147 Meals with Jeff Shinabarger

By Kelly Wickham
Jeff Shinabarger knows something about struggling through the holidays. He’s the author of More or Less: Choosing aLifestyle of Excessive Generosity and learned, one January after the Christmas bills arrived, that he and his wife Andre were in for a financial pinch.

They did what a lot of people do when faced with difficult money situations: they decided to cut back. Jeff and Andre trimmed their budget, pulled back on the “extras” and then Jeff declared this:

We can live for the next month on all the food in our kitchen pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

In a post titled “147 Meals Later” on Huffington Post, Jeff chronicles how they did it and, even better, what they learned from this “intentional experiment”.  Mostly, however, they asked an important question: What is enough food?

The commitment was to go a month without grocery shopping. We lasted seven weeks. I gained seven pounds. It wasn’t healthy, but it became clear we have excess. This simple experiment launched the life-changing question: What is enough in all of life?

What this couple learned was that they had almost 2 months worth of edible foods in their home. It reminds me of how often we look at our full cupboards and shelves and declare, “We have nothing to eat in this house!” Raising teenagers (and surviving it, thank you very much) has taught me that we do this all the time. Often, I have to look in the refrigerator formy children and tell them they can make sandwiches or reheat meals or even use the box mix to make blueberry muffins for a snack. It is a gut check when you look through what you have and realize that it’s a lot. After reading his piece I took my own inventory and learned that I’ve not been a very good steward of my own stuff.

Doing an experiment like this led to Jeff and Andre only purchasing milk when it was an essential, but they implemented a “No-grocery January” as a part of the deal. It worked! They got to the back of the cabinets and the freezer and kept finding treasures they had forgotten about in what Jeff considers their excess.

Jeff’s family had eaten 147 meals just like this when they got a call from a homeless neighbor who stopped by to ask if they had any food.

We have more than enough. We have excess. When we start realizing how much we have been given, we realize the opportunity to give more.

Do a pantry check. Look through the refrigerator. Mostly, though, take stock of all that you have to see where you really do have excess. It’ll shift your perspective for certain. It did for me after reading about his 147 meals. When I consider all that I have, it’s much easier to do, but when I focus on all that I do not possess then it takes this shift in thinking and makes it more me-centered. 

Just this past Wednesday, on Christmas, I was thinking of such things because one big present didn’t arrive until the day after we had opened all our presents. Throughout the week I kept thinking, “I wish the delivery truck would hurry up and get here,” all the while knowing that what I have in excess is already too much. What will one present, showing up a day late, do to my life? The answer was nothing. It didn’t change a thing except make me consider all that I have and the abundance of it. 

Why not be grateful that I had to means to order online in the first place? Why not be thankful that this present was even a possibility? I made my apologies about this one gift being late and my family, the loving and forgiving people they are, were nonplussed over it.

Perhaps this pantry check is more than just what’s in our kitchens. Maybe it’s more than just 147 meals that Jeff and Andre found. Maybe it’s what we find when we come to the shocking realization that we really do have more than we thought.

The question I asked myself, through contemplative gratitude, is: what’s in your pantry? What do you have that you can offer the world just by noticing? How do we teach this invaluable gift to our children?
Thank you, Jeff, for the gift of perspective. Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I will be doing more pantry checks.

Photo and article reprint permissions granted by Jeff Shinabarger

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