This past week I participated in a challenge called Live Below the Line where participants agree with live off of $1.50 a day of food for five days straight, just like so many impoverish people around the world. You may remember Gwenyth Paltrow was in the news recently for doing this challenge on $29 a week. I raised $100 for a charity called American Foundation for Children with AIDS thanks to my amazing friends and family who supported me, which gave me a huge boost going into it. I started the challenge on Sunday, so Saturday I went shopping for my meager rations. I shopped around at Kroger, HEB, Aldi and Fiesta, but Food prices ended up a lot higher than I expected them to be, so I purchased most of my items at the 99 Cent store. I chose dried pinto beans, white rice, a 5 pack of beef flavored ramen, a box with 6 packets of apple cinnamon oatmeal, half a dozen eggs, and a can of Vienna Sausages. Lesson number one - it's extremely difficult to eat healthy when you don't have much money to spend. No fresh meat, vegetables, fruit, or basically anything but starches, carbs and processed junk. The first day, Sunday, wasn't too bad because I discovered you can make a decent lunch out of just the free samples at HEB. My husband and children were kind enough to have pity on me and give me their free samples of sushi, guacamole and chips, crackers with different cheeses, and banana nutella crepes. My husband remarked at how crazy I must have looked to everyone else, gobbling down 4 helpings of every freebie the store offered. Lesson number two - never judge people eating all the free samples. They may not be greedy pigs, they may just be starving and not knowing when they will get to eat decent food again. At some point during day two I began to tire of eating the same bland overprocessed junk, a feeling which did not abate for the duration of the challenge. My kids would come to me to complain that there wasn't anything good in the house to eat, and I became irrationally angry knowing there was more than enough. And the waste, oh god the waste. Seeing their plates of dinners half eaten, snacks thrown in the trash, barely consumed drinks left out on the counter, things that never really bothered me much before caused me to completely lose it. Lesson three - we waste more food than most families get to eat all week. On day 4 my wonderful, amazing neighbor, who had no idea I was doing the challenge, brought over a plate of barbequed meat. I wasn't sure if it was allowed or not to eat this gift so I refrained, but it opened my eyes at just how huge a simple plate of dinner can be to a family who is struggling. Meat is so expensive, fruits and vegetables a luxury, and dessert, unheard of. Lesson number four - one small act of kindness could mean everything to a hungry person.
I completed the challenge without cheating and felt pretty good about myself. It wasn't all that bad. And that is the difference between me and those who are struggling with this in real life. It wasn't that bad for me because I had the choice to do it for 5 days. I could've stopped any time I wanted. I was able to sit in a nice house, watch cable TV and Netflix to get my mind off of the hunger pangs, and I knew that come the weekend, I would be able to go to a restaurant and pig out on anything I wanted. Millions of people today don't have the luxury of telling themselves just a few more days and I'll be eating steaks and ice cream again. Although the real prize in completing this challenge is the $100 I raised for the children living with AIDS, the perspective I gained about people living in poverty will be invaluable for a lifetime.