By PAUL ERLANDSON
One in seven humans on Earth live on what is known as a subsistence diet – just enough food to survive each day, according to the World Food Programme, which boasts itself to be the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger.
One in four children experience stunted growth because of it. Many people in impoverished nations do not have clean drinking water, and travel far and wide just to quench their thirst. Poor nutrition accounts for nearly half of all deaths in children under the age of 5.
These are some of the staggering facts Kensington Community Church imparts on its congregation on a weekly basis. In this season of giving, members of its congregation made a commitment to helping the hungry by committing to a strict one-week diet of rice and beans – for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“I never realized how I just quenched whatever urge I had with food.” said Clint Dupin, a senior pastor at the Kensington campus in Birmingham. “The money that you save from not eating out or spending on groceries will go to 10 initiatives.”
Recently, Kensington Church – which also has campuses in Troy, Orion, Clinton Township and Orlando, Fla. – raised more than $1 million through a fundraiser in which people and businesses sponsored runners at the Detroit Free Press Marathon. The goal: drill clean water wells for impoverished Kenyans – one of those 10 initiatives the church has emphasized.
“We don’t want people to just run on the treadmill of faith at church and when they leave here find out that they haven’t really gotten anywhere,” said Dave Shuman, a minister at the church, “Money doesn’t solve problems, action does.
“We feel like our eyes need to be opened in an entirely new way.”
At the end of a recent Sunday service, everyone who wanted to make the commitment picked up a small burlap sack containing a daily tracker – to help keep an account of money saved on the diet – and a small bag of rice, a small bag of beans, and a recipe for “Frijoles de Negros.”
The packet included a note that read: “Most of the world lives on what we call an existing diet – just enough food to survive each day. This week commit to joining them by eating rice and beans for every meal, then use the money you save to help people around the block and around the world.”
The opportunity was widely received.
“I would say that at least half of our people will follow through with this,” parishioner Jason Combs said. “Most people will see it as a way to give money, I think.”
After service on Sunday, Nov 10, the #eatlessgivelife tag was trending on Twitter and Instagram. Yet as the week dragged on, the reality of a diet consisting of only rice and beans began to make itself painfully known in the stomachs of the congregation.
The rules of the diet were simple: eat only rice and beans. Ingredients like salt and pepper or spices and seasonings that were already in the cupboard were an exception to the rule.
“Americans are the only ones that are trying to cut corners and trying to figure it out,” said Dupin. “Rather than just going, ‘alright I need to do this and I am committing to it,’ there’s no such word as try. It’s either do it or not.”
All along the journey, tweets decreased and Instagram photographs containing the hashtag right along with them. The images that began to pop up midweek were that of rice and beans dressed up in tortillas and cloaked in salsa and cheese and extra added ingredients…
“I went through statements to get an idea how much I was spending,” said Usher Tom Martin, 60, of Lake Orion. “It was difficult to figure it out, but I rounded it out to be about $250 a week, including toiletries and what not. We didn’t just eat rice and beans for the thing. You gotta mix it up a bit. I think I lost about six pounds!”
Alex Morgan 25, of Rochester, stuck to his commitment, and he said it was enlightening.
“I did rice and beans, but more so not going out to eat and not buying food and eating what I already had stored to save money.
“The beans took especially long to cook. You wanted to reach out and get normality, but this way you get to normalize with other peoples’ suffering.”
One week later, the church opened up the sermon with a little tweak on the classic rap, “ice-ice baby” with “rice-rice baby” continuing the experimental fast for those who wished to take it all the way to Thanksgiving. It also offered the challenge to those who missed out on it from the previous week.
A week into the beans-and-rice challenge, the parishioners’ savings were tallied up. The church had raised an astounding $150,000 from the experiment – and the projected sum was anyone’s guess.
“Poverty really is a lack of options,” said Mike Nelson, one of the church leaders. “I mean, we have 30 different varieties of Oreos, and these people can’t choose between rice and beans. What I learned is that the decisions that we make to use money to make ourselves more comfortable could be used to benefit others.”
For more information about the diet and its goals, visit: www.KensingtonChurch.org/riceandbeans