the MANA challenge

The MANA Challenge

by Stephanie B. Jilcott

What is MANA? MANA stands for Mother Administered Nutritive Aid ( MANA nutrition is a non-profit company producing Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), which is an energy and nutrient-dense paste used in developing countries to coax severely malnourished children back to life.

What does MANA taste like? Well, MANA is 500 calories per packet, so it is quite heavy. It is made of peanuts, milk powder, oil, sugar, and multivitamins. So it tastes somewhat like peanut butter cake icing. YUM!

What is the MANA Challenge? Mark Moore, MANA founder, conceptualized the challenge. He described it to me as eating three MANA packets per day: MANA and coffee for breakfast, MANA with banana for lunch, and MANA with bread for dinner. Mark did not specify how much coffee, banana, or bread one might eat with each MANA packet. “But ultimately,” he said, “the MANA Challenge can be whatever you make it to be.”

Why the MANA Challenge? To be able to empathize more closely with the kids that might be eating the MANA one day, for real, because they have no other options and are facing serious sickness and death.

What was my MANA Challenge? I decided that to increase my potential ‘longevity’ on the Challenge (I was aiming for three days at a minimum), I would eat two MANA packets plus coffee, banana, and bread, plus unlimited raw fruits and vegetables. It would be ‘against the rules’ for me to eat salsa, marinara, or any other mixed or seasoned vegetable dishes. Alcohol and meat were also off limits. But because I have low bone density, I decided I could also eat MANA with LoYo (Local Yogurt). So my Challenge was not that challenging, theoretically. Except that when I tried to actually DO the Challenge, I kept running into all kinds of hardships. Such as (1) it was really cold outside (which makes most people hungrier), (2) the kind couple (Rachel and her husband, Bryant) I am currently living with offered me cooked butternut squash (and who can say no to cooked butternut squash?), and (3) the same couple bought me a chocolate cupcake (to celebrate me winning a 5k).  Various other smallish such challenges kept making my Challenge especially difficult.

On Day 1 of the Challenge, I withstood the cupcake temptation, but justified eating the cooked butternut squash by saying to myself, “Well, I never get to eat butternut squash, and it is not seasoned anyway…”

On Day 2 of the Challenge, I withstood all manner of temptation, but at the end of the day, was really craving something spicy. MANA is very sweet and I had been eating sweet or bland foods all day. And it was cold outside. And I had a rough day. So I devoured some salsa on a salad.

On Day 3, I gave up. I was tired of the MANA taste early in the morning. And I had a special work lunch to go to…And my friends were having people over for dinner. …

SO I GAVE UP.  I lasted only 2 days on my easy MANA Challenge.

What did the Challenge teach me? That I am a craver…the MANA Challenge reminded me of my natural inclination to crave what I cannot or do not have. It reminded me of my tendency to satiate and satisfy my cravings, rather than denying the temporal cravings and going to the Eternal Source that wholly satiates and satisfies. It reminded me of my tendency to justify breaking rules, instead of admitting my weakness and need.

The Israelites had issues with cravings, too. As I embarked upon the MANA Challenge, I was reading some about manna in the Bible. Here are some references: “It was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Ex 16:31).  “And the children of Israel did eat the manna forty years, until they came …. unto the borders of the land of Canaan” (Ex 16:35).

So they ate it for 40 years! Old Testament scholars say the Israelites had other food to eat besides the manna. Yet they still craved other food. Numbers 11: 4 – 6 “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at …”

I believe God can use our human cravings to point to the one true Manna:”I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:48-51 RSV)

That is what He did for me during the MANA Challenge.


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