Living Below the Line

From May 5th – 9th, thousands of Australians will eat on $2 a day for five days – the equivalent of the extreme poverty line. It’s a way to better understand extreme poverty, while making a difference overseas. Live Below the Line is a little unpredictable, sometimes challenging and always eye opening.

I’m going to give it a try.

I’m actually really scared by this idea.  I’m not at all sure that I can feed myself and my picky husband for $20 in five days.  I’m not at all sure that this is how I want to spend my much anticipated annual leave week.  I’m not at all sure that I can make food that tastes good.  I’m not at all sure that I will not give up and splurge before the week is done.

I’m not at all sure about any of this.

I remember being hungry at college.  I was, in retrospect, probably clinically depressed, and the food was awful, so I stopped eating it.  My parents were still giving me pocket money (and they had no idea I wasn’t eating the college food that they were, obviously, also paying for – this is in no way at their door), and I was earning a tiny amount from the library, but obviously, this wasn’t enough to cover meals.  I had about $30 a week for food, and no way to cook, so that meant 5 Maccas meals and maybe fish and chips once a week (I was really skinny, so the lady would always give me extra chips… but if I got a Mcfeast meal from Maccas, I got a drink, and also there was tomato and lettuce in the burger, which was vegetables, yay!).

I remember being hungry every night.  It was very hard to sleep.  And then I would sleep for half the day because I had no energy because I wasn’t eating…

I remember that people I barely knew would buy me meals, presumably because they were worried about me.

It wasn’t fun.

I remember being poor after I finished uni.  Poor, but never – quite – hungry, because I after that first year of college, food always, always came first.  Even if it meant flirting with getting the electricity disconnected, there was always something in the pantry or the fridge.  Though sometimes it was the same vegetable stew for five days running, until it started tasting like vinegar.

I haven’t been that poor in a very long time.  In some ways, that makes this challenge more scary – it’s going back to a very insecure time in my life, and I’m not sure I still have the skills to manage.  Because being poor and having enough to eat is definitely a skill.  Never doubt that.  (Hell, that’s the entire premise of Sandra’s $120 Food Challenge Blog, though I reckon her food is going to be a bit extravagant for me next week!)  One learns which greengrocer is the cheapest, and at what time of the day to shop for the specials.  One learns which varieties of rice keep you full longest, and how to cook legumes.  One learns that fair trade and free range and organic are all lovely things – for other people.  Because Homebrand is always cheaper, and cheaper is the only priority you have.

Actually, I didn’t have many of those skills as an impoverished student or temp – mostly because I wasn’t a particularly good cook at that point in my life.  At least I know how to cook legumes these days.  And I have a secret weapon – lentils with rice and onions!  Cheap, filling, and surprisingly tasty, even without seasonings.

Which is good, because I’m pretty sure that seasonings are outside my budget.  Though I probably am allowed to use parsley from the garden.

Why am I doing this?

Three reasons, really.

First, I want to see if I can.

Second, it’s fundraising for several very good causes. I hated being poor and I hated being hungry, and most of all I hated spending all my time worrying about whether I would be able to afford food on any given day.  I don’t ever want to live like that again, and I don’t want anyone else to, either.  Every little bit counts, and this seems like a good way to help.

Third – it’s about solidarity.  And fear.  And anger.  Our government is planning a new budget that will, I think, bring many people a lot closer to the poverty line than they were before.  And I think it’s going to tip some people right over.  I’m angry and I’m scared, because while I’m doing OK, it’s my friends who are being targeted by tighter restrictions on the disability pension, my friends who will be affected by increases in costs for medical care or medicines, my friends who will be hurt by draconian measures against the unemployed.

And, if I were just a bit unluckier, it would be me.

So, from dinner on Saturday until breakfast on Friday, Andrew and I will be living on a budget of $2 per person per day – or  $20 in total.  Alert readers will note that this is slightly more than five days, and they would be right – the reason for this is that I only found out about the challenge today, and I already had a booking for a birthday dinner at a café this Wednesday.  So we’ll be making up the missed meal on Saturday instead.

Wish me luck!  I will, of course, be blogging every step of the way.  And I’d very much appreciate it if you would sponsor me.  I think this is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

And that right there just goes to show you how lucky I am.  I’m only living on $2 a day for 5 days.  Some people have to do this for years.

Help me help them.


One year ago: Pantry Challenge Day 1
Two years ago: Cooking for people who don’t: Half Homemade
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2 comments for “Living Below the Line

  1. May 1, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    You can definitely do it! I did the challenge a couple of years ago, it was difficult but worthwhile. I look forward to your updates.

    • Catherine
      May 2, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Thanks Leaf! I appreciate your support!

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