The $1.75 Nightmare

Pretend you’re poor and save the world, or something

POVERTY by Charles Atlas Sheppard

Can you live on $1.75 per day? The painful reality is 1.2 billion people live below that. The World Bank defines $1.75 a day or less as extreme poverty. That’s not just to cover food and drink but housing, education, health care and everything else most Canadians take for granted.

Live Below The Line is a worldwide challenge initiated by The Global Poverty Project and The Oaktree Foundation to raise awareness about poverty. The challenge, which started on April 29, is to go five days living on only $1.75 per day. Do you think you can do that on your own? Can you do it without cheating, without popping in at your friend’s place around dinner time “by happenstance”, or without using one of the many staples you, no doubt, have in your cupboards already?

Probably not. But many an armchair social critic and Internet comment-section troll thinks it’s easy-peasy.

Even celebrities are getting in on it. The American version is called The SNAP challenge, and in it participants live on $29 worth of food stamps for a week to raise awareness of what the impoverished have to live on. If you break it down, that’s $16.25 more than the global weekly challenge. Gwyneth Paltrow, to some people the poster child of white privilege, accepted the challenge and Tweeted a picture of beans, rice, a dozen eggs, a sweet potato, gluten-free tortilla chips and other food, and captioned it with “this is what 29 dollars gets you at the grocery store — what families on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, better known as food stamps) have to live on for a week.” She faced an immediate backlash and ridicule from the Internet community for her unrealistic choices.

While Paltrow’s food basket may have been unrealistic, her choices raised more awareness about poverty than all the other celebrities combined.

Sorry for the math, but when you’re poor you learn to count your nickels and dimes. Five days equals $8.75, so how would you spend this money? This would get you a glass of wine or a latte and a bagel with cream cheese. But you would starve for the duration.

At the Dollar Store, you can get four packs of instant noodles or two packs of generic Mac and Cheese for a loonie. Why heck, you could just load up on that for five days and still treat yourself to a loaf of day-old bread and a can of generic spam. Go crazy and get a pack of mixed grains, and make yourself some soup or rice for a few bucks. That might last a few days! Too bad fresh veggies are out of the equation — they cost too much. Nutrition is less important when all you want to do is fill that ugly gnawing hole. Poor people just don’t have the luxury to be gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian.

Welfare recipients might have a better go of it. There is a sliding scale of benefits one receives, but for argument’s sake let us average this to $750 per month for a single person. Most of that will go to shelter. Rent is expensive in this town – what, $550 average? More? Recipients are expected to look for work, so tack on $25 for a discounted transit pass. Shockingly, poor people still smoke and drink — subtract another $75. That leaves a hundred bucks for the whole month for food, toiletries and healthcare.

Poor people wipe their bums just like everyone else. There goes 10 per cent of that budget. Caught a cold? Snap out of it. You can’t afford to be sick.

At the beginning of the month you can treat yourself to some fresh veggies: lettuce and tomatoes for sandwiches, onions and potatoes for soup. You won’t be buying steaks because that would cut your budget in half and a steak is only one meal. You’ll be lucky to have bologna or hotdogs for a week and hamburger helper for a few days before breaking out the ramen.

I haven’t mentioned food banks and soup kitchens or committing crimes because that’s not part of this challenge.

Now that you know what you’re getting yourself into, are ready for the challenge of living on $1.75 per day? You can sign up at www.belowtheline.ca. Do it for charity! After all, it’s just a game, right?

2015-05-14