Living on Less than $2 a Day.

This isn’t about how you can live on less than $2 a day. I’m sorry if the title was misleading. It is about how half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day and the mini-challenge I did last week along with hundreds of others. From Monday, April 11 to Friday, April 15, I did a partial fast in which I only ate a small serving of certain foods each day. This restricted portion was done to mirror the diet of people living in third world countries. At the end of each day, I wrote up a short reflection.

The Five-Day Challenge:

For five days, eat as half the world’s population eats – on less than two dollars a day.

Food: Restrict intake of food to a small serving of oatmeal or Cream of Wheat at breakfast and a cup of rice and beans at lunch and dinner. Consider this: One cup (eight ounces) of food is a generous meal portion for those fighting poverty—and eating meat is a luxury. (You may add small amounts of vegetables and approximately one ounce of meat—the size of a small chicken nugget—to your portion each day).

Water: Drink only tap water, and remember the more than one billion people who don’t have access to clean water. Children in many developing countries walk for miles to fill jugs with water, often from disease-ridden sources.

My thoughts before doing the challenge:

Most of my life, I’ve skipped breakfast and only eaten lunch and dinner. It wasn’t until after college that I started to eat something in the morning. This was a small meal: oatmeal, a cup of yogurt, or some eggs. Only recently, I started eating a regular breakfast (two eggs and spinach). I also tend to eat a small lunch or skip lunch altogether if I have nothing at home to bring. Dinner is usually the largest meal I eat. Drinking water from the tap is also something I do on a daily basis – I usually avoid milk, soda, and juices. I don’t anticipate an issue with the water restriction. I think my biggest issue will be my inability to snack for five days. I’m a huge snacker (on healthy and unhealthy things).


None, really. I used items I already had (leftover white rice, half a bag of uncooked rice, a can of baked beans, a box of apple cinnamon oatmeal) and bought more rice and beans during the week, as needed.

Day One:

Oatmeal for breakfast was good. Had white rice for lunch. It was actually leftover rice from a previous meal. I ate dinner relatively early (around 5p) because I was pretty hungry. Baked beans for dinner with a small side of steamed spinach. Had the spinach so it wouldn’t go bad – it’s the only perishable food item I have and I didn’t want to waste it. Saved the rest of the beans for next meal. Drinking water all day wasn’t an issue because I already drink water from the tap and carry it around in a stainless steel bottle. Was very tempted to eat a Girl Scout cookie between lunch and dinner. I actually had the thin mint out of the package but put it back in before I could eat it. Close call! I’m a snacker so it was quite a struggle to keep myself from sneaking peanuts and carrots. Went to bed early (8p) to keep my mind off a gurgling stomach. Sooner I go to bed, the sooner I can have oatmeal in the morning!

Day Two:

Oatmeal for breakfast again, leftover baked beans for lunch. The beans didn’t taste as good today. I also slipped two times today. I was passing out gummy bears to the kids in the morning and as I was putting the bucket of gummy bears back in the cabinet, I grabbed two for myself and ate them without a thought. As I was swallowing them, I realized what I did and immediately felt guilty. You see, it’s a habit I have of giving the kids their treat and then taking a little bit for myself at the end. I do it without thinking. Again, later in the afternoon, I walked into my university and there was a large bowl of candy at the front table. I absentmindedly grabbed a mini Crunch bar and popped it in my mouth while talking with the guy at the desk. Ugh. Strike two. Way to go, Laura.

The best part of the day was our dinner. We had three friends over, one of whom was also doing this fast. We cooked up a nice pot of rice, built a fort in our living room, and ate our meal of rice and tap water inside the fort. A large pot sat in the middle, a pitcher of water next to it, and the five of us crammed in the fort. This is how meals should be – making it with friends and eating it together. We ended the evening with a game of Scrabble.

While we were sitting in the fort, I thought of how this is the way most of our world lives and eats everyday. Large families are crammed in small one-room homes around a single pot of rice for dinner. There are no dining tables, no placemats, no sinks to wash bowls in. Just dirt floors, a few bowls, and a sack of rice in the corner. And somehow, they live. They get by. Why do I deserve all this easy luxury while so many others have to work so hard just for basic food and a roof over their heads?

Day Three:

Oatmeal again. Arrived to the school this morning and was greeted with a buffet in the teacher’s lounge: cheese & crackers, vegetable trays, lemon cake with strawberries, oatmeal banana bread, bread & dip, and salads. It was my food heaven. All of these are favorites of mine and I couldn’t eat them! Was God testing me? Why would he have this happen today? But I had to take a step back and remind myself that many people don’t have this luxury. They don’t have a variety of free food readily available right in front of them. They have to work hard to get it – and it’s usually rice, beans, fish, and some plants. So I did what any good faster would do: I grabbed some lemon cake and banana bread, put it in a bag, and brought it home. I stuck it in the fridge without a bite. This will be my first treat when the challenge is over. I did, however, have a couple carrot and celery sticks as a small serving of vegetables with my lunch , which was a bowl of brown rice couscous.

