A lot of people recently participated in the Live Below the Line challenge: $1.50 (or less) spent daily for food, for five days. This figure somewhat reflects what the average world citizen lives on, and was part of a fundraising event sponsored by a number of different organizations, including Opportunity International and the World Poverty Project.
Contrast this with the Food Stamp Challenge, which resurfaces every now and then as people struggle to understand how welfare recipients make use of their allotted funds — $6-7 daily for one person, $12 for two and so on. (Yup, four or more times more than the world challenge amount.)
I participated in the Live Below the Line challenge, and found it interesting, albeit a bit boring. The Brick joined me, giving us $15 to work with. What did I get for that 5 days?
- 2 pounds rice
- 1 1/2 pounds beans
- 1 red pepper, 1 onion
- 1 pound carrots
- 1 stick margarine
- 1 dozen eggs
- 1 pkg. (18) corn tortillas
- 1 pound grated mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 pound coffee
- 1 gallon milk
A few lessons emerged right away:
- If we wanted our coffee – a sticking point, according to the Brick – we were going to have to sacrifice. That $3.50 could have bought some meat. A chicken could have been roasted, for example, with leftovers going into soup and casseroles. More veggies – a few snacks – or some desserts.
- I had to save as much as possible on every single item. The milk was on sale; so was the red pepper. And I found the cheese at a stunning $2/lb, thanks to a grocery salvage store.
- Hooray for rice and beans! It’s filling, the ingredients complement each other nutritionally, and they stuff a fine burrito. No wonder many countries feature this combination as a national dish.
- Sauces, spices and oils/fats help vary things up. This money didn’t provide much for any of those…but with planning, it could.
- We used foods we ate normally — just less of them. We had to, to keep in the limits. (Frankly, we could both stand to lose a little weight – and did.)
What was on the menu? Here’s the boring part — we ate much the same foods every day. A fried egg and two cheese-topped tortillas for breakfast. A bowl of beans, sprinkled with cheese, with a handful of carrots for lunch. Supper’s menu featured either a beans-and-chopped-veggies burrito, or fried rice with the same veggies, plus an egg stirred in. A blessed cup of coffee started things off each day, and a glass of milk now and then (whole milk, thinned down with 3 or 4 cups of water to make it ‘skim’) helped fill the stomach.
Plenty of people, including a food bank director, have tried the Food Stamp Challenge, and moaned about how limiting it was. Often, though, their struggles focus on the foods they want to eat, versus what they could afford to buy. In other words: plenty of food, but not all the luxuries we as Americans have become accustomed to.
Try the challenge yourself. See if you can live on $2 or less a day for food, for 2, 3 or 5 days. (Some people do this once a week, as a matter of form.) Then take the extra money you would have spent, and donate it to a worthy cause: Compassion International, The Mennonite Central Committee, or any of those organizations who specialize in feeding the hungry overseas. Your budget will be the same, but you’ll have helped someone in a very concrete way.
And that’s good food for thought.