Hunger and getting sick of eggs
When I received an email asking me to be part of the #LiveBelowTheLine challenge where I spend $1.50 a day on food for five days, I wrote, deleted, rewrote, and deleted, and then settled on my response.
During the day, I work with people with disabilities, and every Thursday we cook meals together. I get a strange rush out of trying to spend every penny of our $20 budget while maximizing the quality and amount of food we buy. The group usually comes out within ten to twenty cents of our budget. So, even though I do not diligently budget for food in my personal life, I was used to grocery store excursions where you put back a potato for a slightly smaller potato just to shave off two or three pennies. And I was acquainted with the prices at Meijer where we usually shopped.
After flip-flopping on my answer, I told myself that I’d do it. I got a swift response, asking if I had any questions. The only question that I had was whether it was just food that money would be limited on, or if it’d apply to other groceries. It’d be a lot more difficult if you needed to factor in, say, toilet paper–or else plan to take a stack of leaves to the bathroom–but luckily, the limit applied only to food.
Within a minute of responding to the email, I set about strategizing. Two things came to mind: bananas and eggs. They’re both cheap and filling. When I went to Meijer to buy my groceries, at 11 p.m. the night before the challenge (because I’m last minute at most things), I focused on these. I bought two-dozen eggs and seven bananas. I thought about getting another dozen eggs, but opted instead for strawberries, which were on sale for a dollar a package. My other groceries included three cucumbers, a package of turkey bacon and just over a tenth of a pound of coffee. I considered getting blueberries, which were on sale for $1.67 a package, and an ear of corn for $.40, but I put these back.
Part of my strategy was to buy a few items first, calculating as well as I could while leaving wiggle room, and then going back and buying other things later in the week if needed. This is how I ended up maximizing the last of my budget by buying two extra bananas. Each was $0.16-$0.18, depending on the size.
At the end of my trip, I had $.17 to spare. A tablespoon of oil can be used for .05 cents. So, I planned on using three tablespoons during the week. That’ll leave two cents in waste, which is 98.85 percent efficiency. Not bad.
Another part of my strategy going into the week was gorging myself on food beforehand. I stopped at Mcdonalds and bought a McChicken, McDouble and a medium chocolate shake. And I waited for ten to fifteen minutes, because their ice cream machine was spraying ice cream all over the place. (I could see it from the window.) The worker ended up replacing my shake with a frappe.
Then I went home and ate some more—cereal and blueberries.
On the one hand, this may counteract the intention of the simulation. A person who needs to live on 1.50 a day may not have the opportunity to gorge themselves, and their situation is unlikely to be as temporary as five days. But on the other hand, maybe everyone takes any opportunity that presents itself.
Would you like some chocolate milk?
Monday went relatively well, until near the end. I was definitely feeling hungry and I also went to see a friend perform a piece at a comedy show. The piece was called “Would you like some chocolate milk?” It was aptly named. She made chocolate milk onstage and gave it out to whoever would like some. It was a theatrical experience that required physical presence; she could have made a video about it, but, then, no one could actually have the chocolate milk..
I felt out of place because the space was intimate, and I did not want to sit out from her offer, and— friendship aside—I really did want some chocolate milk.
After the show, including this piece, there was an improv jam (you just do improv games for an hour or so) that I was part of, and auditions for another show. I had no intention of auditioning for this other show, but when another friend of mine showed up and asked me to stick around, I grabbed the audition sheet and took a look at the commitments. There were about five rehearsals, so it was doable with everything else I had in life. But, after a full day of work starting around 7 a.m., and doing various theater things until about 10 or 11 p.m., I was pretty sapped, and not just from needing to sleep, but from wanting more food.
Getting sick of eggs and bananas
Tuesday I continued pretty strong. I continued to diligently eat my bananas, strawberries, eggs and everything else. When the friend from the night before (who got me to audition for the show) came over, I had to explain the challenge. So, no beer or wine or pizza rolls.
Wednesday was tougher, and I was getting sick of eggs in particular. I’d taken to hard-boiling them. But this took more time than cooking them in my normal way: cracking them open and doing whatever.
In the evening after work I had a meeting at a place that serves delicious-looking food. And I couldn’t have any.
It was then that I began to feel a bit foggy headed. I also weighed myself this day and had lost a considerable amount of weight.
On Wednesday I had also been carrying around the turkey bacon way too much, so decided to just cook it all at once. It was good, but I knew I’d miss it.
Feeling a little foggy
So, today, Thursday, was the toughest. I’m really sick of hard-boiled eggs. I have a headache. And I actually didn’t get to eat more than a banana for lunch because the two eggs that I brought with me did not cook thoroughly.
When I got home, I had a hard-boiled egg and a strawberry. And then I left for rehearsal. Having just gotten back an hour ago, I’ve had a third of a piece of celery.
Today my head felt very foggy at points, and I feel a bit light-headed now as I write this. It’s about 9:43 on Thursday.
A sugar rush—and weight loss
On the Friday the challenge ended, I was informed that we could wrap up after 5 p.m. I wasn’t too hungry, but I was still desirous of brownies. So I made brownies. I licked the spoon and felt a sugar rush.
When I weighed myself on the scale on the last day and compared it to the first day, I believed that I lost 15 pounds. I weighed myself again a few hours later, and I may have misread it. But I still lost about ten pounds (granted, when I weighed myself the first time, it was just after I gorged myself on McDonald’s).
Some parting thoughts
The challenge was, well, challenging. I ended up having almost a dozen eggs left over even after I had messed up a few during hard-boiling.Challenging might be an understatement. I don’t want to go into hyperbole, so I think it’ll suffice to say that it was one of the most challenging things that I’ve done recently.
I had planned to end with a post talking about how people in poverty, who really have to live on $1.50 a day sometimes, have all kinds of other pressures on them that compound. For instance, not being able to get to a grocery store easily. And that’s completely true. But for now I’ll just say that it’s hard enough trying to get a diversity of foods for $1.50 a day, and so much that I didn’t utilize all of my resources because I became so sick of eggs.
So, I’m humbled.
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