My Refugee Week Ration Challenge Experience

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I did the Refugee Week Ration Challenge this year, where from June 18 to 25 I ate only the rations that a refugee in a camp in Jordan would receive through the Act for Peace charity. I did this to raise money for this important overseas aid program, and so far I’ve raised $1287, which is enough to send 35.5 Syrian girls to school! There’s still time to donate if you’re interested – the link is here.

A lot of people were curious to see how the week went, so here’s what happened…

Preparation

I’m getting my rations together. In addition to the food that came in my refugee ration box, I have a couple of “food stamps” to cash in, and some extras that I’ve managed to earn through fundraising (thank you so much to the kind people who donated!) There’s essentially no fresh food, and way more carbs and less protein than I’m used to.

  • 1920 g of rice: I… hate rice. I know this makes me a bad Asian, but my parents used to force me to eat more rice so I’d grow big and strong. I bought both medium and long grain rice for this challenge to give myself some variety, but I’m not sure changing the shape a tiny bit is going to make a difference. I’ve never voluntarily cooked rice before either, except for risotto.
  • 400 g flour: This is a bit more exciting but it’s plain flour, not self-raising, and there isn’t that much to mix it with.
  • 400 g tinned kidney beans: I’m not a huge fan of beans, but it should at least taste a little different!
  • 85 g dried chickpeas: Really not into these, and I’ve never seen them in dried form before, so at least it’ll be an experience!
  • 170 g dried lentils: The one time I cooked lentils they got charred to a crisp (the only time I’ve properly burned food). Bodes well.
  • 125 g tinned sardines: I started eating sardines a while ago to boost my omega 3 intake, but got bored pretty quickly.
  • 300 mL vegetable oil: At least it’s not a carb!

Refugee Week Ration Challenge 2017

This works out to be under the minimum energy requirements for the average adult, but it’s what refugees survive on (and sometimes there isn’t enough to go around, so they have to share!).

I’ve also earned some extras through my fundraising efforts:

  • 50 g sugar: 50 g of sugar is REALLY LITTLE, you guys. It doesn’t even fill two shot glasses. It’s 12.5 teaspoons which sounds like a fair bit, but that’s less than two teaspoons a day. I’m planning to mix it into rice porridge with cinnamon and milk powder to make desserts.
  • 120 g protein: Lean mince. I decided this would be the easiest to split up over the week, and I’ve decided to start with less and ramp up in case the week gets too unbearable.
  • 170 g vegetable: At first I picked frozen spinach, again because it’s easy to divide and cook and nutritious, but later on I’ll have a change of heart and switch to onion.
  • 70 g milk powder: This was a reward for joining a team. It actually smells delicious, and it’s so fluffy that 70 g looks like heaps! It’s equivalent to half a litre of milk.
  • 12 teabags: I’m usually quite picky with my tea and drink looseleaf oolong, but to make it more authentic for the challenge I’m going to be drinking teabagged oolong – quelle horreur! (I can’t quite make the switch to black tea, but this brand of oolong is super cheap so I feel like it’s fair.)
  • Unlimited spices: Because I’ve joined a team, I get to use their chosen spices as well, yay! We’ve decided on chilli, cumin, stock powder and cinnamon. I put them into little baggies so I can have them on hand, because the food looks terribly bland. It looks a bit shifty.

My Refugee Week Ration Challenge Experience

  • 2 teaspoons coffee: A reward for having a team of 4. I’m not a coffee drinker so this is for flavour only.
  • $5 treat: I split this with two other teammates so we have $1.67 each to spend on a treat of our choice.

The organisers helpfully sent out a meal plan, which looks like this:

My Refugee Week Ration Challenge Experience

No surprise, there’s way too much rice for my liking!

Unfortunately I have to work on Sunday, so on Saturday night I’m rushing around preparing food for the next few meals (can’t grab lunch on the go this week!). I make Mushid Dera (rice and lentils), congee (rice and water) and flatbreads. Because I’m terrible at making dough, I manage to add way too much water, so I scrap it and start again without thinking. The rice also starts sticking to the base of the pan, and I manage to save it without too much damage. It suddenly strikes me that if I were a refugee, that would be a day’s worth of meals gone. Burning food is an annoyance for us, but a disaster for them.

Day 1

It’s Sunday and I have to go into work, which I think could be a good thing since I won’t be near my kitchen… but it turns out that my coworkers have decided to cook Korean barbecue meats on the sandwich press and it smells amazing. They borrow some of my cumin. Luckily when they were cooking I wasn’t too hungry, but near the end of the day the lingering scent is starting to make my stomach growl. I discover that sprinkling different spices over the Mushid Dera gives it a bit of variety. Luckily I get unlimited water, even though that’s not always the case in refugee camps.

My Refugee Week Ration Challenge Experience

I pick up the remaining supplies on my way home, but can’t resist picking up some Easy Mac and shortbread for next week. I stash them in the back of my cupboard and try to forget about them.

It turns out I’m bad at cooking rice, so the congee didn’t have enough water and it’s turned into mushy rice overnight. Frying it dries it out a bit.

