Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A glimpse of how extreme poverty can affect me.

by Eilleen

Me and my children

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all having a good week. Readers of my personal blog would know that a couple of months ago, I went on a week-long $2 a day challenge for Live Below the Line. During that week, I was not allowed to live on existing items in my pantry/fridge, nor was I allowed to accept freebies or others offers of meals. Instead, I was to live on $2 a day for all my food and drink. (The reason for why $2, is in this post.)

Having only $2 a day for my food and drink gave me a very small inkling on what it is like to be in extreme poverty. I found the challenge difficult and I posted in my personal blog what I learned and I thought I'd share it here:
When stressed and under pressure, I made bad nutritional choices. This tells me that I am not immune to media/advertising that tell me that non-nutritious food is "fun" and offered an "escape" from the stress. I never realised that I could succumb to emotional eating but there you go.
As a result of my bad nutritional choices, I felt soooo tired all the time. Littlest things like getting dinner done, getting to work in time, organising my children's everyday school needs became an effort.

That despite my bad nutritional choices, there was no joy in my eating during those 5 days. It was a very strange combination of being hungry but not looking forward to eating. Food was just a means to stop hunger pangs. I certainly did not want to eat more of the same!

Without joy in my eating, and without the ability to eat what everyone around me ate, I felt isolated. I was surrounded by friends and family and I ate my own food while they ate theirs...and I felt disconnected. This highlighted for me the importance of the little things we do together to connect and without it, one's entire world becomes different.

I also realised during my $2 a day week, that if this was for real, I probably can not consume according to my values... and that my values would drastically change. And if my values would drastically change, then I would make choices using a value system that would be completely foreign to the way I am now.

And I guess this highlights for me how vastly poverty can affect a person. I wonder, if I was living on the poverty line, would I be emotionally and physically capable to get my kids to school regularly? Would I be able get a job? Would I be able to function and make choices in a way that is socially acceptable? Would I still be "me"? And I suspect that the answer to all of this would be "no". I probably would not.

The more I think of my experience and my constant efforts to live more simply, I realise that living simply is one way that can help prevent one's slide to extreme poverty. If I ever lose my main source of income, I am able to gain some precious time to try to recover because:

1. I do not live above my means. I have a comparably modest mortgage and I do not have a lot of stuff that requires a lot of maintenance. I also make extra payments against my mortgage - not only to pay the debt off faster but also it is an insurance that I can draw on if my circumstances change drastically.

2. I have the skills that already help me how to live frugally. I know how to cook, look after and repair most things. Gone are the days when I had a "disposable" mentality (when I devalued my stuff because I can just buy another).

3. I also now have a vast network of friends who can help me and I am slowly overcoming my reluctance to ask for help. This is actually a big one. I have realised that asking for help is part of being in a community. I love helping others and I need to give others that gift by asking them to help me. By practising how to ask for help for little things, then I am more capable to ask for help for big things if my circumstances change (and sometimes by asking for help on little things, one can prevent having to ask for help for bigger things).

Through the Live Below the Line Challenge, I now know that what is at stake is not only my way of life but also my values and my children's future. This reinforces to me the importance of living simply, frugally and consuming ethically.

I wish you all well.

P.S. Joyful asked in the comments below if my children joined me in this challenge. The answer is, no they did not. They wanted to, but I did not let them. My children watched me eat my food while they ate theirs and we talked a lot about poverty during meal times that week! My daughter wrote a speech (for a competition) on what she learned during that week and I shared it in my personal blog. For those interested, this is the link to her speech:

17 comments: said...

Wow, what an inspiration! I will definitely be linking to this soon! Well done Eilleen!

mainely stitching said...

Very brave of you to try, and stick to, this challenge. I think few of us have any real idea of what it's like to try to eat on pennies a day. I know I would hate to see food become a sort of punishment - I love to cook and to feed my family, but sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be able to do so.

Inner Pickle said...

Wow, that's a moving and inspiring post. It's a fabulous idea and an apt way of appreciating the impact of real below the line living. I wonder what my nutritional choices would be. Thanks for this. Food for thought!

Little Seed Farm said...

Looking back on it, what foods do you think you should have chosen? I'm trying to think of $2/day and unless some "foraging" were in order I have a tough time thinking of what I would do. Beans kept coming to mind as I read your post, but I'm sure there's many other options in terms of balancing cost and nutrition.

dixiebelle said...

What an incredible challenge to go on... brave and insightful, thank you...

Heather's Blog-o-rama said...