Immediately after lunch, I was hit with a wave of exhaustion. On the drive home, I realized how irritable I was. A slight headache was starting to form. I wanted to nap but couldn’t bring myself to fall asleep. Read a book for a couple hours instead. Ate a little brown rice couscous as a small, quick dinner.

Two more days left. How do people do this all their lives?

Day Four:

My alarm went off an hour late, so I woke up and rushed out the door without any oatmeal. A very empty stomach in the morning (skipping breakfast and not eating much for the past three days) led me to feel tired and disoriented most of the morning. I was very cold, too – which I attributed to room temperatures, but the staff told me it’s because I’m not eating much. Who knows. When lunchtime rolled around, I was pretty excited to eat my little bowl of brown rice couscous (yes, again – I made a lot of it yesterday morning). I thought of how strange it was to be excited to eat a little bowl of flavorless brown rice couscous. This challenge has reminded me that many people don’t have regular meals and any food they can get is exciting. Wow. To millions of people, it’s a meal that isn’t guaranteed. A bowl of flavorless rice is a treat.

Dinner was different: New Orleans-style black beans and rice. My fiancé was participating in the challenge too but has a harder time eating plain rice or beans. His usual diet consists of tons of processed foods, fried foods, sodas, and sugars. Today and yesterday, he didn’t eat anything because he felt sick. I told him this is because his body is so used to consuming bad foods and sugars. That, and he was probably very hungry. Therefore, I decided to make tonight’s meal something a little more appetizing for both of us. It was actually quite filling. Either our stomachs were shrinking and we were used to not eating much already, or we made too much.

Last day tomorrow. Already?

Day Five:

You guessed it, oatmeal for breakfast. Made long grain & wild rice for lunch. Today wasn’t so bad, actually. I think the fact that the challenge ended at 5pm and my friends were celebrating with a BBQ gave me enough of a push to get through the day knowing I’d have a big meal later. Regardless, all I could think about for the past couple days was food. I was making dinner plans with friends, creating menus for the next couple weeks at home, and drooling over food blogs. At the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the people who aren’t as fortunate to have all these food options ever day.  The BBQ was great – it kind of felt like Thanksgiving. I was stuffed at the end of the night. I wonder how I would have felt if I knew there wouldn’t be a feast at the end of the day…

… and the challenge was over.

That’s it? It was a bit of a grueling week, but it went by quickly. Although the days left me feeling weak, disoriented, and distracted, five days is no where near enough to teach me what it’s really like to live on such little food. I don’t know if my body would have adjusted to the smaller amount over time or if I would have kept on feeling hungry. I admire those millions of people who get through this every day. They are strong, much stronger than I. My heart goes out to them.

We are so lucky to have clean tap water readily available.

We are so lucky that we have a variety of vegetables and meat to choose from.

We are so lucky to have plates to eat off. Tables to sit at. Refrigerators. Stoves.

Let’s face it, we are fricking spoiled.

Next time you sit down for a meal, consider what’s on your plate. Where did it come from? How hard did you have to work to get it? What would your life be like without that meal? What if you had to eat the same thing every day? How can you eat healthier? How can you reduce food waste after a meal? Could you eat smaller portions? Is there someone you know who needs the food more than you do? What can you give?

What if you didn’t know when your next meal would be?

We take our food for granted. We stuff junk in our mouths. We throw away way too much. Every day, I see students in the lunchroom throw away half-eaten sandwiches, uneaten apples, empty bags of Doritos, and drink from Capri Sun pouches. Some students receive free reduced lunches. They complain about cafeteria food but don’t realize how lucky they are.

Be more conscious about your food choices. When you go to the grocery store, only buy what you need. Try to eat smaller portions. Consider whether or not the stuff you’re putting in your mouth is healthy for you or processed junk. Try to buy locally. Skip the plastic water bottles and appreciate the clean, free water that comes from your faucet. Take a step further and donate some canned goods to the local food pantry. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Cook a meal for another family. Pack seeds for poor families in Africa.

Think about your food.

6 thoughts on “Living on Less than $2 a Day.

    1. Most of the rice was cooked plain and ‘spiced up’ with only salt, pepper, and soy sauce. The couscous also had some olive oil and garlic. The New Orleans-style rice and beans had some soy sauce, onion, bell pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper, and whatever I thought might taste good. I feel slightly guilty about the rice & beans meal because we were supposed to eat very plainly the whole week.

      I wouldn’t advocate eating a diet of only rice and beans all week. It’s good for the wallet but very high in carbs!

  1.  My family and I live in the US and with the recession we already live off less than $2 per day for food and less than $20 per day for everything.  We eat well I think.  It just a matter of getting over american consumerism and gluttony; really..

    1. It IS very possible to live on less than $2 a day if we purchase our food and plan our meals wisely. Too many people don’t think about that and instead go for the ‘quick, convenient’ meals…

    1. Eating rice and beans all the time isn’t that healthy, so I haven’t considered doing it more than five days; however, I have purchased some staples (veggies, pasta) that cost very little and lasted me a week Those meals were about $2 a day. It IS very possible to eat with $2 a day (more like $15 a week), but it means we need to stay away from processed foods and eat healthy, whole foods.

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