I’m nearing the end of my week of low-cost meals, and it’s been interesting. I’ll list a day-by-day at the end of the post so you can see what I’ve been living on, but this post is more about what I’ve been doing and what I learned. Chief among them, I spent the wee eating $1.50 worth of food each day, which has been interesting. It wasn’t impossible and it wasn’t crippling, but it wasn’t easy.
I lost choice. My selection for meals was drastically reduced when considering the budget and the schedule. Planning ahead led to small meals in anticipation that I wouldn’t have enough for later, so I was always looking for the most filling but most inexpensive option, which is scarce. This is especially compared to my normal diet. Even if I avoid fast food and restaurants and make my own food at home it is usually comprised of meat (expensive) and layers of goods (think burgers, nachos, pasta – all with tons of extras). When it came to finding food this time I was restricted to the inexpensive and the simple: rice, noodles, beans and the like.
Food gets boring. The slim pickings also led to boredom with food. The third time I was eating rice I was far less enthused. I’ve eaten the same food a lot before, but I usually have the option to change it – add something here or mix it up a little – and that option goes away. No choice means things get pretty bland, and there are only a few ways around that.
I drink too much soda. That is not news. Like, not at all. I routinely drink three to four sodas a day, and I knew that would be my biggest hurdle of this challenge. On Monday I had a headache by 5 o’clock, and I sacrificed some budget for a soda. I decided that, in an effort to stymie the headaches, I would set aside 37 cents for a soda each day. This kept pains away, but also cut down on my budget even more.
I’m faking it. I’m clearly not living the same life as someone under the poverty line. There were several occasions in which I fell back on society’s cheap, overly preserved foods. Nearly every meal was made with a luxury appliance: stove, rice cooker, microwave, something. Most people living below the poverty threshold do not have these opportunities. They can’t toss a potato in the microwave or grab 16 cent Ramen noodles. They also don’t have a VIP card at the local Fry’s to grab all the ingredients they could ever need. A meal requires the time, in addition to the money, to get the necessary ingredients before you spend even more time cooking. It reminds me of the Black is for Sunday video (Invisible Children, in case you hadn’t guessed) when Katie tries to make dinner and explains that the second you finish one meal you have to start making the next one. I did not run into that problem. I was able to do my own thing and then make food in a few minutes before carrying on with my own thing – a luxury few of the world’s poor have.
This was just food. I lived off of $1.50 a day – for food. I used utensils and cookware that were already paid for, and I utilized electricity and technology not always available to the less fortunate. And that’s not talking about my fuel expenses, electricity for non-food use, entertainment (cable, internet, what have you) and other expensive items. The poverty line is how much you make, it’s how much you have to spend on everything.
In summary, I’m just about done. In yesterday’s 2nd hour and this morning I talked with some students about all sorts of food, which made me crazy-hungry all day. BUT! I haven’t felt full since Sunday, and it’s been a very interesting challenge. I’m going to say that it was informative or empowering or whatever – but it was something worth doing. I learned a thing or two about food and I was able to bring up the issue of poverty with several dozen teenagers. All in all, I’m glad I did it and I’d gladly do it again. For more information on the campaign, go to LiveBelowtheLine.com, or you can look at the Global Poverty Project. Also, my friend Erik used to work for ACF International, which runs food security programs all over the world – kind of like an anti-hunger welfare system. While I am not familiar enough with any of these groups enough to endorse them, I think they are all worth a look.
Meals I Ate This Week
Monday: Steamed rice (45 cents), a soda (37 cents), and two packets of Ramen (28 cents)
Tuesday: Two eggs (24 cents), a soda (37 cents), and two more eggs (24 cents)
Wednesday: Two Pop Tarts (68 cents), a soda (37 cents), and one half of a Kraft Mac’n'Cheese (45 cents)
Thursday: Seven ounces of rice (49 cents), two eggs (24 cents), potato (40 cents), and a soda (37 cents)
Friday: One Pop Tart (34 cents), approximately 15 ounces of pink lemonade from a student (18 cents), pasta made up of two ounces of spaghetti noodles (10 cents) and four ounces of Ragu pasta sauce (16 cents).