THE BLOG
04/28/2014 10:39 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2014

Shopping to Live #BelowtheLine

Live Below the Line is an awareness and fundraising campaign challenging people to eat and drink on only $1.50 a day for five days (April 28-May 2). Participants can turn awareness-raising into fundraising for a Live Below the Line charity partner organization of their choice. I am proud to say Heifer International is a Live Below the Line partner.

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Along with a number of our staff at Heifer, I am participating in both the fundraising and the $1.50/day challenge. I did a practice day a couple of weeks ago, as I originally planned to participate while on Heifer business in Haiti. That trip has been cancelled, but my commitment to Live Below the Line remains.

I went shopping Sunday. I took $7.50 in cash... no credit card safety net in case I put too much in my basket. I felt anxious about that beforehand -- the potential embarrassment of not having enough money to pay for something and having to put it back. It's definitely humbling to know this is a regular occurrence for so many people.

I thought about coupons. I never use coupons except for Ben & Jerry's, which is a $5.50 pint of ice cream... sigh. I settled on shopping at a grocery store with a discount-card program. The argument for cheap prices for low-income folks is gaining personal clarity, but on the backs of whom? It's obviously not a clear-cut situation.

Buying healthy was a far lower priority on my mind for the week. I need calories, and protein... cheap.

So I took my $7.50 shopping to see how far I could stretch it. Meat was obviously not affordable on $1.50 a day, so I settled on the cheapest medium eggs I could find: $1.69 for a dozen (organic is over $4).

I chose brown rice, which is a bit more expensive than white rice, but more nourishing, so worth the added cost. Rice and lentils took $3.57. Two bananas, a sweet potato, some carrots and caffeine pills took the rest.

When I described Live Below the Line to the grocery store checkout clerk, he nodded and said I'd last two days, max. He smiled and wished me luck. The bagger looked at me as if I was nuts.

Billions of people live like this every day. It was a tough moment to look at my grocery basket and realize that hundreds of millions live on this every week, and millions on less. And I was only shopping for myself.

The raw reality of the situation is so clear once you actually do it. It must be horribly painful for the poor to be in a sea of luxury and plenty; at least for some of them. It was so very disorienting to be in a store where I could not buy most things in there. How violently depressing. Poverty is so cruel to the human spirit.

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See more on my Live Below the Line page. If you've not yet signed up, there is still time.