Today, I'm joining the Live Below the Line campaign. For the next 5 days, I will join people from across Canada eating on a budget of $1.75 a day for all my food and drink. The purpose of Live Below the Line is to bring us closer to some of the difficult choices people in the developing world have to make when it comes to their diets and also to highlight that on this budget, very little choice is possible. The Micronutrient Initiative has joined the campaign this year to take the conversation deeper and focus on the impact of poverty on health, development and dignity.
Living every day on a nutrient restricted diet has a staggering effect on people, especially women and children. Eating affordable foods that may be high in energy may not provide the essential vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C, especially for those with higher needs, such as during pregnancy, breastfeeding and for children in the first two years of life when growth and development are at a peak.
Going into these next five days, I'm not under any delusion that what I'm about to do will in any way mirror what a woman living in extreme poverty has to endure. I can also spend the next five days thinking about foods I will be able to eat again. Sadly, by my living below the line, nobody gets to take my place above the line in a food system of bounty and diversity. I'm aware of the possibility of participating in this challenge might be perceived as minimizing the constant challenges that such women and families have to face. Whereas I know that in five days, I'll go back to a diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals, for many women and their families these nutrients are just not accessible in the foods available. My experience will be largely one of denying myself options that are in the supermarket, that were available to me yesterday and will be again on Saturday. It will also be an exercise in budgeting, extra time and worries invested in shopping, and learning how to ration. I may not feel the energy I normally have and I may experiences less enjoyment of my food over the next five days, but I won't suffer long-term from nutrient deficiencies from these five days. And despite only living on a $1.75 a day, I still have choices in terms of my diet, which many women do not as well as some nutrients like vitamin A already stored up.
So, why am I doing it? First of all, to bring attention to the 1.2 billion people living in poverty and to talk about the cyclical effect of poverty on malnutrition, and malnutrition on poverty. With limited resources good nutrition is often unattainable and without the essential micronutrients an individual's potential for growth, survival and productivity are limited. Having food security and access to culturally appropriate foods of sufficient quantity and quality is the ultimate goal; however, I am reminded by much of my work that micronutrient fortification and supplementation provide affordable and effective solutions to the many who live with hidden hunger.
Through much of my work I have learned from women across the globe who live on less than a dollar a day and spend much of the day working to put the evening meal on the table, yet still manage to contribute to the health and cultural fabric of their communities. I am constantly humbled by their strength and resourcefulness.
If nothing else, I expect to be more conscious of the choices I make when it comes to my consumption. I'm sure simple things like carrot peels and rice that get tossed in the compost will seem horribly wasteful. Things I take for granted, like a morning coffee with a little milk, will become precious. The organic aisle will not be visited, nor the meat section. Live Below the Line is not an answer, but it is a step towards a solution and reminding myself of why I want to be part of that solution. Join me.