Reflections on the Live Below the Line Challenge, Part 2

The continuation….

2. Because we had the privilege of our 120 rand upfront, in many ways the challenge was what Lisa refers to as “an extended budgeting challenge” – sitting working out a healthy balanced meal plan for the week was stressful.  The list I started out with was completely different to the list I ended up with – for starters there was less meat on the second, no fruit, no dairy, more lentils, and less “excitement”.  Lisa wrote a blog on the challenge, and was concerned that  “One of the regular themes in the blogs and tweets of the participants of the challenge is that they’re bored of eating low-cost food.” She goes on, “This is part of what worries me about this challenge. If it were truly challenging people to bolster their sense of compassion and humanity, boredom wouldn’t be a major theme.” I disagree. The purpose of the challenge was to raise awareness, to “get a clue”, to recognize our own abundance – and certainly one of the major themes of that must be that living below the line is no fun! The food is boring, and bland and it is a struggle to make healthy choices.

3. On 120 rand we were forced to buy small quantities of food items such as rice and noodles. This for me was perhaps the greatest thing I learnt as I reflected on the poverty line. Unfortunately, small quantity items almost always come at a higher cost. Buying a small bag of rice is generally more expensive per kg than buying a larger packet. Here’s a quick illustration: Pantene 2 in 1 200 ml has a per/liter cost of 164 rand. The 400ml bottle has a per/liter cost of 99 rand! I dare not work out the sachet per/liter cost! So if you only have the cash to buy a small amount, you end up paying exorbitantly more for the amount you use than rich people do. Rich people get more stuff for less money than poor people do. This is gross injustice!

4. We had a fridge. Thus we were able to keep the food we bought in ‘bulk’, meat, left-overs and bread fresh. How many people living below the poverty line have a fridge, let alone electricity. This further curbs their ability to eat economically – to buy in bulk, cook and store food, and, in the unlikely event of leftovers, to not waste that food.

5. We only did the challenge for a week. We went into it healthy. Remembering that the 12 rand average covers food, drink, health care, accomodation, electricity, education, transportation etc for those on or below the poverty line, the knock on effect from an unbalanced diet (yes, vegetarianism may be healthier on balance but nearly all vegetarians I know supplement their diet with vitamins or with expensive protein alternatives such as nuts and seeds and low gi food) means the poor are less healthy and have far less (can anybody say nothing?) to get well on.

6. Brett and I ate well. We had reasonable quantities. We ate lots of vegetables and we even had some rice and lentils left over. But there was something lacking from the  diet. During the week we were doing mental work (i.e. transcription) but an hour or two after meals I would get incredibly drowsy and low in energy. Yes, with these minor side effects, the meal sizes sustained us through this work. But I cannot imagine doing hard physical labour on the meals we were eating! I really doubt it would have sustained us through a working day. Food for thought when you look at construction workers, or road cleaners, or gardeners and judge them for being so “lazy”. Think about how many bad character traits may merely be hunger disguised.

Many of you asked how it went. These are just a few thoughts. I may write more in the next few days. I do highly recommend that you take the challenge in your own time and hopefully catch a glimpse of the realities of the other side. I sincerely hope you don’t come out of that time and think you have done your bit. I also hope you don’t come out of it feeling guilty about all you have. But maybe a little conviction ain’t always a bad thing. And if you are a Christ-follower person then go and read this post because it talks about the true motivation for social justice and charity, and if that grabs you then definitely get Tim Keller’s “Generous Justice”.

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