What a beautiful post :) :) Thanks for taking that challenge. I don't know many who would have done the same. Here in Oregon, in the particular county, that I live in..there are lots of hungry people. So many people applying for food stamps - money from the state government to help people buy food. So many are out of work...and it's through not fault of their own. It's just circumstances in most cases..It's hard to eat healthy, when you are on a limited budget :) :)

In any case, I was really touched by your challenge :) :) Thanks for sharing this. Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

Joyful said...

You are brave for giving this challenge a "go" when you work and have children. Did you also have to feed your children on this?

Kathryn said...

Thank you for sharing this.

We are "unofficially mentoring" three children, but to some degree the whole family as well.

I know that their diet reflects the reality of their financial situation, but it is difficult for me at times. I do think on occasion the parents are making decisions that are poor choices and will make things harder for them later, but i have no control over that.

This is a very good reminder for me that the mama is making the choices she feels she needs to in order to keep the kids' bellies filled. Also, so few people these days actually know how to cook!

I appreciate your perspective on this. Thank you.

Eilleen said...

Thank you all for all your kind comments.

@Little Seed Farm: perhaps if I wasn't so stressed to begin with, I would've been able to better plan my diet. Looking back, I probably should've bought a small packet of rice or oats, more vegetables and 1 packet of powdered soup but to use that as flavouring...its tough to think that would be all I would eat for 5 days, 3 meals a day!

@Joyful. No I made the decision for my kids to not be in the challenge (though they wanted to be!). Looking back, I'm glad I did not let them join me! Having said that, my children did watch me eat my food while they ate theirs and we talked a lot about poverty during mealtimes that week! My daughter actually wrote a speech on what she learned which I shared in my personal blog. Here it is:

Robert said...

Presumably you're house is safe, the roof doesn't leak, you can afford clothes, and you don't have bailiffs on the door. You're only part-way to seeing what evtreme povery is like, but well done anyway!

Eilleen said...

Yes that's right Robert - it is only truly a glimpse. Further the $2 a day is not only for food and drink but for everything - shelter, clothing, transport.

The experience really brought out how different the world is for those in extreme poverty compared to mine.

Rainbow Rivers said...

What a great challenge! Me and My family are considered well below the poverty line by American standards living off of $1200 a month for a family of five, I only spend USUALLY around $250 a month for food but we eat fairly healthy and I love cooking. Many of my dinners cost only $2 for the entire meal to feed 5 people, even started a whole page dedicated to $2 dinners on my blog at

We have our share of hardships and I am working towards financial independance but know we are so blessed compared to many third world areas that live off of $2 a week!

I think it was great you tried this challenge that gives you a glimpse however difficult as you really have not had time to develop the mindset. For example I have had almost my whole life of living well below poverty lines so over many years have learned tricks that guide me in shopping and coming up with creative solutions to deal with food, heating, housing and clothing where you perhaps threw yourself into a challenge that did not give you time to develop the skills perhaps over a long time period. Over all though a great job well done!

Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

Hi Eilleen - I think you'd enjoy this slideshow on Time magazine's website. It shows exactly what families around the world eat in a week and how much it costs. It's interesting looking at some of the poorer families such as the one in Bhutan. Though they spend only $5.03 per week, their food looks SO much healthier than some of the western families. Enjoy ~,29307,1626519,00.html

Lindsey said...

As someone who just lost a job - I totally hear you. While I am highly educated, and in a field that has not been hit by the recession TOO hard, it's still nerve wracking.
Here is something I have learned: If you've got friends and family, you have a place to stay. There is always a plan B and there is always a way out. Most things are not necessary and when you really think about it, you don't NEED much, we are just conditioned to think we do.

gullygunyah said...

A little more detail on what you ate for the week and what you would eat in the future might have helped those interested in sustaining this kind of lifestyle.
@Tanya thanks for the link. It was an intersesting slideshow. I agree with you about the healthy food the people from Bhutan were eating. But in all fairness you could not even buy a fraction of those foods with 5 dollars in the west. Just the bag of grain would cost more.
@Rainbow have bookmarked your blog thanks.

Stephanie said...

I was very intrigued by your thoughts:

"Without joy in my eating, and without the ability to eat what everyone around me ate, I felt isolated. I was surrounded by friends and family and I ate my own food while they ate theirs...and I felt disconnected. This highlighted for me the importance of the little things we do together to connect and without it, one's entire world becomes different."

This is how I feel/felt going gluten free when I realized I had a food intolerance. Initially it robbed the joy of eating from me and has recently set me aside at every family and friend gathering. While it makes since I never considered this is how someone living below the poverty line like that might also feel. Good post.

Eilleen said...

Thanks everyone for sharing your comments and your links!!