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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

Live Below the Line: An Epic Challenge

Back in April, I took the Food Stamp Challenge in preparation for doing Live Below the Line in May. Live Below the Line is an interactive awareness and fundraising campaign through the Global Poverty Project that invites and challenges participants to live on the amount of food that someone living in poverty would have.

In the United States that is $1.50 a day. I signed up to take the challenge for seven days, giving me $10.50 to work with and divide over my challenge.

Now I failed miserably during the Food Stamp Challenge and truthfully didn’t expect to last the whole week on this challenge. What I wanted to do was figure out the difference between limited food and poverty rations in regards to how I felt and worked through my days. I started by taking my $10.50 to the grocery store in an attempt to buy a week of food.

Even with going to a discount grocer, I knew that meat would be out entirely and that my dietary restriction would be interesting as well. I ended up buying a dozen eggs (the smallest size available as they were cheapest,) a bag of baby carrots that were on sale, a cheap jar of peanut butter, and a small bag of regular potatoes. I came in thirty-one cents under budget. With my food choices being so restricted I figured that I could plan to eat the same things each of the seven days. That is the first thing that disappears when you don’t have the resources to buy food: there is no variety. You get what you can afford and you eat the same things over and over.

My plan was simple: for breakfast I would have an egg (about ten cents,) lunch would be carrots (thirty cents,) and two tablespoons of peanut butter (twenty cents,) and dinner would be a plain baked potato and another egg (about eighty cents.)

Credit: USDA

Credit: USDA

Day one I got a little bit lucky. I overslept so I was in a position to skip breakfast so I took the hard boiled egg that I had allocated for breakfast and added to my carrots and peanut butter for lunch, opting to drink water because my poverty budget didn’t have room for coffee. I made it through my morning just fine, but was pretty hungry by lunch and wasn’t satisfied with the egg-carrot-peanut butter lunch.

I wasn’t hungry (one of the good things about protein) but it just wasn’t something I really wanted. By the time dinner rolled around I had a mild headache and I was really very hungry. I decided to slice up my chosen potato and dry-fry it with an egg to make a wannabe Spanish tortilla. I destroyed it and was still hungry after, but it wasn’t too bad.

Day two I woke up hungry and downed a few cups of water in an attempt to make up for not being able to have coffee. I selected the biggest egg in the carton, hard-boiled it, and it wasn’t enough. In my frustration over the lack of food I decided to eat a tablespoon of my peanut butter with my breakfast. Important life lesson here, folks: peanut butter and egg is nasty together. Mercifully that sort of combination is something I won’t eat again. I packed up my carrots and the rest of my peanut butter, hard-boiled a second egg, and went to lunch.

Today when I ate my lunch I was hungry, so much so that I ate early, drank a lot of water with it and was pretty ravenous after. I kept licking my spoon trying to extract more peanut butter from it as if by magic. I had another headache, I was crabby, and I felt awful at my part-time job. I had to wait until much later in the evening to eat my potato and egg dinner (tonight I diced a potato, sautéed it in nothing, and then scrambled two eggs.) I scarfed it down and went to bed hungry enough that my stomach growled.

The morning of day three was miserable. I slept very badly because I kept dreaming of food and waking up hungry. I also had no energy at all and hadn’t gotten rid of my headache. I was so slow that I didn’t get to make my egg for breakfast and ended up taking two with me to work raw along with peanut butter and the last of my carrots. Why the last of my carrots? Because I misjudged how many were in the package versus how many I was eating. The eggs I microwaved at work and ate with the carrots and peanut butter (careful to avoid the peanut butter with the eggs, mind you.) I was tired and crabby. I couldn’t focus. I felt overly emotional and my stomach kept growling. I could smell other people’s food and it annoyed me. I caught a look at myself in the mirror and I looked rough.

Three days in and I am pretty sure I lost weight and I looked horrible. I felt shaky and I accomplished very little. When I got home from work I went straight for the potatoes and ate two after “baking” them in the microwave. I discovered then I had only one potato left. I was down to pretty sad rations now: six eggs, one potato, and some peanut butter.

I gave up at day three. When the morning of day four came I got up and made my coffee. I made some delicious bacon and eggs and a gluten-free waffle with some cocoa and almond spread. I went out for lunch. I had tacos for dinner. I bought a latte. I ate until I was full and probably even more than full. I decided to end my challenge at three days because I wasn’t comfortable with the impact it was having on my body. I have my health concerns and I was really worried that I was hurting myself by eating so little and being so shaky.

I recognized as I made this decision that I had a lot of privilege because if I really were in poverty I wouldn’t have this as a choice. I would have to live with the negative side effects, both physical and emotional. I have no idea how I would have managed to work another shift at my part-time job on so little food. The sad thing is that I know there are people who work at my part-time job who do manage it.

What I took away from this challenge was largely the same lessons of my food stamp challenge, but I also got a much sharper picture of what hunger really is. Hunger isn’t missing a meal. Hunger is the raw, painful and emotional emptiness of not only having very little to eat, but not knowing when you are going to eat enough again or even when you will eat anything. It’s your body starting to crave weird things because the diet you can afford doesn’t have all the nutrients you need. Hunger is a serious problem that too many people face every day.

This challenge didn’t give me a magic answer on how to fix the problem. It did give me a greater awareness. It may not be much, but it changes how I see the world and the things I will choose to invest my time in. Food insecurity is huge. I hope to find ways to change that.

For more information about global poverty and food insecurity, please visit The Global Poverty Project.

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