Surviving on $2.25 a day
1 Oct – A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that my flatmates had all decided to Live Below the Line with the Global Poverty Project, so by proximity (and of my own free will), I found myself also participating. It has been an interesting experience living on just $2.25 a day and gaining a glimpse into the lives of 1.4 billion people in the world living in extreme poverty. The challenge is to do this for five days and I have to say, I’m glad I’m not doing it alone.
When I wrote this, there is still one more day to go and it has been an interesting journey. There are four of us in my flat so together we had $45 dollars to spend for the five days. The shopping trip was agonising and in the end hard calls were made: bread is exchanged for cabbage, milk is diluted with water and tea deemed necessary to stave off hunger and maintain hospitality in the house. Other interesting diets I’ve heard of include one person who decided to live off the McDonalds dollar menu and another who opted for all raw foods.
For us, we only have to make the call between what foods to eat – in reality those living below the poverty line have to make their $2.25 stretch to cover their rent, school, clothes and other expenses as well as food. The hard calls made would affect more than just a week’s worth of meals.
At this very moment, my dinner of rice and dhal has almost completed digested and I can feel the low hum of hunger returning. After eating rice for every meal, it begins to feel unsatisfying after a day or two. Flavoursome and nutritious food is such a luxury which most people cannot afford. The low ache has been a constant accompaniment to my day, festering my thoughts in every quiet moment. There is a sense of tangible desperation as I stare at the lady in front of me munching on an apple…
I think this week has given me some insights into the importance of food which we take for granted when it is readily available to us. It is hard to imagine such a basic necessity taken away from you. Most of our diet this week has been carbohydrates and it is noticeable how it affects our concentration and motivation levels. The issue with food security is that it is not just about having enough to eat, but eating well. Not eating well affects one’s ability to make good decisions and to think clearly.
It is easy to criticise parents, come up with excuses for rising food prices, cut benefits and turn a blind eye when your belly is full. In reality, we are all driven by the same human need for food and for good food. I doubt most of the politicians trying to come up with a solution to deal with child poverty have experienced the feeling of perpetual hunger, the sense of not being able to buy food whenever desired. Perhaps if the decision-makers could walk a day in the shoes of those they make decisions for, then they would face these issues with the same urgency and desperation it really deserves. I mean what priority can be higher than having our basic needs met? And what could be more basic than food?
- from Cathy Bi, a graduate of Development Studies, and member of Urban Vision in Newtown, Wellington.