We talk a lot about food deserts—places where it’s nearly impossible to find fresh and nutritious food. But fresh food is expensive, and for people living at the extreme poverty line ($1.50 a day for food), it’s out of reach even if there are six farmer’s markets and three Whole Foods supermarkets in a three mile radius.
Every year, the Live Below the Line challenge asks participants to live on $1.50 a day for food and drink for five days, raising funds for the Global Poverty Project’s nonprofit partners as they do it. It has been a big success, raising north of $3 million in 2012. For the first time, Live Below the Line is being run concurrently this year in Australia, the U.S. and the U.K. And there are, of course, a slew of celebrities lining up to participate, including Jonah Hill, Ben Affleck, and Sophia Bush.
Live Below the Line began in 2009 as the answer to a question: how do you activate people around issues of extreme poverty? "It encourages an educational understanding. It helps shift perspective," says Michael Trainer, US Country Director for the Global Poverty Project. It’s also a way to effectively beat people over the head with the issue, making them realize (and probably never forget) how difficult it is to eat with so little cash available.
In an email, actress Debi Mazar and her husband Gabriele Corcos (the pair host the Extra Virgin show on the Cooking Channel), explained how their family prepared for the challenge: "We sat down and talked about the week ahead. How we would stretch the food, how could we make it more nutritious … without greens and fibers, we had to use lentils, beans, pasta, canned tomato … dilute the milk to stretch it for kids glass in the AM. We had none for our coffee, no sugar, no juices. … We made our own pasta, which is flour, eggs, and elbow grease, we baked our own bread, and that’s all we had for breakfast every day."
At least Mazar and Corcos had the know-how to make their own bread and pasta—that’s more than many people can say. Even with their cooking skills, they still severely lacked nutrition, like most people who live below the poverty line. Trainer describes what happened during his own Live Below the Line challenge after two days of eating nothing but carbohydrates: "I realized I was sluggish to the point of falling asleep at 8 pm," he says.
While awareness is a big piece of the project, Trainer hopes that participants "become ambassadors for the incredible organizations at the heart of the campaign," including Opportunity International, CARE, and UNICEF. Successfully eating below the line for a week isn’t an admirable goal in and of itself—lots of people do it whether they like it or not. It only becomes a big deal when that awareness translates into action.
The Live Below the Line challenge runs from April 29 to May 3.