5 Days #BelowTheLine

Note: This year’s Below the Line challenge is over. While you can’t participate in the fundraiser until next year, you can help raise awareness any time. I hope you’ll consider conducting your own Below the Line experiment or donating to / volunteering with your local food bank or similar charitable organization.

The Challenge
Live Below the Line is sponsored by The Global Poverty Project. Every year, people around the world spend between one and five days eating on a budget just below the poverty line, in an effort to raise awareness of the hardships and prevalence of poverty and hunger. Participants can also raise money for one of the project's many charity partners. In the United States, the daily food budget for this experiment is $1.50. I participated for the first time this year, and here is what I learned.

Day 1
I had envisioned five days of eating nothing but rice and drinking nothing but water, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could eat food I like and still come in just below the $1.50 mark. For breakfast, oatmeal -- which seems to be the go-to for other BTL participants. 

For lunch, a cheese sandwich with tomato and avocado. Normally I’m not a huge fan of cheese sandwiches, but I happened to find onion buns on clearance sale (something that wouldn’t have fit into the budget otherwise.)

For dinner, a two-egg omelette with half a slice of cheese, accompanied by spaghetti and sauteed onions. I also happened to catch salsa on sale, so used that liven up both.

My main concern before starting the challenge: How would I go without chocolate for a week?! Fortunately I could just squeeze in a cookie with dinner, but am already starting to have some withdrawal symptoms without my steady supply of chocolate. 

Day 2
Chocolate! I need chocolate! *breathe, breathe* OK, I’m better. Anywho: Oatmeal again for breakfast, cheese sandwich for lunch, omelette and spaghetti for dinner. You know the drill. Lack of chocolate is making me slightly fogheaded, but nothing I can’t work around. Thankfully, I can fit a cup of green tea into the budget, so that helped to take the edge off a bit.

Day 3
When you eat the same thing every day, you realize how much your body needs variety. I’m more tired than usual, lack energy and overall just don’t function as well as normal. Mentally I am very fuzzy. I crave vegetables even more than I crave my treasured chocolate. I did mix it up by using bagels instead of onion buns for today’s sandwich. (These too, were purchased on clearance sale.)

Day 4
Seriously, I need a vegetable. Any vegetable. Do you know how expensive produce is? This is one of the primary reasons poor people tend to be overweight. It’s not because they’re lazy or gluttonous, it’s because the only kind of food you can afford on this amount of money consists mainly of carbs. It’s fattening and unhealthy, and still leaves you feeling hungry all day. 

Day 5
One of the main things I learned from this experiment was the massive amount of planning involved to create any semblance of a well-balanced meal without breaking your budget. Many people order pizza or run by fast food when they’re pressed for time, but when you eat on just $1.50 a day you can’t do that. There’s no such thing as convenience food, and no matter how long you’ve worked that day or how many chores still need to finished, you have to take time out to cook. You also have to sit down at the beginning of each week or each month and consciously plan how you’ll eat. How many people take the time for that? Long-term planning seems to be a hardly used skill but a crucial one when you’re living on a tight budget.

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