I’M BACK LIVING ABOVE THE LINE!
And by ‘the line’ I mean the international poverty line under which 1 in 5 people currently live. In monetary terms, the international poverty line is the equivalent of what you can buy on just $2AUD a day and for the last five days I fed myself on this amount as part of a challenge called Live Below the Line to get a glimpse of what living in extreme poverty is like. In reality it really was only a glimpse, since if I was really living below the poverty line, $2 would not only have to cover my food and drink, it would also have to cover my transport costs, education, medical expenses, housing and utilities and everything else in life.
This is a reality that I strongly believe is unjust, which is why I took part in this challenge with the Global Poverty Project.
This is the third year I’ve taken the challenge and… let me tell you… it doesn’t get any easier.
The first year, I didn’t buy much food, but I had lots of variety. I had pangs of hunger the whole week and was so glad when I got to finish. I didn’t want to do it again.
In 2012, I did the opposite and prioritised quantity over variety, thinking that it was better to go without taste rather than go without enough to eat. Boy, was I wrong. Last year was so tough. It was a challenge to stay hydrated. It’s unimagingable and unacceptable that people must walk kilmoetres every day to get clean drinking water or go to school under these conditions. It was extremely difficult to concentrate (I failed a university assignment for the first and only time!) and on one day… I cried for no reason at all. I spent the whole of the final day of the challenge in bed and, for some inexplicable reason, woke up covered in bruises. I don’t bruise very easily at all; I might get one or two bruises a year if I take a hefty knock. So I’m putting the bruises down to malnourishment, even after just 5 days. I can’t imagine how this problem would worsen over a lifetime. I attempted to calculate the nutrient deficiencies:
-The protein that I consumed was just 15% of my recommended intake over 5 days.
-The iron that I consumed was just 10% of my recommended intake over 5 days.
-The carbohydrates that I consumed were just 18% of my recommended intake over 5 days.
-The Vitamin C and Calcium that I consumed were just 6% of my recommended intake over 5 days.
-The Sodium that I consumed was just 5% of my recommended intake over 5 days.
-The Potassium that I consumed was just 0.5% of my recommended intake over 5 days.
This year, I decided to return to the initial strategy and prioritise flavour. My lovely friend Freya accompanied me to the markets to get the most bang for my buck.
I couldn’t afford any greens :(
…But bought plenty of carrots…
…And three pieces of fruit.
Last year I had no fresh fruit and veggies apart from carrots – and really suffered because of it. The fruit really helped this year.
Here’s how I spent my $10AUD for the week:
$2.40 – Lentils
0.81c – Fruit (two apples, one pear)
0.79c – Carrots
0.99c – Bread
$2.10 – Spices (cinnamon, sugar, salt, cumin, smoked paprika, chilli, and curry mix)
$1.20 – Butter 1.20
$1.70 – Oats
For this recipe plan:
Oats boiled in water, with cinnamon and sugar
Smoked paprika & chili lentil burger, on buttered toast
Lentil dhal, with oat roti
One third of a piece of fruit or one piece of cinnamon toast or unlimited carrots
I ended up swapping out 50 grams of lentils for three teabags. Yes, tea is a priority for me. I definitely didn’t miss those lentils during the week – I actually had a bit of a lentil surplus since I barely touched the lentil dhal. I’m not a big dinner eater at the best of times and, despite the spices, the dhal was very bland. By Wednesday, I preferred to go hungry than force it down. In reflection, it would have been better to spend less on spices and more on tea.
When I finished last year’s terrible experience living below the line, I was so relieved. My first thought was: I don’t have to do this again for twelve whole months. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could do it again.
I dreaded every day in the fortnight leading up to Live Below the Line 2013, particularly since I knew Tom was going to be working away – last year I relied on him so heavily: to peel and cut up my carrots and gently pass them to me while I lay in his lap and wept from self-pity. Embarrassing? Very. I like to think this year I showed a little more resilience. I made it through. It took some mental preparation… Mainly watching episodes of One Tree Hill and taking comfort in knowing that my teenage idol, Sophia Bush (a.k.a Brooke Davis) was also doing the challenge. And planning my first meals ‘above the line’.
When I finished, I was so relieved. For the third year in a row, my first thought was: I don’t have to do this again for twelve whole months.
When May rolls around again, will I sign up? Maybe – Live Below the Line raises vital funds for fighting extreme poverty. Live Below the Line also raises awareness for extreme poverty, encouraging new supporters to help fight extreme poverty every year. But the main reason I’ve kept repeating this experience because it’s truly grounding to understand a part of what over a billion people experience as their daily reality.
At the end of five days, I get to start my life again as normal. The reality is that over a billion people in the world can’t simply make the choice to start eating more. They are constrained by a lack of choice, not just in the quantity, quality, and variety of food; people living in extreme poverty face difficult choices between health care, education, shelter, and adequate food because $2 cannot cover it all.
I’m so thankful that, by virtue of where I was born, I have the opportunity to choose my future. And so I choose to make a difference where I can, through taking challenges like Live Below the Line, and through shopping for ethical products that support people living on just $2AUD per day or less.
Let’s end on a high note, shall we? When I first took the Live Below the Line challenge in 2011, the World Bank reported that 1.4 billion people lived in extreme poverty. This year, the World Bank reported that 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty. We know how to improve people’s lives and it’s happening. I am so excited to be a part of change.