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Reflection

For days, I’ve been musing over what I would write in this post to wrap up these past 30 days of eating off $1.25 a day. To tell you the truth, although I’ve undoubtedly looked forward to eating vegetables again, the thought of moving forward when I know that there are still 825+ million people starving daily feels weird. It’s kind of like that feeling you get when the weather outside is terrible and you pass by someone who is homeless while you’re on your way to take refuge from the elements. This last month has really underscored just how far removed I am from complete deprivation, and it’s been unsettling to increasingly recognize how much I take for granted.

Overall, I did stick within the $1.25/day limit every day except for one, in which a careless miscalculation resulted in going 4 cents over for the day. However, there were a few days in which I ate off $1/day, so I suppose it kind of evens out. I completely avoided gum, vitamins, cough drops, and medicine, and I factored all beverages (aside from water), spices, and candy into my daily budget as originally planned. I confess I did break the foraging rule once (figs from my backyard at home) and the no-food-donations rule once (strawberries my mom gave me from a local stand). I mainly lived off a ridiculous amount of potatoes (20 pounds – $3 total), oatmeal (4 pounds – $4.54), legumes (8 pounds – $7.77), and top ramen (around 15-20 packets – 20 cents each). Although I carefully planned everything out initially, toward the end I was just trying to derive enough energy from my diet, and it wound up being really carb-heavy. I definitely did not get enough protein, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, iron, calcium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin C, etc. Aside from general malnutrition, physical side effects included:

  • cumulatively spending hours lying on my bed trying to muster enough energy to get stuff done
  • feeling feverish
  • nearly passing out once
  • going to bed hungry and waking up ravenous on multiple occasions
  • mildly depressed/irritable mood
  • nausea (while first getting used to eating top ramen)
  • breaking out (especially these last two weeks :/ )
  • marginal weight loss

My experience of living off $1.25/day can hardly compare to what people who genuinely fall below the global poverty line experience; I don’t have dependents to care for, and I wasn’t stretching $1.25 to meet all my needs – only food. I still had all the conveniences of a stove and microwave and refrigerator and grocery stores and electricity and {clean} running water. Yet, a friend sent me this link to a list of five case studies that Oxfam recently conducted in low- and middle-income countries to evaluate the impact of rising food prices on impoverished families’ diets. Interestingly, my diet was comparable to that of the family from Burkina Faso.

This continual reminder of just how far we have to go in alleviating disparities in health and access to basic resources has been sobering, for sure. On the one hand, it’s discouraging to think that this personal, month-long perspective reset will probably not have much (if any) impact on such a massive issue. On the other hand, I think it’s really awesome that the individual choices that you and I make can have a powerful cumulative effect. The tragedy of the commons can go the other direction, too. The success of the collective?

In moving forward, I know I’m going to be reflecting on this past month for a while. I think it was helpful to step back from just studying poverty and talking about it in abstract terms and instead ground it a little bit in personal experience. I imagine I’ll post on here again at some point for similar projects and/or follow-up studies, and perhaps for the food stamp challenge. For now, though, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Amartya Sen, an amazing and well-respected economist and philosopher.

Quotation-Amartya-Sen-humanity-Meetville-Quotes-238051

Much love, and thanks so much for reading! ❤

Sick and Stressed

Confession: I have way more empathy now for people on a meager budget who buy mainly junk food. As someone who typically eats vegetables at every meal and prefers kale chips and tempeh over pretty much anything any day, I have secretly wondered sometimes at people who fill their grocery carts with processed, nutrient-void food crack. Yet three weeks and three days into this month long challenge and I find myself drinking diet Pepsi for breakfast and eating top ramen for lunch and dinner. Anyone who has hung around me at all would probably find this shocking…

Obviously, this isn’t to say that everyone who fills their cart with junk food lives in poverty, but there is a definite correlation between socioeconomic status and diet/health (click here and here for a sample of the research supporting this finding). Jumping into this whole thing wasn’t too difficult at first, but the novelty has worn off and it’s actually become more challenging to maintain this diet as the month progresses. You might think that living off $1.25/day would get easier as time passes. Nope.

I managed to scrape by eating a somewhat balanced diet for a couple of weeks through meticulous planning and preparation of the basics: rice, oatmeal, legumes, pasta, and potatoes. After a while, this semi-decent diet started to feel unsustainable because of how time and energy intensive it was. Since I was busy with work and other responsibilities, I started to prioritize convenience. Also, the lack of variety and fresh produce inevitably results in malnutrition; at this point, I often feel lethargic, irritable, and have a hard time focusing. So why diet Pepsi and top ramen? Because caffeine and fake sugar are a temporary pick-me-up and the carbonation tricks you into feeling full. And because it’s a lot more appealing to throw a packet of top ramen into a backpack than it is to cook and pack a bowl of spaghetti and clean up afterwards. This kind of diet leaves you feeling pretty awful, though. 

It’s a catch-22: either stress out trying to plan and prepare a barely adequate diet on a budget of pennies, or save time and relax consuming a really poor diet. Regardless, lack of money will be a stressor. This cycle of stress and food insecurity and feeling awful is vicious.

