Living Below the Line


As a part of a community dedicated to helping those living in poverty, I decided to take part in “Live Below the Line” challenge from April 28 to May 2, which was sponsored by The Global Poverty Project.

While traveling across Asia, Africa, and Europe, I have encountered many people living in desperate poverty. But that was merely a glimpse, eliciting a fleeting thought of sadness that people live this way. The Live Below the Line challenge took me beyond that, subjecting my body to what the poor go through. Of course, I always had the knowledge that it would end.

Having never lived in desperate circumstances, this challenge afforded me the opportunity to experience a tiny slice of the daily life of those that I am working to help. The Live Below the Line challenge invited participants to experience what it feels like to live on  $1.50 a day for food and drink.


As I am a vegetarian and gluten intolerant, I already know how to cope with limited food sources, and what will keep me full, while at the same time provide enough nutrition.

When I went shopping for food for the week, what I purchased wasn’t too far off the mark from what I already buy; I would just need less of it.

For my protein source, I decided on lentils. I purchased two pounds for two dollars I also bought two large bags of frozen mixed vegetables for roughly $2.20 each. These are cheaper than fresh vegetables and retain the nutritional content. I still had about a dollar left from my $7.50 so I counted that towards a little bit of salt, pepper, and ginger for my dish.


An Example of Food for Living Below the Line 

The Challenge

On Monday, I skipped breakfast as I normally do. When I got home I cooked all my food for the week, so that I could divide it equally over the five days (turns out two pounds of lentils is a lot of food). I had one bowl of lentils and vegetables for dinner, and each day after that until Friday. Each day I practiced yoga, which I regularly practice, and is supposed to keep your basal metabolic rate down, which means you don’t need to eat as much.  Except for one or two days when I would start to feel a little sleepy by the afternoon or a bit unable to concentrate, I was basically okay.  However, by Friday evening, my stomach was yelling at me to eat.

For people who have to eat on a regular schedule, or those who burn more calories during work, or for those accustomed to eating meat, I can imagine that this challenge would have been much more difficult.


When you consider the vast number of people that are trying to survive on so little in the developing world, it’s terrible to think of the hardship and suffering that goes on every day because people have little to eat.  It’s also horrifying to even think about the amount of food that we waste. Nutritious food is so important for so many reasons. Children can’t do well in school if they lack adequate food. The challenge of just being able to stay awake or focus stops them from learning.  And parents in the developing world--who often only eat after their children are fed--become sick and weak without enough food to sustain themselves.

I hope that this challenge helped others who tried it to see how difficult it is to live in extreme poverty, and understand how it might feel for people who can’t see an end to their hardship.

—Meredith Crocker, Planet Aid MIT

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