Unexpected discovery – fried rice mixed with a tiny spoonful of mashed up sardines is actually pretty tasty! I fry it so some of it goes brown and crispy, so the change is texture is quite exciting. I resolve to fry all my rice from now on…then remember there’s only 300 mL of oil, plus whatever’s in the sardine can. I save sardine oil fried rice for Friday, when I expect I’ll be struggling the most and will need a pick-me-up (sardine oil as a pick-me-up…sheesh).

I figured that Day 1 would be easiest, so I decided to save most of my bonuses for later. This meant that all I ate were carbs with spices and a miniscule amount of sardines.

I make a rice porridge with milk powder, a teaspoon of sugar and cinnamon for breakfast tomorrow, and taste-test a couple of spoonfuls for dessert. Unfortunately it still tastes like rice.

My Refugee Week Ration Challenge Experience

  • Lunch: Mushid Dera (rice and lentils) with chilli, chicken powder and cumin
  • Snack: Flat bread bites with spices
  • Dinner: Fried rice with 1 tsp sardines, chicken powder and cumin
  • Dessert: Two spoons of rice porridge with milk powder, sugar and cinnamon
  • Beverages: 1 tea bag
  • Hunger: Pretty damn hungry
  • Sadness: Sad about missing out on Korean BBQ
  • Energy: I’m a little light-headed
  • Food cravings: Korean BBQ when I smell it, but otherwise not too bad.

Day 2

This is my day off work and I usually spend it rushing around trying to get blog stuff sorted for the week ahead. I’ve been planning a video on DIY sunscreen for a while so I work on the slides for that, and try really hard not to think about food. The coffee rice porridge is actually quite nice.

I get a phone call from the Ration Challenge congratulating me for doing so well which is lovely – plus they confirm that our team gets 8 teabags or 4 teaspoons of coffee EACH as our team reward! For lunch, I can’t really deal with rice and lentils again so I fry it up with oil which makes it delicious, but it’s gone much faster than I’d like. I’ve been contemplating starting on the frozen spinach, but realise what I really want is extra flavour, so I switch to onion instead. 170 g of onion turns out to be a whole brown onion which seems like way too much! I give half the onion to my teammates and mince the rest to dole out slowly over the rest of the challenge.

  • Breakfast: Coffee rice porridge
  • Lunch: Mushid Dera (rice and lentils) with chilli, chicken powder and cumin
  • Snack: Flat bread bites with spices
  • Dinner: Fried rice with 1 tsp sardines, chicken powder and cumin
  • Beverages: 1 tea bag
  • Hunger: Super hungry!
  • Sadness: Pretty short-tempered but not too sad
  • Energy: Decent, but my brain is starting to not work as well as it normally does
  • Food cravings: Anything other than rice

Day 3

Back to work, and I have a dance performance that night, which sounds bad but it’s actually physically easier than a real class because the performance only lasts 5 minutes. However, I’m terrible at remembering choreography, and the hunger is making my brain feel a little cloudy (“rice brain” as the Ration Challenge info pack calls it). I’ve also been doing more dumb things:

  • Lost my phone in the house 3 times
  • Got my hair caught in the hair dryer
  • Couldn’t find my laptop case for 4 hours (it turned out to be next to the first place I looked)

The other big thing I’ve noticed is that while I feel full immediately after eating, I’m hungry again very very quickly. I think it’s the high GI – white rice spikes blood sugar very quickly, but it disappears quickly too. I’ve decided to do small frequent means to counteract that.

My boss sends me a news article about how a starvation diet can potentially starve cancer cells to make me feel better about being hungry.

The dance performance goes well – I’m actually quite weirdly energetic! I forget some choreography, which is pretty standard.

Food prep:

  • Lentil soup: Boil lentils in some water with cumin, chilli and stock powder
  • Pancakes: Turns out these are WAY easier than flatbreads! Just mix flour with around twice as much water to make a goopy but pourable mixture, and fry with oil.
  • Hummus: I soaked the chickpeas in water overnight, and they swelled up to a much more impressive size! After boiling, I mash them up with a fork to make a chunky hummus with the usual trio of spices and a bit of minced onion.

 

  • Breakfast: Coffee rice porridge
  • Lunch: Fried rice with a tiny bit of mince, onion and sardines
  • Dinner: Lentil soup
  • Beverages: 2 tea bags
  • Hunger: Better now that I’ve started eating more frequently
  • Sadness: Pretty cheerful!
  • Energy: Bizarrely high
  • Food cravings: Much less

Day 4

Surprisingly I’m not too sore from the performance last night despite the lack of extra protein, although I wake up with my stomach growling. It’s deadline day at work, and I still have 500 pages of material to proofread before we send it to the printer. I usually stress eat my way through this day but since that’s not an option, I blast through on caffeine from my tea bags alone, and divide up my food into little portions for eating every two hours.

I don’t feel too tired, but a few people at work comment that I’m less perky than usual.

I skip my usual lunchtime dance class and opt for a less intense stretch class instead. But this is enough to flatten me because…I get my period! Good timing, body. I’m suddenly tired and cranky and ready to snap at anyone and anything. I have to teach part of a class today and I’m all over the place.

