Takeaways from the Live Below the Line Challenge

It’s a funny thing, taking part in a challenge like Live Below the Line. My sister Jeca, who took part as well, wondered at the beginning about whose awareness we were raising. She pointed out that the people taking part would all be people who were already aware. And in many cases, had also experienced some sort of deprivation. For her, whilst traveling in Kenya and Tanzania, for my girlfriend Steph, as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia for two years, and for me during various points of my travels through India. She didn’t mean it in a negative way, more in a “How do we really get the point across?” kinda way.

And in answer to that, all I can say is that it was eye-opening for me. I vacillated throughout the week on the difficulty of the challenge and the perspective I was supposed to be gaining. Certain days the difficulty wasn’t in the amount of food, or even the quality of what we were consuming. It was just the longing for supplemental things. A piece of fruit. A salad. Some juice. Heck, maybe even candy when we went to the cinema. Other days though there was a noticeable adverse reaction. Trying to maintain our normal lifestyle, like on Wednesday being on my feet for five hours at work, cycling around town, swimming at the gym, hot yoga in the evening… On that day I, and Steph, both felt the effects.

I read about other participants in the Challenge and there were a lot of similar comments. People crashing early in the evenings and going to bed, reducing or eliminating their workout routines, generally slowing down through the week.

And therein was the biggest take-away for me. Surviving on $1.50 a day, if you adapt your lifestyle to suit, is do-able. Perhaps not easy, but do-able. However, maintaining a normal active lifestyle is increasingly difficult. And for those who actually reside below the extreme poverty line, there’s no choice in the matter. For those at that level, there isn’t the option to take it easy one day. To reduce the routine. Because the routine is survival, and the attempt to maintain even their small amount of income.

So in the end, I did gain a little more awareness. And the hope is that those we talked to, and those who followed Jeca, Steph, and I as we took on the Challenge, will have lived vicariously through us. Maybe it will have given them pause for a moment, to think about the issue, and who knows? Maybe next year a few of them will take up the Challenge.

We’re not looking to change the world today. Just trying to make certain we’re on the right path.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Living Below the Line: Challenge Accepted

Editor’s note: David recently participated in the Live Below the Line Challenge. Read on about his week below (and be grateful keeping your pantry unblocked).

Day 0

“This one’s 86 cents.”

“This one’s 88, but it’s slightly bigger.”

“Done.”

This is how Steph and I made our way around Winco today. In the bulk section, there’s “Bet I can get closer to exactly a pound without weighing it,” and “You’re on,” and debating the merits of bananas over other fruit, and whether a loaf of bread was a good idea.

Then we went home and tried to eat all the perishables in the fridge. How are we going to survive a week without salads and fruits? Or granola and yogurt? Tortillas or even bacon? Funny the things we think of as “essentials.” Well not this week. Essentials are rice and lentils and oatmeal. Salad’s gonna be a hard one though. There might be some foraging happening later this week…

David's Grocery List

Day 1

Ran into this dilemma today, not unanticipated, but still tough: I work in a café. Steph and I had already discussed whether or not I could partake in the free meals we’re offered at work. We decided no. But then all day I was surrounded by food, and especially this gorgeous coffee cake sitting on the counter in front of me all shift. I resisted. But… I must confess, what I couldn’t resist was the coffee. I mean, I’m a barista. How could I pull espresso shots all day and not partake? I don’t have that kind of will power. Plus I’m a blogger. And if you’ve never seen me writing whilst not hopped up on caffeine, it’s not a pretty picture.

So coffee, or the lack thereof, is no longer a part of the challenge.

Day 2

“Don’t rinse that!” I called hurriedly to Steph as she started to wash a pot used for pasta sauce. She had the same thought at the same moment, and so we poured beans into the pot to cook them for tomorrow. Can’t waste anything! Even leftover tomato paste. Maybe I’m getting overly concerned about still having food to eat on Friday. It’s hard enough being a grazer, as we both are, and coming home only to see the blocked door to the pantry. No admittance. Not for the rest of this week. Drink some more water. It’ll fill you up.

It might not be helping that we’re keeping our usual routine going. Which meant ultimate Frisbee yesterday evening, and an hour long swim this afternoon, and probably hot yoga tomorrow. I might waste away to nothing…

It’s only Day 2. Get over it David. You’ll be fine.

Day 3

Steph went foraging today. Dandelions and other greens, and they definitely made a nice addition to a baked potato for lunch and pasta for dinner. Oh, and eggs and toast for breakfast. I had forgotten we had eggs we could use. Was a welcome discovery. Not enough though. We went to hot yoga tonight, after swimming for thirty minutes at the gym, and almost the moment I got in that heated room I felt lightheaded. It cleared up after a bit, but talking to Steph afterwards, apparently both of us had been seeing spots and feeling dizzy at the beginning of class.

So we spent the drive home discussing food. Saturday is going to be an epic day. I think breakfast and brunch are both happening, and we’ll go from there.

Day 4

“Lead us not into temptation…” I broke under the strain. I was feeling right next door to rubbish mid-morning at work, and the realization hit me that it was probably because half a bowl of oatmeal was just not gonna do the trick. So I caved. Accepted a free breakfast burrito. I’m not sure what penance I can do to make amends, but I’ll have to figure something out. Although it was “free,” so there’s maybe some wiggle room for me…

It’s funny the impact that a lack of certain things can have on you. Calorically we could probably be ok, and maybe if there were no other options it would suffice. But there are other options! Glorious options! My kingdom for a giant bowl of fruit. Or gummi bears. Either way.

