making a meal for our family as an act of love, and how hard if we can't show them that love.

It hit me how hard it must be for the parents to not be able to provide for their families. That's harder than going without, yourself.

Thanks SO much for the encouragement! Take care!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on April 20, 2011:

Hi prairieprincess, It is such a shame that some people in the world only have beans and rice to eat everyday . I bet it made you appreciate what you do have .

Awesome and vote up !!!

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on April 20, 2011:

I'm so surprised you had the courage to even try it! I think I would have admired those that did but I probably wouldn't have tried at all! We are pampered Americans.

I also have dinner time very night and it is our family time. The kids tell us the highs and lows of the day or other interesting stuff:) I can imagine them giving me dirty looks if I only put that on the table:). Excellent hub! Eye opening - in fact I'm going to ask the girls what they think of it!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on April 19, 2011:

Simone, that's great! It is a very healthy meal, and a complete protein, at that. I, too, have lived off of beans and rice as my main meal. It can actually be delish! But having ONLY those items, with no sauces, no beverage, nothing else ... it didn't seem to be enough. And so bleak!

Thanks so much for your kind comment. Take care!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 19, 2011:

Hahaa, I've lived off rice and beans of my own free will for quite a few days (cheap, easy, nutritious!) but I agree that there's something dreadfully unfair about so many people not having a choice about this. What a cool exercise you tried- and great Hub!

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