Today I am limiting myself to spending a dollar and fifty cents -- technically "living" on a dollar fifty today. Of course, in truth, it's impossible for anyone to live so cheaply in the United States. Insurance, rent, mortgage, utilities, cable, lease payments -- all tick off a daily expense without us handing over money each day. For the vast majority, even starvation wouldn't mean living on less than a few dollars each day.
So, why am I spending today eating rice and beans and drinking tap water (which also costs money)? In order to bring attention to the fact that more than a billion people on earth truly do subsist every day on less than it costs to get a half a gallon of gas here. Additionally, I want to encourage people to look at the work my organization, the Eastern Congo Initiative, is doing in Congo -- a place where millions of people have died over the last decade, most from lack of nutrition and the diseases that come with extreme poverty. You can find out more at easterncongo.org.
There are valid criticisms of this effort. Some accuse it of making the issue of extreme poverty into little more than celebrity Twister. It is also true that celebrities often promote (knowing or unknowingly) lifestyles that price out all but the richest Americans. Why should they be lecturing Americans on poverty? Fair enough -- and indeed there is a disgraceful inequity of wealth in this country. In fact, a nice side effect of this effort would be if people became attuned to the effort to similarly ameliorate the tragedy of hunger in America. FeedingAmerica.org is doing a great job (disclosure, I am on the Entertainment Council).
The issue is not that we should feel guilty about owning cars and Xboxes; taking vacations or buying fancy shoes. It's that we should understand that we have a responsibility as a country to be good global citizens. We have a responsibility to come to the aid of our neighbors, some of who are literally starving to death.
The U.S. has five percent of the world's population and 35 percent of global wealth. More egregiously (inverting our own famous yardstick for unfairness), the bottom half of the world has only one percent of the world's wealth; that's more than three billion people in the other "one percent."
We should not stop producing or consuming or trying to turn the engine of progress here -- but we should have a sense of noblesse oblige -- meaning one must act in a fashion that conforms with the reputation that one has earned or, alternately, "whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly." As a nation we both claim a noble position in the world and assert a reputation for fostering freedom, human rights and fairness here and abroad. If indeed we are to live up to that, we cannot abide having some among us who starve.
Today I engage in the minor act of eating rice and beans to do my tiny part. I encourage others to do whatever they can, however minimal.