05/02/2014 05:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reflecting on What it's Like to Live #BelowtheLine

Reflecting on my Live Below the Line experience has been as interesting as the practice, shopping and challenge itself. I realized quickly that I eat too much. I like variety, which is not the problem: it's the quantity. I have the leftover habit from my youth of cleaning my plate, even if it's more food than my body requires - a common habit, of course. Living off of smaller portions this week has helped me see how much less I truly need, and I believe I will carry this lesson with me farther than I ever would any "diet."


We've had budgeting meetings at Heifer all week, and it's been very intense for me. As president and CEO, the buck stops with me, which is a lot of pressure, as I'm sure you'll imagine. I've had to be thoughtful and think strategically. There were times I wondered if being calorically deficient would make my thinking less clear. By the end of Thursday I found myself feeling less mentally sharp, to say the least.

Night three of Live Below the Line found me at a dinner with Heifer International staff in town from around the world for training. I had my bowl of lentils, while the rest ate tilapia in a cream sauce.

I was seated with colleagues from Cameroon and Ghana, and when I told them about the Live Below the Line challenge and why I was eating only lentils, they were curious and politely supportive. They were also impressed by and grateful for the donation support coming through the entire Live Below the Line campaign to Heifer International. Though I felt separated from the group by the differences in our meals, my participation in the challenge opened us up to interesting conversation we might not have had otherwise.

We talked about how poor farmers manage their calorie intake. This has been something on my mind throughout the entire week. My first day did not go so well, but I quickly readjusted to a 50/30/20 caloric distribution over breakfast/lunch/dinner and found this to be a workable approach. As it turns out, this is similar to how Cameroonian farmers face their days: eating big in the morning. Ghanaian farmers, on the other hand, eat their largest meal in the evening, restoring the calories used throughout the day.

We talked, too, about what makes for a sustainable, living income. $1.51 a day may put you "above the line," but it's nowhere near enough to be securely out of poverty. One budget misstep, family medical emergency, natural disaster, and you're back to square one. Part of Heifer's strength as a global poverty and hunger-ending organization is how much we take this into consideration.

The difference between what is adequate and what's fair came up as well. Food is so much more than just fuel for our bodies. What makes a dignified diet? Is it the ability to eat whatever you like, whenever you like? Is it to afford meat (if that is your preference) or other "luxuries" more than on special occasions? A colleague at Heifer who also participated in Live Below the Line, by her calculations for her family, determined an extra $0.50 a day, per family member, is what they would have required to add meat one time during the week.

Is it having enough food to share outside your family without suffering financial consequences? Sharing food is part of what it means to be human, touching our lives from family bonding as children, to courtship and marriage ceremonies, to the gathering of communities. A diet of $1.50, in the long-term, would be devastating for me, and not from a caloric or nutritional standpoint. The lack of ability to share, and the monotony of the diet would be depressing, I believe.

Overall, in addition to being more mindful about how much of the world's food I am eating, the other major take-away from this week for me is recognizing how difficult it is to function at my peak when I'm truly hungry. For the smallholder farmers we work with at Heifer International, this must be especially so. Their workloads are larger, the demands on them greater in many ways. The importance of adequate nutrition on individual, family and community success cannot be overemphasized.

Many thanks to all who have contributed financially (there's still time) and those who have encouraged me along the way. While we continue to make great strides toward ending extreme hunger and poverty, we must remember that the only acceptable number is zero.

This post was originally published on Heifer International's World Ark Blog.