From the Live Below the Line website:
"Close to a quarter of the world's population lives below the extreme poverty line, which means they have just AU$2 a day or less to cover all their daily expenses - housing, education, health, transport and food.
Surviving on such a tiny amount, almost all their income must be spent on food. Even then, they can generally only afford two basic meals a day.
They have little to no money left for the other necessities of life - and if anything ever goes wrong they have no safety net to rely on. They are often the victims of broken systems: lacking access to the education, services and the job opportunities they need to break the cycle of poverty.
Live Below the Line seeks to combat extreme poverty in two distinct ways: raising funds for educational opportunities in the developing world, and creating widespread awareness of this important issue (HINT: conversations are the key!)."
I've always thought I was pretty frugal. But having a skimpy AU$10 to spend on food for 5 days? That's a big challenge. One I wasn't sure I could meet.
I decided to give it an early go, last week, and I am glad to say that I have emerged triumphant. Yes, it's possible. No, it's not easy. Yes, I now appreciate what I have, more than ever... and I hope this post will go a little way towards contributing to the cause and the conversation.
|A Golden Delicious apple. With its droopy stem, it almost seems as if this apple sympathises with my plight.|
First things first. This is a food blog, after all, and I'll bet you want to know what I ate over those 5 days, and how I suffered. (Yes you do, you schadenfreudenistic ol' pal, you!)
The key is to plan ahead. Fortunately, I shop for food often, so I have a list of usual suspects, in terms of the type of things I can usually get cheaply, and when and where to get them.
I knew this was going to be a big week for carbohydrates - pasta or rice was definitely on the table. Another aim was to get some cheap protein, either tofu, canned sardines, eggs or offal. I also thought about lentils or chickpeas, and I hoped to have enough left over to squeeze in some fruits and green vegetables.
Markets tend to go crazy in the half an hour leading up to closing time, especially on the weekends. Sometimes you can get great value on staples in ethnic grocery stores. The big supermarkets will occasionally turn up with a decent discount.
One way of looking at this is to think about how many calories/kilojoules you need to keep you going for 5 days, and what you can buy with your money to get close to that figure. You want something that will fill you up, and hopefully be reasonably nutritious too.
So draft out a tentative meal plan before the challenge, but be prepared to be flexible, and keep an eye out for good deals. Once you get your ingredients, draft out a properly adjusted meal plan. I spent most of my money during the days leading up to the actual event, but had a couple of dollars reserved, which I was very glad to have for the wriggle room it provided. I spent most of that towards the end of my challenge, and even managed to splurge on ice cream and chocolate! Guilty glee!
What I bought:
I sourced most of my fresh produce from South Melbourne Market, and dried staples from Cato in Prahran. If I'd been organised enough, I would've also made a trip to Aldi and Queen Victoria Market, where I suspect I would've gotten more bang for my buck. I got my condiments from Japanese grocery Fujimart in South Yarra, where I was lucky enough to find heavily discounted individual miso sachets.
I did this on my own, but if you can get someone to participate in the challenge with you, you get to pool your money and share the bounty, which means more buying power, and better variety.
Oh, and one more thing. If you're not at home most of the time, get used to preparing your food well in advance, then packing it and bringing it with you. Don't want to sit down at work only to realise you forgot your lunchbox! (Luckily, that never happened to me. Phew.)
But enough talk. Here's what I got for those 5 days, in the order of how much they cost.
500g chicken livers = $2.25
1 bag apples = $1
1 bag potatoes = $1
500g pasta = $1
200g dried chickpeas = $1
1 bag carrots = $0.80
1 head broccoli = $0.70
1 packet spicy Korean instant noodles = $0.55
1 stash chocolate = $0.50
1 McDonald's soft serve ice cream cone = $0.30
4 sachets miso @ $0.05 each = $0.20
1 sachet soy sauce = $0.10
Grand total = $9.40
|That macaroni-like pasta is paternosti lisci, and it works well in soups.|
How I did:
On Sunday night (the day before I started my challenge), I cooked up a big batch of miso pasta stew/soup with the potatoes, carrots and chicken liver, and this formed my main meals for most of the challenge. Whenever I ate this, I was confronted with an odd mix of emotions. Jaded resignation as I faced the same dish again - and yet - anticipatory joy, as this was carefully rationed food that would finally stave off the increasing spectre of hunger.
I was grateful for my apples - I had eight large ones, and I'd have one for breakfast, and sometimes one later in the afternoon or evening as a snack. Crisp, fresh, and tangy, they were just what I needed to break up the monotony of the never-ending pasta soup.
I had boiled chickpeas for brunch a couple of times. They were reasonably filling, though a touch of salt would've been nice.
I found the challenge most daunting on the first day. In fact, I caved in that night and treated myself to an ice cream cone from McDonald's for 30 cents! I adapted to my new routine and expectations soon enough, though, and found the subsequent days somewhat easier to take in stride.
I didn't really socialise much during the challenge, but on Thursday, we had a birthday celebration in the office for a colleague, and I had to forgo cake. (I did sneakily save a slice so I could indulge after I finished the challenge, though...)
On my last day, I got something different for dinner. I had finally ran out of pasta, so I enjoyed spicy noodles with broccoli, plus chocolate for dessert, all of which I bought with some of the leftover money I had. The broccoli gave me as much pleasure as the chocolate, as I had so missed having green vegetables. Hurrah!
And then - I looked forward to midnight, to the dawn of a new day, when everything would return to normal. The occasional snack. The occasional takeaway. The abundance and the variety. All the everyday indulgences I took for granted. The whole world opened up with possibilities again.
For me, at least.
For others, this is their normal, and for them, there is no end in sight. It is a sobering thought, and one that I hope to never take lightly, in the days to come.
For more information on the Live Below the Line challenge (which will run in United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand), or to donate to the cause, please go to the Live Below the Line website here. I can't stomach the idea of doing this all over again for the official challenge, but if you would like to sponsor one of my food blogger friends, fatboo and winceee, that would be great! (Sponsor links now removed as they are no longer valid.)
If you want a breakdown on where the money goes, see here.