Actress Malin Akerman illustrates her quest to live below the line for a week by spending $1.50 a day on food.

Actress Malin Akerman illustrates her quest to live below the line for a week by spending $1.50 a day on food.

Actress Malin Akerman illustrates her quest to live below the line for a week by spending $1.50 a day on food.

Actress Malin Akerman illustrates her quest to live below the line for a week by spending $1.50 a day on food.

Actress Malin Akerman illustrates her quest to live below the line for a week by spending $1.50 a day on food.

Actress Malin Akerman illustrates her quest to live below the line for a week by spending $1.50 a day on food.

2013-05-02

Co.Exist

Could You Live On Just $1.50 Of Food A Day?

Live Below The Line asked people—including a host of celebrities—to spend a week living with the food budget of someone in extreme poverty. Could you make it work?

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.

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7 Comments

  • Richard

    Economies around the world cannot be compared so easily. This experiment would be impossible to do where I'm living. I'm in Calgary, Canada, and those two packs of Ramen noodles would push me over the $1.50 budget, which probably clocks in at well under 1000 calories per day. Rice and lentils at that price is a pipe dream. Hell, you can barely even buy a chocolate bar or a bag of chips for $1.50, let alone any real food you could actually live on.

  • K.O.

    While it is true that living off of $1.50 is not the same as living in poverty for real, it is a wager amongst ourselves that we couldn't last more than a week doing what poverty-stricken people in third-world countries do for their entire lives. It is a task that simply brings self-awareness of the luxury we have here in America and hopefully, it initiates action of combating the issue of food waste at the most basic level. 

    I do understand Jeff Ramos' point though and I was laughing aloud at Burner's sarcastic comment. If I did this task for a week, or even a year, I would still fare out better because in the end, it's just a "game." While this task is some-what patronizing of the real issue at hand, I still think it's worth a shot at experimenting.

    I was born and raised here in SF, but my mother grew up most of her life impoverished in Western Samoa. When I would say, "Mom, I'm hungry' it signaled to her that we were not just hungry, but starving - her definition by association. Thus, I have some knowledge about this, but how many other Americans have this kind of first-hand education? 

    My two cents. 

  • saintdepraved

    I have traveled extensively in India and the Philippines.

    Yes, in those countries (with few exceptions like the larger metropolitan centers) I could, and have, lived on just $1.50 a day for food.

    I agree with Jeff Ramos, this is beyond offensive and does not shed light on the real issues!

    Their economy is not our economy.

  • Jeff Ramos

    This concept is so beyond offensive to people who've actually lived in real poverty. Merely just eating like someone in poverty is not nearly the same as truly living it. 

    True poverty goes beyond just eating on a extremely limited budget. The mere fact that most of the privileged people I know who are doing this are Instagramming all their meals is just indicative of the divide that this concept doesn't cross. 

  • Burner

    we should raise awareness about racism by asking caucasian celebrities to dress in blackface for a week, because you know ... that wouldn't be offensive of anything.