In March 1993, New Jersey hip-hop trio Lords of the Underground released their debut studio album, Here Come the Lords. Track 12 is a song called “Sleep for Dinner,” in which they describe the heartbreaking reality of growing up poor and not having enough to eat:
You know my name, they call me Mr. Funke
But back when I was young, they could’ve called me Mr. Hungry
‘Cause there were many days when we had nothing to eat
(What did you do?) What could I do? I went to sleep
Having “sleep” for dinner has become something of an unavoidable life hack for people who are broke — when your fridge and wallet are empty, you can escape your insatiable hunger pangs by entering the blank void of nothingness that sleep provides. As per Urban Dictionary, “This is most commonly used by college students and recent graduates who are drowning in student debt.”
Now, humans have been encountering sleep for dinner since long before Lords of the Underground and student debt existed: Greek physician Hippocrates was a huge proponent of fasting as a therapeutic endeavor, and many ancient civilizations connected to their gods by having sleep (aka nothing) for dinner.
However, self-imposed sleep for dinner is much different than the sleep for dinner that Lords of the Underground depict, and Urban Dictionary is absolutely correct in associating student debt with not having enough to eat. College tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s, the median income for the lower class has barely budged and more than 44 million Americans currently have student loan debt — all of which leads to more sleep for dinner.
The dieting community, as they are wont to do, have attempted to gentrify sleep for dinner by calling it intermittent fasting. But again, self-imposed sleep for dinner is, in my opinion, a spit in the faces of the tens of millions of Americans, many of whom are children, who legitimately struggle to stay fed. This number is only increasing thanks to the coronavirus and our lack of government aid.
As if it needs pointing out, sleep for dinner is far from a reasonable diet. “A lot of people skip dinner because they believe eating at night leads to weight gain,” says dietician and nutrition therapist Rachael Hartley. “There’s this myth that your body ‘shuts down’ at night, so any food will be stored as fat. In reality, your body is still working overnight, using a massive amount of energy to keep your lungs breathing, heart pumping, temperature regulated and to repair tissues. It needs energy — aka calories — for that. Not eating at night often leads to poor sleep and waking up in the middle of the night, which impacts hunger and fullness hormones the next day, as well as glucose regulation, leading to wonky, fluctuating blood sugar levels.”
For anyone out there struggling to afford dinner, Hartley recommends a few budget options: Breakfast for dinner, including toast, scrambled eggs and fresh fruit; canned black beans tossed with rice, and topped with salsa and cheese; or a baked potato stuffed with canned chili and topped with sauteed frozen peppers and onion.
If you need extra help and food banks in your area are unfilled, consider heading over to the many Reddit communities that connect people in need with people willing to share some groceries. Also, make sure to not vote for Trump in November, because his proposed 2021 budget would curb food assistance for millions of Americans, on top of the millions who already struggle to afford food (among other obvious reasons to not vote for him).
If we can get Trump out of office and put more pressure on our politicians to raise wages and pump more money into our federal assistance programs, we can begin the long but entirely possible process of making sure that nobody needs to have sleep for dinner ever again.