To add to the list of dumb things I’ve done:

  • Slammed my finger in the toilet door really really hard (it’s still sore a week later)
  • Dropped a stack of paper and completely scrambled them.

The trains stop due to a police operation and I miss my dance performance, which is probably for the best. I go home and open the fridge, only to discover that I’ve knocked the sardines over and all of the delicious sardine oil has leaked everywhere and I can’t use it for cooking anymore. I clean it up, eat some lentil soup, fry up some rice and feel sorry for myself. On the bright side, I discover that eating milk powder on its own is actually really tasty (I am a disgusting person).

  • Snacks: Mini pancakes with hummus (eaten over 2 sessions)
  • Lunch: Fried rice with a tiny bit of mince, onion and sardines (eaten over 3 sessions)
  • Dinner: Lentil soup
  • Dessert: Milk powder
  • Beverages: 1 tea bag
  • Hunger: Mild
  • Sadness: Quite.
  • Energy: Low
  • Food cravings: Not really!

Day 5

I go a blog event tonight. These usually have delicious canapes and I’m dreading it, but strangely enough, while I mentally want the food, I don’t really crave it. It’s like I’ve forgotten what food tastes like.

My Refugee Week Ration Challenge ExperienceMy Refugee Week Ration Challenge Experience
I drink a ton of sparkling water, and take home a cupcake for my Sunday post-ration feast. When I get home I’m tired and cranky enough to I scream at a particularly whiny cat, then feel really really guilty. I open the kidney beans, and to my surprise it tastes amazing. I cook up the kidney beans with rice and mince and onion and sardines, gobble it up, then cry a little as I’m going to sleep.

  • Snacks: Mini pancakes with hummus
  • Lunch: Fried rice with a tiny bit of mince, onion and sardines
  • Dinner: Fried rice and beans with mince, onion and sardines
  • Dessert: Milk powder
  • Beverages: 1 tea bag
  • Hunger: Slight
  • Sadness: SO MUCH
  • Energy: Low
  • Food cravings: Too sad to crave

Day 6

Friday! I’ve decided to take today off since I didn’t get a full weekend earlier this week. I vow to wake up early and get lots of stuff done, but instead I only manage to drag myself out of bed at 12 and waste a ton of time laying around doing nothing. My food today is rice and beans again, for lunch and dinner. The beans do add a lot to the rice – there’s extra flavour, and a different texture too.

I take my dinner in my lunch bag over to hang out at a friend’s house – I’m surprisingly still not craving food! I feel a lot better compare to yesterday. More milk powder for dessert certainly helps.

  • Breakfast: Mini pancakes with hummus
  • Lunch: Fried rice and beans with mince, onion and sardines
  • Dinner: Fried rice and beans with mince, onion and sardines
  • Dessert: Milk powder
  • Beverages: 1 tea bag
  • Hunger: Slight
  • Sadness: Less
  • Energy: Low
  • Food cravings: Low

Day 7

Final day! I have work, so afterwards I go to the supermarket and haul hard. I start piling up a tower of food on the kitchen counter to eat the next day: the cupcake, a box of shortbread cookies, a couple of mandarins, a bag of grapes, an avocado…

I must’ve gotten a bit too enthusiastic with my final few rounds of rice frying, because as I bite into a particularly crunchy piece of fried rice, I feel something funny in the back of my jaw…and then a piece of tooth comes out! An actual piece of tooth. I freak out and book an emergency dentist appointment for the next day and pack a cookie in my bag for later. I go to sleep thinking about root canals and how they cost thousands of dollars (luckily it turned out that I only needed a filling, which only cost me $42 thanks to health insurance!)

  • Breakfast: Mini pancakes with hummus
  • Lunch: Fried rice and beans with mince, onion and sardines
  • Dinner: Fried rice and beans with mince, onion and sardines
  • Dessert: Milk powder
  • Beverages: 1 tea bag
  • Hunger: Some
  • Sadness: I can see the light!
  • Energy: Medium, then high as I frantically Google root canals
  • Food cravings: Low

Thoughts on the Week

I’m really glad I took this challenge. I love a good challenge, and it was for a great cause – I’m so happy that I could shed some light on the refugee experience, and raise some much-needed money for them. It was very heartwarming to hear so much positive feedback from people when I told them I was doing the challenge. It was also really eye-opening to actually eat the same food as a refugee, and brought their experiences a bit closer to home! I’d highly recommend joining the challenge next year if you’re toying with the idea!

I hope you’ve been entertained by my struggles during the challenge! If you’d like to donate and haven’t already, there are still a few days left – my page is here.

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6 thoughts on “My Refugee Week Ration Challenge Experience”

  1. I applaud you for sticking to the challenge, it must have been really hard. I do fast two times a week and there always seems to be way more food around on these days than on the others. Plus I love my fresh fruit and vegetables, so having carbs only doesn´t sound really appealing. I can imagine it being eyeopening to actualy feel what it is like in these camps.

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  2. What a wonderful accomplishment! It’s remarkable what just under $1300 can do for less fortunate people. Not only are you are beauty-smarty, you have a kind heart.

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