Day 5

I was better today. Maybe the guilt/calories of the breakfast burrito yesterday served to carry me over the finish line. Oatmeal, again, to start the day, a baked potato, and beans and rice to round out the day. And an egg or two. Steph has impressed me a few times this week by creating meals that almost let me forget we’re eating the same thing day after day. A necessary trick during a week like this.

Day 6

We celebrated today. The end of the Challenge. Blew twice last week’s budget… on a single meal. Breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a Belgian Waffle. That was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the week, as I handed my card over to pay for it. The realization that we had eaten for five days (barring a slight blip on my part) on a budget of $15. And here we were paying the equivalent of ten days’ budget.

But that’s the West for you. Disposable income gives us a taste for luxury. Live without it for a time and you gain a sense of perspective.

Further reflections to follow. But right now dinner is calling. Not sure yet exactly what it’s gonna be, but I know it won’t contain rice, lentils, or black beans. Beyond that…

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

A Way Out for Global Poverty?

Remember the Live Below the Line challenge from a few weeks ago? Survive on $1.50 a day and all that? Well, I still haven’t done it. I’ve been traveling this past week, so my challenge week is going to start on Monday. Will keep you posted.

But… that’s not what I wanted to write about. Rather, the reason I mention it is that if the World Bank has their way, the Live Below the Line challenge will be a thing of the past come the year 2030. Not because people will no longer care about raising awareness of the plight of the world’s poor, but because the president of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, announced last week the goal of raising every global citizen to a living standard above the extreme poverty threshold.

It’s certainly a noble goal, raising the standard of living of the poorest. But a critic could complain that the bar is being set quite low. Those of you who tried the Live Below the Line challenge will know that those living only slightly above the line are still in dire straits. But if the World Bank is going to set a bar, well, low bars are better than no bars.

But then, even with the standard set where it is, is it even possible? Sure, you can say it’s a modest target, a somewhat arbitrarily assigned number that is magically the tipping point between extreme poverty and the less extreme version. But regardless of the target, there are still 1.2 billion people globally living below it, or about 20% of the human population. The good news however is that in 1990 the percentage was closer to 40. Twenty years to half it. Another 17 to eliminate?

It’s possible. Difficult, but possible. China alone accounted for half of the above decrease in extreme poverty rates. Some hundreds of millions of people climbing out of extreme poverty over the last twenty years. And if they can lead such a quick turnaround, why not other countries? Although we might want to hesitate a moment before holding China up as a shining example, and be aware that a large portion of this shift is due to radical urbanization, which brings its own problems, however, there are signs and trends that suggest the goal of the World Bank is attainable.

Poverty

And what then? And perhaps more importantly, why? Why should this be our concern, when there are enough local problems to deal with already? Well to answer that question, you can be as altruistic or selfish as you like. Leveling the playing field, and giving everyone equal opportunities are certainly noble goals, but we’re also all increasingly interconnected. Whether we want to be or not. Let’s not forget the global economic crisis of yesterday and today. But, conversely, this interconnectedness also means that a rise in the fortunes of people in developing areas leads to increases in trade potential and product demand, and so opens up new markets to other countries. Investing in eliminating global poverty results in an investment in eliminating local poverty as jobs are created and opportunities arise.

There has always been the disparity between the “have’s” and “have-not’s” lingering over us. But maybe if we can reach a point where it becomes the “have’s” and the “have-slightly-less’s,” maybe then we’ll finally find ourselves on the right track.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Take the Challenge: Live Below the Line

Next week, from April 29th through May 5th, the Global Poverty Project is hosting the Live Below the Line Challenge. What line? The poverty line. Yeah. The extreme one.

One dollar. Fifty cents. A day.

That’s what you get. And before somebody chimes in with ‘That’ll get you a long way in a developing country!’ note that the figure is already adjusted. $1.50 represents the extreme poverty line in the United States. In a developing country you might be talking about the literal equivalent of pennies a day.

Image

And we can’t even really recreate that situation. The challenge is to live for a week spending no more than $7.50 on food. The 1.4 billion people across the world living every week at or below that level have to stretch it to cover everything. So quick! Turn off your computer! Your phone! Lock your house and car up for the week and throw away the keys!

Those not caught in such a situation may never be able to grasp what it really means. How can we? What we can get is a glimpse into the lives of others. Walk a mile, or eat a meal, whatever, in their shoes. And remember, this isn’t just a problem in the slums of developing countries. Look around the next time you walk through downtown Seattle. Or any US city for that matter. Odds are you’ll see someone for whom everyday is spent living below the line.

Food for thought. But not a lot of food. Remember, you only have fifty cents per meal.

If you want to join in click here. Celebrities are getting in on the act too! Ben Affleck is in on the act! I don’t even like Ben Affleck, but hey. Bonus points for supporting a good cause, raising awareness, all that jazz.

Reading this blog too late? Already blew your weekly budget on a Starbucks tall half-skinny quad shot caramel drizzle frappuccino? It’s alright. We won’t hold it against you. Start tomorrow. Start next week. Or just think really hard about it. We’re raising awareness right?

Be aware.

Got any ideas for living below the line next week? Let us know in the comments.

David

 

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.