Gratitude

This morning, I woke up on the floor of my new (to me) apartment bedroom and lay on my back staring up at the fan swirling around on repeat. Electricity. Magic. With the flip of a switch, I can stop the fan’s cycling. I have a fresh, clean comforter underneath me and brand new carpet underneath that. No bugs in sight. Bliss. As I ate breakfast (two potatoes and a small onion) picnic-style on the floor, I was completely, utterly content. That’s what was missing yesterday: gratitude. By day 5, pretty much every other food aside from plain rice and chickpeas and oatmeal had started to sound amazing. Everything. I was hungry and unsatisfied and just wanted this whole thing to be over already so I could drink kombucha and beer again. I’m missing a small piece of my American lifestyle, and I was frustrated.

There’s such an apparent disconnect in our society from how the ‘bottom’ majority of the world lives, and here I am trying to remind myself of this but frustrated by plain rice (that took me less than 10 minutes to pick up from the grocery store and I used electricity to cook). Perspective is a funny thing, and so transient. I’ll lose this lens of gratitude again eventually, but I’m glad I regained this perspective again for now. I guess that was one of my objectives in doing this month long experiment anyway. 🙂

Have a wonderful weekend!

Much love always ❤

Midweek Slump

It’s the morning of day 6, and I confess that last night I was already starting to re-examine why I’ve chosen to stick with this $1.25/day thing for a full month. Thirty days is kind of arbitrary, and other poverty line awareness campaigns such as Live Below the Line (https://www.livebelowtheline.com/us/thankyou) only ask people to reduce their food expenditure for five days.

So let’s get real. I’ve been thinking…

  • Although the first five days were relatively easy, eating the same bland food each day is starting to get old. I need more vegetables in my life.
  • Since I’m going to visit family in a week or two, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be offered Ethiopian food, kale chips, and Synergy. I never say no to Ethiopian food, kale chips, and Synergy.
  • I’m going to be out of town for at least part of each of the next three weekends, and this diet is kind of inconvenient. Because coffee in SF. And taco trucks in LA. And beer back home with friends. And gum!!!
  • Explaining the $1.25/day thing to people who don’t know me is kind of difficult. Heck, I think it’ll be kind of hard to explain to my family, especially because they are incredibly sweet and will want to make me whatever I want for dinner for my birthday (in a couple of weeks).

What am I trying to prove, anyways? What’s the point?

Mulling this over has really just underscored the fact that I can choose to walk away from this at any time while others can’t. If I stopped now when it gets hard, I won’t walk away with as much of an appreciation for what I have. Life will go back to its normal rhythm. I like shaking things up a bit and gaining a new perspective on things, so I want to hold off on that a bit longer. I want to finish what I started. OBVIOUSLY living in poverty is inconvenient. More than that, it means that your quality of life is significantly lower than the American standard. I considered all the bullet points listed above when I began this, and I knew that there would be no other time when this experiment would be more convenient. I knew that I hate drawing much attention to myself but that explaining this whole thing to some people would be necessary in certain situations; however, I also knew that I really wanted to do this anyway. And my family and friends will love me even if they think I’m being weirder than usual. Plus I can save the kale chips and Synergy for September 10th. 😀

Methods for calculating the threshold for poverty typically vary by country. While the poverty line is computed uniquely in the United States (see https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/measure.html), we do know that 1 in 7 Americans do not reach the minimum threshold of income required to afford the average cost-of-living (see http://www.nclej.org/poverty-in-the-us.php). These articles I’m coming across are eye-opening, but there’s the “so now what” piece missing…what can we do about it? I think that’s what I’ll focus on next.

Love always ❤

Ground Rules

It’s the end of day 4 of this personal dare, and so far I’ve managed to stick within the $1.25/day limit. I decided to set a few parameters up front to be consistent throughout the month…

  • Water is a freebie, but the cost of all other beverages must be factored into the $1.25 (including coffee and tea).
    • Note: I am hesitant to restrict my water intake given that it’s summer and {having grown up in the desert} I am accustomed to drinking quite a bit. While I have the luxury of choosing how much water I want to consume, water scarcity and inadequate access to appropriate sanitation is unfortunately an issue for over a third of people on this planet. See http://www.unwater.org/water-cooperation-2013/water-cooperation/facts-and-figures/en/ for more information.
  • Gum, candy, mints, cough drops, and vitamins all count toward the $1.25/day.
    • Millions of people are chronically malnourished from their diet and don’t have a multivitamin to make up for their nutrient deficit – I think I’ll survive a month without one.
  • Money does not roll over from one day to another.
  • Spices, sauces, and all other seasonings count toward the $1.25/day.
    • I didn’t really see a point in making certain food items an exception.
  • No food donations or foraging for food.
    • Assuming that in impoverished communities neighbors wouldn’t have an excess of food to offer each other and in drought- or famine-stricken areas there wouldn’t be much to forage, I’m going to stick to whatever I can purchase with $1.25.

