food poverty

Why we’re living below the line this week

This week, my wife and I will be feeding ourselves on £1 a day as part of the Live Below the Line challenge. 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, as defined by the World Bank at $1.25 a day. That’s for everything, including housing, education, healthcare, the lot. If 1.4 billion people can do it every day, we can manage it for five with just the food.

But why bother? There are a number of reasons why we want to do this.

  1. We want to stand in solidarity with those who live in absolute poverty.
  2. It’s a learning experience. This weekend we’ve done the budgeting and shopping for the challenge and I already know just a little more about the realities of poverty. God willing we’ll never experience the full helplessness of absolute poverty, but we can understand it better than we do today.
  3. I want to be able to talk more about poverty and global issues with my friends, and work out ways that we can make a difference together. We’ve had a bunch of conversations about what we’re doing already, and we want to inspire people to think about poverty and what they can do about it.
  4. Living in a culture of plenty, it’s easy to take our food for granted. We have everything we need and more. To stop and think really carefully about what we’re eating for a week is no bad thing. I am already more thankful for the amazing luxuries that we enjoy on a normal day.
  5. We want to raise a little money for the Global Poverty Project, which we think is doing some good work.

You’ll notice something that isn’t in that list: we’re not doing this because we think it’ll somehow help the poor in any direct sense. Nobody is going to be fed or gets to send their kids to school because we eat cheap food for a week. This is about raising awareness and starting conversations about poverty with our friends, and raising money for those better placed than we are to offer practical help.

There are small things we can all do to make a difference to global poverty. There are charities doing frontline work on poverty, but someone has to fund them. There are government aid budgets, but someone has to hold them accountable. There are international promises, but someone has to demand that they are fulfilled. There are businesses to discover, prejudices to overcome, technologies to share. All of these things depend on ordinary people understanding and engaging with the issue of extreme poverty.

It’s easy not to engage. It’s easy to forget. None of those 1.4 billion people live next door to me. Live Below the Line is way of reminding ourselves.


  1. You mentioned a big issue: 1.25 US$ a day for everything, including health care. It is difficult for us living in Western Europe to comprehend what the health care issue alone actually means. Feeding on that amount already feels like a challenge, although not such a big one, because we enjoy an abundance of cheap subsidized food in Europe. For 2 Euro I can buy potatoes to last a week. Flour is cheap, too, and so its just about every other essential – like water, coming from the tap for next to no money. But health care… We realize what it means to live in a country without health insurance whenever my wives family in Mindanao gets health trouble. Recently my brother in law, a maritime chief engineer, had stent operations at the heart – costing 17.500 €, three times as much as in Germany, where the medical costs are not forming on a free market alone but regulated by public health insurances and law makers. Just afterwards my younger brother in law had a heart attack at age 35 and so did my mother in law a week later. Hospitals not admitting you without pre-payment, private funds transfered at ridiculous fees via Western Union and people who, quite simply, die – after getting indebted at credit shark interest rates and loosing all they ever had. And that not only happens to the poorest, but also to the middle class. Even for seemingly well off people life is precarious in developing countries. A single illness can catapult a family from middle class to absolute poverty in an instant. And the same increasingly happens in the United States.

  2. Jeremy great to see you and your wife taking on the challenge and while I too don’t see it as a fundraiser it is certainly an inspiration, connection and reflection raiser. I hope lots of your followers will be champions for the conversations and insights that Live Below the Line brings. I am just starting day 14 of Live Below the Line while travelling 1000 miles in the US and Canada if people are keen to see what an abundance I am getting from the experience –

    Enjoy your oats!

  3. I’m sure you’ve thought of these issues, but it’s worth considering as well that the 1.4 billion, mainly rural poor, are unlikely to have access to “value” goods in supermarkets sold at or below cost price. They probably have to travel on foot to markets (using up valuable energy), to choose from a poor selection of locally produced food. They will be intensely vulnerable to small changes in food prices resulting from food speculation in the West. They are likely to be deficient in many vitamins and minerals from an early age, thus more susceptible to illness. They are also unlikely to have a regular £1 a day, so some days will earn nothing at all (and eat the same). Parents will starve themselves to feed their children (or vice-versa).

    I spent some time working as a teacher in Africa and earned a local wage. I used the village market and spent more evenings than I care to remember eating rice flavoured with a stock cube garnished with a few tomatoes and onion, cooked on a paraffin stove. Some days I made chapatis with flour and water. Mind you, I shamelessly admit to occasionally cheating and using my emergency credit card to eat slap up meals in 5 star hotels (just so you don’t think I’m entirely virtuous!)

    My point is that money is not the only issue. There is enough food in the world to feed us all. The supply chain, and ownership of all elements of that chain by multinationals, are causing many problems. It is clear that something must be done to empower people and help them own the means of production. How useful must a goat be to a truly poor family (source of milk, cheese etc)? How useful a patch of fertile land with a well dug for them. Much better than sacks and sacks of corn or rice from the Food Aid programmes.

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