Lessons from an Empty Stomach
A Banana Pancake Morning
Yesterday was a bit rough; I think it's the lack of coffee ... at least that's what my addicted PhD student brain tells me. But the morning started out well. It started with banana pancakes. With just a touch of cinnamon. Little things matter a lot.
It's interesting - despite this being year 7 of doing the LBL challenge, new things always surface through researching topics to write about and talking to friends and family. This year I've had several conversations with friends about the nuances that aren't captured in the challenge's rules for eating on $2 per day. I thought I'd share a couple -
Where are you trying reflect poverty?
- This is important. The challenges of eating on $2 a day while still living in a city, in a house, with electricity and running water, and being able to access health care or emergency assistance, are very different than in a rural area, without nearby medical services, electricity, or piped and drinkable water, where cooking takes place over a wood-powered fire. Perhaps LBL is more akin to low-income eating in a highly-developed country like Australia.
- Furthermore, urban poverty is different from rural poverty
You could buy a lot more food if you were somewhere in Africa or Indonesia.
- True, food is cheaper in countries other than Australia...If I were still on my Australian income. But poverty lines are adjusted to take into account Purchasing Power Parity - also coined the Big Mac Index, because we can think of PPP in terms of how many Big Macs you could buy in country X for US$1. So the cost of living in country X might be lower, but income might also be lower to match.
Can I give you food? Can you use some of the rosemary in your garden?
- In the real-world, any practical individual living on a low wage could jump on gifts of food, utilising garden space, foraging for herbs, or dumpster diving. The challenge is not set up to account for the opportunism or innovation of individuals living in poverty. But people are innovative. They find creative ways to make ends meet, diversify their income sources, and obtain food for themselves and their families. This ability to diversify also helps to weather shocks from bad times (and the looming threat of climate change).
So, as much as I'd love to accept my officemate's offer to shout coffee, for now I'll stick to my strict $2/day budget.
Who Walks the Line?
We joke sometimes about being starving graduate students, or the poverty of a 'research higher degree'. While most of us discussing this topic have never experienced true, chronic hunger, and have never reached the point where financial woes eclipse every other aspect of life, it is true that 'what is poor' is not entirely straightforward.
At the international level, major development organisations have worked to set poverty lines that delineate the point at which people across the world can't meet their basic needs. Countries individually define their poverty lines, and then the poorest countries dictate the international poverty line. This line set by the World Bank stood at $1.90 per person per day as of 2015 (based on 2011 data). How the poverty line is calculated - based on incomes and costs of goods, not to mention incomplete data - has faced its fair share of critiques over the years and more recently. But the concept of a poverty line itself, and whether countries are considered "developing", have also been called into question.
I recently came across an interesting discussion on tiers of income, and how those may be more informative and reflective of reality than a simple cut-off for those who are considered poor. This approach characterised four different classes of income, and how many people around the world fall into these categories. At level 1, about 1 billion people live on less than $2 per day, which translates into transport by foot, cooking over a fire, and fetching water with buckets. Around 3 billion people live on between $2-8 per day, and may get around on bicycle, use gas for home-cooking, and send their children to school. At $8-32 per day, we see around 2 billion people who have running water, might own a car or motorbike, and possibly have a refrigerator and electricity. Finally, the remaining 1 billion people live on more than $32 per day, and they typically own cars, have running hot water, and have been able to complete at least a high school education. This gives a sense of what people can afford, but what the knock-on consequences might be - such as having electricity makes it more feasible to study at home and progress in school. Taking this further step is in line with thinking of poverty as multi-dimensional. Someone's income is only part of the story. Access to services - like medical and education, supportive social environment, and relative sense of wellbeing can all contribute to an individuals' perceptions of themselves and poverty.
This week, I'm not giving up my comfortable living conditions (running water AND electricity), my postgraduate education and healthcare, or my perception of overall welfare. But I am eating on AU$2 per day, while garnering support for Oaktree, a youth-led organization that aims to educate and empower youth in the Asia Pacific as a way to alleviate poverty. Check out my fundraising page and keep tabs on this year's Live Below the Line challenge.
What happened during LBL in...
2013 - Loving the Lentils
2012 - What the World Eats
I'm Living Below the Line...
The challenge is not a new one, but Living Below the Line always presents new challenges. Embarking on a seventh year undertaking to Live Below, I am still humbled and motivated by the struggles people face daily around the world. It is not only meeting basic needs - food, shelter, sanitation - but also human rights - education, equality, freedom, dignity - that are essential for overcoming poverty and improving the human condition. Please join me in doing Live Below the Line, and contribute to an organisation walking the walk!
Check out related posts from this and years past on my blog, as well!
Thank you to my Sponsors
Happy to support you and this worthy cause!
Mickey & Cathy Friedman
Continue to act on what you believe in. The lessons are great for all of us.
Cbcs Et Al.
Thanks to my colleagues at UQ for the support and the contributions! This is from them (and some of my saved grocery expenses from the week).
Thanks for taking this challenge, and for all of the thought and skill you put into communicating the motivation and the journey!
Thank you for keeping this topic visible to all of us, Rachel.
Seven years! Congratulations!
Way to go Rachel, you are a strong and inspiring social changer. Thanks for showing us the way.
Great you are doibg this Rachel!
7 years! You are amazing Rachel!
Woo, go Rach! Good on you
Can I bring you chocolate during the week?