Living Below the Line

Written by  April 25, 2014

For the next five days, I'm going to live on $1.75 a day. Here's why.

I am not, by any definition, a “foodie.” I highly suspect that the one time I wrote fanmail to Kraft Dinner (true story) automatically me prohibits me from joining that elite category. I am, however, a girl who likes to eat. A lot. I’m never one to turn down seconds (or thirds or fourths), I thrive on a diet rich with butter and cheese, and you know that Kraft Dinner? I always eat the entire box in one sitting.

That’s why next week is going to be challenging. I’ve signed up to participate in Live Below the Line, a global fundraising initiative. The idea is that for five days, participants live on $1.75 a day for five days “to change the way Canadians think about extreme poverty.”

It sounds easy enough, right? Since I don’t have a normal nine-to-five gig (I telecommute for Verge), I already have an advantage over office peons (other than the luxury of being able to work from wherever I want in the world; blog post on that to come)—I don’t work downtown so eating out doesn’t tempt me. Apart from a coffee addiction, the majority of my meals are made at home. I’m also vegetarian. All this combined with my experience working overseas means that I know my way around a can of beans and a pot of rice.

So really, how hard could eating on $1.75 a day be?

As it turns out, pretty hard. I tracked my meals for one day and factored out the (very) approximate costs.

Breakfast:
•    Homemade cinnamon bun with cream cheese icing. (At about $1.00 per serving, these are also really easy to make.)
•    Banana, raspberry and blueberry smoothie, made with almond milk and chia. ($2.50)
•    Coffee at home. ($0.25)

Lunch:
•    Americano. ($3.50)
•    Pita sandwich with spinach, egg, smoked tempeh, cheddar, avocado and roasted red pepper sauce. ($4.00)
•    Square of chocolate. (Free Easter treats.)

Dinner:
•    Crackers and cheese. (Please don’t judge my laziness. Plus, this “meal”—if you’re willing to call it that—only cost $0.50.)
•    2 cocktails. (Free at an industry event. I thrive off free things.)

Total: $11.75

I was shocked to realize that what one billion people worldwide survive on for a week is what the equivalent to what I eat before noon.

And that’s why initiatives like Live Below the Line are so important. I have to admit that when I first signed up, the challenge to survive on $8.75 for five days felt a bit superficial. But my participation has already sparked conversations with my friends about what poverty looks like globally. I’ll also be fundraising for Youth Challenge International, who I volunteered overseas with in 2006. One of the things we always discuss at Verge is about how overseas volunteers can communicate their experiences and remain actively engaged once they return home. Participating in Live Below the Line is just one small way.

Luckily, I won’t be alone. My roommate Mike has chosen to fundraise for Raising the Village, an organization that supports impoverished communities in Africa. Mike is the designated cook and without his support, things could go horribly awry. The truth is that when it comes to these sort of things, I tend to be woefully underprepared. (This also applies to travel. Case in point: the time I was stopped by immigration officials at the Tokyo airport. When they asked what tourist attractions that I wanted to see in Japan, I struggled to name one. That’s when they pulled out what I like to refer to as “the Big Picture Book of Drugs,” which is unlikely to become a children’s classic. They pointed at a picture of cocaine and started searching through my bags. Lesson learned? Always research at least one major tourist attraction, no matter how obvious, before you attempt to cross a border.) But for those living below the line around the world, they don't have the luxury of being woefully unprepared. And for those who live in extreme poverty, it doesn't end after five days.

I’ll be checking in next week to let you know how I fared. If you have any recipes or ideas, be sure to leave a tip on our Facebook page or send us a tweet @VergeMagazine.

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Jessica Lockhart

Contributing Editor

Although Jessica has travelled to more than 30 countries, her favorite place to throw down her bag is still her hometown of Cold Lake, Alberta. A freelance journalist, Jess has worked for international development organizations and tour operators. She’s conducted workshops in Vanuatu, perfected the use of a satellite phone in the jungles of Guyana and supervised teenage pool parties in the Dominican Republic. Although she's based in Toronto, Jess works remotely from all around the world.

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