So far, Team WR&P (“white rice and pintos” – i.e., just me) has put down three organic bananas, three cups (pre-cooked) of rice, and several cups of pinto beans made from scratch. I’m not sure exactly how much of my food I’ve used, but it looks like about half. Today is Day 3 of the Live Below the Line challenge, the halfway point of our week-long quest to live on $1.50 a day for all food and drinks.
I have several thoughts I want to share about the experience so far.
#1 – Flashbacks to life experiences
For several years, I was touring the country as a musician, living on friends couches, and more or less living the vagabondish life of a creative soul before eventually deciding to dive into data analysis. During this whole time, I was buying all my food using dollar bills and spare change, often eating cold black beans from the can as a meal. I’d add potatoes and rice when I had a little more cash to spare and a place to cook them.
Nothing about the experiences I had was glamorous per se, but I definitely made a conscious choice to embark on that lifestyle because of the want for adventure and the chance to chase a creative dream. I was incredibly poor, but it definitely came from a willful place of choosing a certain path in life. This week has sometimes seemed like a return to the “good ol’ days” when rice and beans were my staples and life was a stream-of-consciousness act lived day to day.
Which is precisely the difference between me taking on this challenge and people actually living in extreme poverty. I have choices, near-endless information resources, a strong national infrastructure to rely on, and stable friends and family to fall back on if things get really bad. I also have an extensive educational background. People in extreme poverty have few if any of these things. The lifestyles they take on are not out of choice, but necessity. And there’s no promise of ever changing to anything else. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have boots or straps.
#2 – Spending Money on Food
I usually spend a decent amount of money on food. Actually, there’s nothing that I spend more money on than food and drinks, which seems to make sense to me. I place high value on the food that I cook and eat, and I consider it a worthwhile investment to buy a large variety of quality and ethical foods. We very literally are what we eat, so I take my food seriously.
At the same time, it’s a little crazy to realize how little I could be spending on food if I always ate like I’m eating this week. That’d be a ton of money saved, potentially diverted into other areas of my life. Maybe I could travel more often, or invest in a business or something.
But would it be worth it? Food is so fundamental: if you remove that solid foundation, then the rest of everything on top becomes devalued or unimportant. Which is also why it’s so important for those in extreme poverty to have stable sources of food, so that then they can worry about the rest of their lives. How are you supposed to build a better life for yourself if you’re malnourished? Or hungry? Or fatigued? The staples of survival are the foundation of everything else.
#3 – Veganism and Poverty
The United Nations has said several times that a global shift to a plant-based diet is an essential part of halting climate change and ensuring food security for those in poverty around the world. People in developing countries are affected by the changing weather patterns much more than we are in the developed world, and animal agriculture is one of the greatest contributors to the greenhouse gases responsible. When a drought kills crops in the United States, prices rise and life goes on. When a drought kills crops in the developing world, people starve to death.
Not only that, but consuming animal products is a vastly inefficient way for humans to get the nutrients they need: it takes a much greater input of resources and energy to get calories and nutrients through meat than it does plants. (Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets) The amount of land needed just to grow grains to feed to cattle is immense – land that could be used to grow nutritious food for humans, at a much lower cost to people and the environment. Something most people don’t know is that one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction is clearing land for animal agriculture – potentially the greatest cause of destruction.
A societal shift away from animal agriculture would mean a much lower environmental impact, a reduction in greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere, and also more food for humans around the world. Money currently allocated to animal agriculture subsidies could instead be directed to research of resilient plant-based food sources and systems. See resources below for more information.
One last note – Soylent
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, there’s a new powdered food product on the market called Soylent that is designed to be as much of a diet-replacement source as you want it to be. You can use these food shakes to replace a few meals every now and then, or hypothetically you can eliminate all regular food from your diet and live entirely off Soylent. It has practically 100% of all the nutrients and everything that you need, and some people have actually completely replaced their diets with it. A little weird? Definitely. Intriguing? Absolutely.
I was toying with the idea of trying Soylent for the challenge this week, but the costs are still too high for it to meet the requirements, at approximately $3 a meal. However, $3 a meal is still way cheaper than dining out, especially when considering all the nutrients you’d be getting.
Here’s another cool thing to think about. As the price of Soylent continues to decrease, there could eventually be implications for those living in poverty around the work. What if we could get a complete, fully nutritious meal to someone in extreme poverty for $1? Or less? What if we could provide nutrition shakes like this to those who live in food deserts and can’t get fresh food, or who can’t afford to pay for it? Maybe we could end malnutrition with an efficiently produced, easily transportable, minimally complicated food source like this. (Maybe not – but maybe.)
The future is exciting. But we have to help make it that way.
(For another great article about the spirit of the Live Below the Live challenge, check out this article: “I’m not ‘playing at being poor’, I’m holding a mirror to my own privilege)