How are you surviving?

This article was first published on Youth Central

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All week, my friends greeted me with the same question, “How are you surviving?”

Given how much I had flooded my Facebook page with Live Below the Line propaganda over the preceding weeks, all my friends knew I was eating on a $2-per-day diet for five days straight. But few knew how I would actually manage.

The Challenge

Let’s be honest: $10 is not a lot of money. It’s less than an hour’s pay for most teenagers, and might be able to buy you a single serving of dinner or lunch at a fast food outlet if you’re lucky.

As such, the concept of surviving on $10 for a full five days is to some incomprehensible. “It’s impossible,” multiple sceptics told me.

In actual fact, you’d be surprised what $10 can buy you. Over the course of my Live Below the Line week, I ate a daily banana for breakfast, a delicious tuna and salad roll for lunch, and some generous servings of pasta for dinner. It was more than enough food to survive. Mind you, though, living below the line certainly wasn’t easy.

Over 1.2 billion people worldwide live on less than $1.25 a day, which constitutes the global extreme poverty line. For the this challenge, that $1.25 was inflated to $2 with the added caveat that the budget only had to pay for food. While those concessions meant the challenge didn’t accurately simulate the living conditions of extreme poverty, that’s not really the point.

“Live Below the Line gives participants a small insight into the challenges and difficulties faced by those living in extreme poverty,” says campaign director Daniel Lewis-Toakley.

“The point of the challenge is to change the way Australians think about extreme poverty, not for Australians to starve themselves or to actually experience poverty.”

Day One & Two

Some people find day one the most difficult, but I personally found it the easiest. While food is always on your mind, the novelty of eating significantly less than usual is a refreshing change. “This isn’t so bad,” you convince yourself.

By day two, when you’re eating the same tasteless lunch you ate the day before, the novelty begins to wear off. When you see your friends chowing down on a box of hot chips you wish you could take a bite. But you resist. You have to.

Day Three

Day three was the most difficult for me, not least because of the temptations surrounding me. During the day, a friend of mine bought a sweet oatmeal snack for $7. On any other day, I wouldn’t have found her meal tempting – it looked like mushy baby food. But when your only snack for the day is a solitary carrot, everything looks delicious.

The hardest thing about watching my friend eat was not the food itself, but the idea of consuming food with flavour and nutritional value. This became even more apparent when she decided she couldn’t make it through the rest of her meal and chucked the leftovers in the bin. I was powerless to stop her.

That night the experience was multiplied tenfold when I went out to a pizza joint with a group of friends. From one perspective, it was a stupid idea. If I was hoping to go through the whole night without wanting a slice or seven, I was kidding myself. From another perspective, it was the most valuable night of the whole campaign, because it gave me an opportunity to publicly share my motives and put extreme poverty in a tangible context.

Day Four & Five

By days four and five, my energy began to wane. As I drove to work my mind was wandering so much that I almost ran a red light. Later, in the office, I found myself getting tired merely from speaking and executing simple tasks.

What made these final days extra difficult was the fact that my day five apple – a treat I had been saving up from the challenge’s opening day – was rotten. I took about ten bites anyway, but eventually had to throw it away.

It was a thought-provoking moment. On any other day I could have replaced that apple with another snack. On this day, however, I had to bite the proverbial bullet and wait for the next meal – whenever that was to come.

Looking Back

While day six allowed me to re-enter the wonderful world of food choices and taste, I made an effort to reflect on what the previous five days had taught me. If just five days of a bland diet had me struggling to think properly and desperate to go to bed, I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for the millions who live like this on a daily basis.

Thankfully the money I raised during the week goes some way to eradicating extreme poverty in this world, by supporting educational projects in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.

I’m glad I decided to Live Below The Line. But, let’s just say I’m happy to wait another year before doing it all over again.

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