During the first week of school last year, our family undertook an interesting challenge: to live on less than $2 per day per person for food. Aware that over one billion people in the world live each day on less than $1, we undertook the challenge as an effort to identify with the circumstances which they face. Being a family of five, we began our week with a group negotiation centered on how best to spend our $70 for the week. There were sacrifices which needed to be made, and a reflection on how we might construct a menu which would last a whole week. Our three children, ages 13, 11, 9 were keen participants!
Two things were either eliminated from considerations very early, or curtailed severely: meat and dairy products. We also needed to shop around to get the best value for our limited resources. New veins of creativity began to flow. During the week we kept a family journal where we recorded comments and reflections: how we were feeling, what we were enjoying, what we were missing, things we were learning. We quickly realized that those who live on so little and whose resources must stretch to cover more than food require levels of creativity and a range of skills which do not come naturally to us.
Although this only went for seven days, the long term impact has been quite extraordinary on all of us. Ironically, our food bill isn't anywhere near what it was and we are eating healthier and a much more varied menu. I don't deny that more work is involved, but I have gone somewhat European in that I avoid supermarkets where I can and take enormous pleasure shopping at fresh produce markets and getting to know the vendors. The European tradition is also to eat what is in season, in which case you get the finest quality without as much quantity. This experience has turned our meals upside down.Alongside our change of lifestyle, we have committed the savings from our normal food budget to a micro-enterprise project in a community in Africa. This project provides interest-free loans to people to allow them to set up a small business which allows them an opportunity to break out of the poverty cycle.
What a challenge. For my own family of four to have $2 per person per day for food would be $56 a week. Just looking at our most recent credit card statement (Dec/Jan), I see that we spent about $300 for the month at the grocery store. That's not too bad - it translates into roughly $75 a week. That amount includes some extra expenses for the holidays, but doesn't include eating out, which we try not to do more than once a week. I think I probably actually did live on $2 a day when I was a grad student living on ramen noodles, but it's been a few years since that was the case. (BTW, I know that many Christians practice fasting as a way of identifying with the global poor. One of my heroes, John Stott, intentionally never takes seconds at meals as an act of solidarity with the majority world.)
I've mostly been touting the $100 project recently, but is anybody up for this $2-a-day challenge?