So what can I get for $1.25 per day? Well, animal products and most produce are pretty much out of the question. To get the most caloric bang for my buck twenty-five, I figured that I need to get at least 100-200 calories per 10 cents spent. Helloooo potatoes, pasta, rice, legumes, and oatmeal. These put my daily intake in the 1,250-2,500 calorie range, with around 30-40 cents per meal. However, the only way I’d even come near to eating 2,000+ calories is if I ate pasta all day, which is highly unlikely. So far, my daily caloric intake has averaged out between 1400-1500 calories, and I haven’t gone hungry, although my energy level has dropped a bit. My total grocery bill for the items pictured above plus some mini avocados and canola oil (not pictured) came to $27.44. I might not eat all of this in a month (certainly not all of the canola oil), so that leaves at least $10.06 for when the bananas and onions run out. 🙂

Because I am barely able to reach at least 2,100 calories per day and have an inadequate diet (given the lack of fruits, vegetables, and variety), I would currently be classified somewhere between “food insecure” and in an “acute food and livelihood crisis”. Check out  http://firstperson.oxfamamerica.org/2014/05/vocabulary-hunger-crises-explained/ for a really awesome infographic with a straightforward and streamlined definition of what constitutes “food insecurity”.

For me, trying to plan all of this out was an interesting challenge, but trying to stretch a severely restricted budget on a daily basis requires effort, and over a prolonged period of time (i.e., if I didn’t have an end in sight), this would be really stressful. More on that later, though.

For now, I’ll leave you with a couple of articles I came across on poverty in the United States. 

This one’s a great piece on rural economies and generational poverty:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/storyline/wp/2014/08/07/the-places-are-poor-and-the-people-are-poor/

And this one is a really eye-opening post on minimum wage and people who would be considered “working class”:

http://firstperson.oxfamamerica.org/2014/06/postcards-world-hard-work-low-pay/

Much love ❤

$1.25/day

Beginning in childhood, I think we all start to awaken to the fact that although the world is in many ways a beautiful place full of wonder, utopia does not exist. Initially, learning about how millions of people don’t even have their basic needs met is shocking. The outrage and injustice of it all – that factors you cannot control (where you are born and who your parents are) should so strongly influence how long you live and the quality of your life – is aggravating, at least at first. I mean, who isn’t upset when they learn that thousands of children die daily simply because of an imbalance in who has access to resources? Yet being the incredibly adaptable creatures that we are, this insanity is tolerated. This fits the very definition of power and privilege: being able to live in ignorance or apathy toward a social injustice. How can resource rich people forget about or be apathetic toward resource disadvantage people? Easily.

This blog is born out of frustration. Relative to Americans, I’m much closer to the bottom of the SES totem pole, but the reality is that I have my basic needs met and I have a world of opportunities open to me. This automatically makes me richer than over 68% of the global population (click here for more info).

I think one of the many ways in which this privilege is evident in my life is my diet. Acquiring healthy, delicious food is just so easy. I can go to Costco and get a giant bag of broccoli, 1.5 pounds of pistachios, a huge container of organic spring mix, and a 5-pound box of peaches and live off mainly that for over a week. As an {almost} vegan, the only risk of malnutrition I might face is a deficiency in B-vitamins (which I can make up through multivitamins and occasionally having a bit of organic meat). I do not feel guilty for having enough to eat, but it just doesn’t sit quite right with me that by chance I have this privilege while millions of others do not. I think what’s even more disturbing is that I can so readily forget how privileged I am.

I had this idea to try living off $1.25 a day for a month. Nearly 1 billion people fall below the global poverty line and live off less than an average of $1.25 per day (although some advocate to change the poverty line to $10/day to include billions more people that still are barely getting by – check out this site to read more). I want to regain a deeper appreciation for what I have, and I want to use the next month to learn more about systematic disparities in wealth, health, and power. I plan on re-reading Amartya Sen’s “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation” and seeking more information on anything pertaining to poverty and chronic hunger. However, I want to pay particular attention to what could be done on both a micro and macro level to reduce the huge resource gaps that exist.

I would like to think that I am doing this in solidarity with those who have less than $1.25 per day to meet all of their needs, but I realize that my experience is completely out of context and won’t come close to matching the devastating reality that millions face. This might be personally beneficial more than anything else, I think. Nonetheless, if myself and other privileged people reduced their consumption even a little bit, this could potentially have a huge, positive impact on our planet and on other people.

It is important to mention that I have carefully thought through how I might afford and maintain an adequate macro-nutrient intake {i.e., consume a sufficient amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats}. I will likely be malnourished from a severely reduced intake of fruits and vegetables, but this experiment is temporary and I have access to a doctor and a dietitian if anything should go awry. Also, I can safely lose several pounds and still remain within a healthy weight range for my height and body type. For anyone else considering trying to live off $1.25/day, please be sure to carefully consider whether this is safe for you, plan in advance, and take good care of yourself.

I will post more details about my experience and what I learn as the month progresses. I started today, so I will end in exactly one month on Tuesday, September 9th.

Peace ❤