The Stomach Remembers


This article is part of‘s Urban Intervention experiment. For more information read this.

Day Seven

If you’ve ever eaten a whole box of Arnott’s Shapes you’ll know it makes you feel lethargic and gassy.

But for $1.99 where else am I going to get 200 grams of carbohydrates? Bread? Get real. I’m in the middle of Parramatta, I’m not going to walk around tucking into a whole loaf of bread.

I finish helping out a mate with some leafleting and head to a café in Newtown. I’m promised a free feed but end up splitting the bill. I’m angry at myself for resenting paying my own way. I end up paying $10 for a slice of cheesecake.

Day Eight

I’ve learned to make meals stretch. You can make two scrambled eggs seem like three by adding too much milk and smothering it with sauce.

To be honest it is very possible to feed yourself on $300 a fortnight. But there’s a big difference between restricting your intake for a fortnight and never being able to go over that budget — ever — for years. It’s terrifying. I’ve only eaten meat once since I started this and that was only because I was out with friends.

I’ve still got over a week left and I’m already thinking of a blowout meal for the end of this.

Also, in this experiment I don’t have dependents. I’d get more welfare if I did, but certainly not another $300, which means they’re still eating into my own payments. Besides, many people in Aboriginal communities share with and support people who are not officially dependents.

I tuck into a bowl of pasta for dinner. That’s my remaining vegetables gone. It’s off to the Hoochie Mamma Café and Grocery Store for a restock tomorrow — where my quarantined tab is actually reasonably healthy.

Day Nine

When I get to the grocery store neither the manager, George, nor any of the cashiers I’ve interacted with in the last week are there. No-one has any idea how to process my tab and I can’t buy food.

There was a situation last month in Alice Springs where the Basics Card system — that’s the one that lets people access their quarantined money — malfunctioned and was unavailable for more than 24 hours. People who had travelled into town from the communities around Alice to buy food and essentials had to return empty-handed and the local Centrelink office was reportedly closed and unable to explain the failure. It caused a massive inconvenience and there were reports of people going without food, babies going without nappies, etc.

In planning for this Urban Intervention experiment, the editor and I discussed the possibility of our simulating this event, but then we decided that since I knew about it, it wouldn’t be as effective, so we scrapped the idea.

But good news — it happened coincidentally!

The woman at the checkout is stern, confident and fairly unempathetic as she tells me there is no way she could sell me my beans, bread and Vegemite. When you’re in a line at the shops, all your frustration is reduced to timidity by the impatient, judgmental shoppers behind you. I managed to mumble, "I guess I can put them back". I hung my head and shrunk as I stacked the beans, right side up with the label facing outwards, on the shelf. On my way back to the front of the shop my stomach ached, I was sweating and freaking out.

At home I only have eggs — no milk, no bread, no sauce. Eggs. I put on three as soon as I get back. Once I finish them I only have two left, I’m yet to eat lunch or dinner and I can’t go to the shops. I could have bought food with my unquarantined money, but I know it wouldn’t last the remaining four days if I ate into it now.

At 7:45pm my stomach gets the better of me, however, and on the way to a friend’s place to watch a game of soccer I buy a sandwich for $3.60. That and the three eggs are all I eat for the day.

Day Ten

Hoochie Mamma came good and I stocked up. It’s a cool place to shop if you’re not consumed by hunger-fuelled fury.

That same impotent fury that’s been building up over the last few days makes me want to escape my apartment. I’ve been staying in to avoid spending money, eating poorly and sleeping worse, so I want to get back to normalcy. I can’t keep trekking over to the eastern suburbs — the trips back are too ridiculous — but, as one of the conditions of this experiment, I can’t drink alcohol in my local area (Newtown), so I decide to go to a mate’s place in Petersham.

I’ve got $32.60 left, and I put aside $10 for alcohol.

There’s no ticket gates at Newtown or Petersham station and the transit police aren’t about at this time, so I hop a train for free.

Day Eleven

When I wake up I’m covered in shit — which turns out to be Nutri-Grain, dried corn and glass. I’m on a couch, in a lounge room, with a drum kit that’s been knocked over. The snare has been tossed to the other side of the room. Covering the floor is spaghetti, red wine, rice paper, clothing, and a shitload more glass.

My first thought isn’t, "What happened to my friend’s house?", it’s "Shit! I must have spent more than $10".

I have. I’ve spent $15 and as petty as that may sound to you, it hurt. A lot. While my bewildered friends cure their hangovers with grease, burgers and chips, I decide there’s no way I’m spending my remaining $17.20 on takeaway food.

When my stomach remembers that for dinner last night I had alcohol the problem gets worse. For the first time in a few days I have a fridge full of bread and baked beans and milk, but I can’t force myself into the rain when I’m this hungover so I can get back there.

I hammer down Panadol and water until around 7:00pm when I finally hop another train back to Newtown where I rip open a loaf of bread and start eating it dry.

Hey, where else am I going to get 200 grams of carbohydrates?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.