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Rachel Friedman

5 Day Challenge

Lessons from an Empty Stomach

This morning I woke up with a nice a cup of tea and some avocado on kalamata olive toast. It seemed extravagant after five days of sliced banana on basic wholemeal. And while I can't say my calorie count was dangerously low over this past week of Living Below the Line, I still seemed to be perpetually hungry (and there was the whole lack of coffee...). Not only that, but thoughts of my next meal filled most waking hours. 
This isn't surprising. If your basic needs - food, water, shelter - aren't met, it's difficult to think of other more frivolous things. Abraham Maslow got at this idea in his 1943 paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation". Also referred to as "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs", his theory outlines five levels of needs: physiological, safety, love & belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Deficiency in a lower level of needs causes anxiety, and means an individual will prioritise fulfilling those needs first and foremost. "Where will I get my next meal" would supercede "how well am I doing at work" or "should I hang out with friends tonight". Chronic deficiency of these basic needs can ultimately hinder people from reaching their potential, and society as a whole from being more enlightened and just (see the "growth" tier: self-actualisation). And, as one can imagine, things like poverty and conflict can lead to perpetual loops in the bottom rungs of the hierarchy.
This hierarchy also offers some insight if we care about the environment and conservation. Particularly in the early years, "fortress conservation" dominated the agenda. This largely entailed putting tracks of land - say, tropical rainforest - under protection, kicking out any people that lived in the area, and barring entry and use. Besides this being morally questionable, it also often fails to protect the area of interest. This isn't to say that we should get rid of all protected areas - save Yosemite! -  but rather that the needs of people living around and reliant on protected areas must be considered. Studies have shown that socio-economic factors influence people's perceptions of conservation, and thus need to be accounted for to develop appropriate strategies. You can imagine that someone with an income too low to purchase food, but who lives near a forest with deer and other tasty critters, might prioritise his need to eat and feed a family over the value of an intact protected forest. Some of the strategies to address this tension have included buffer zones around protected areas, where local people can harvest non-timber products like honey or bamboo; and community-managed marine and forest areas, which allows people to use certain resources to meet their needs while fostering the motivation and capacity to sustainably manage them. These, too, don't always work out as planned, but they are steps toward more just and equitable conservation that address humanity's hierarchy of needs.
Thanks to all the support from friends and family during the week, and for contributing to the Oaktree Foundation's mission! It made all the difference (and contributed to the 'esteem' level of my needs).
Read More:
How just and just how? A systematic review of social equity in conservation research - Me, Liz Law, Nathan Bennett, Chris Ives, Jess Thorn, and Kerrie Wilson, 2018 (open access)

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...

2017 - Below the Line in Trumplandia?

2016 - Bad Accounting: Who Pays for Our Food?

2015 - Starting a Conversation on Hunger

2014 - Frugal Foodie on a British Pound: The Challenge Ahead

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!

My Challenges

LBL Expert Recruited a friend Changed Pic Started a Team
Activated Challenge Mode Shared my Page Created my First Blog Followed LBL on Instagram
Upp'd my Fundraising Goal Got my 1st Donation Raised $300 Smashed my Fundraising Goal

Thank you to my Sponsors


Donald Field

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.


Chirstopher Baker


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).




Jessie Wells

Thanks for taking this challenge, and for all of the thought and skill you put into communicating the motivation and the journey!


Alice Lang

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.


Elisa Bayraktarov

Great you are doibg this Rachel!


Julian Cottee

7 years! You are amazing Rachel!



Woo, go Rach! Good on you


Michelle Gibson

Can I bring you chocolate during the week?