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Living Below the Line: Day 4

All this week The Cuban and I have talked about food, thought about food, and consumed some of the worst food choices we've eaten since the two of us met. This morning, he guest posts for me as the man who lives with me as I embark on challenges and strange journeys such as this. 


Everyone who knows me, and even some of you who don’t, knows that when it comes to the kitchen, hubris is my middle name. No challenge is impossible, no recipe too big.


Of course, Kelly understands this side of me better than anyone so it is not at all uncommon for her to sign “Us” up for numerous cooking challenges. This is how this conversation usually goes:

“Oh, by the way, I signed us up for a cooking challenge”

“Great! What is it?”

“We have to prepare an original dish using wheat flour, pinecones and turtle eggs.”

“Umm… OK.  When is it due?”


“I’ll be at the grocery store.”

So, it was in this vein that I approached this Live Below The Line challenge. In all fairness to Kelly, she gave me ample time to get prepared for it this time but I really didn’t take it all too seriously.

Until I went to the store preparing to feed her for 5 days on $7.50.

Kelly has always been amazed at the speed in which I can get in and out of a grocery store with a week’s worth of groceries. I have actually banned her from going to the store with me because inevitably when she does we have to stop and talk to past students of hers; old colleagues; the neighbor who used to live two doors down. She knows everybody! This always doubles or triples my shopping experience. So I go by myself.

When I do go to the grocery store I stick to 2 simple rules.

1. Shop the edges of the store. Nothing in the middle has any real nutritional value and it tastes terrible, and

2. Don’t buy it if you can make it yourself. It will taste 10 times better. This shortens my time in the store since I don’t have to do the middle aisle slalom.

To stay on budget I could abide by neither rule.

That’s when the seriousness of this challenge began to dawn on me.

Heading into Day 4 I can tell you that my cavalier approach at the beginning sort of shames me. I realize now that for Kelly and I this is just a challenge. 5 days. If you think about it you could do anything for 5 days if you wanted to badly enough. The light at the end of the tunnel is visible even before you begin rolling down the tracks. For the 1.4 Billion people who live like this every day there is no light. Just an endless tunnel.

Although I’m not an official registrant for Live Below The Line I have been eating almost all the same meals as Kelly. My only exception is my morning K-cup of coffee. Yesterday I went over budget for myself by 38 cents so today looks like a long day as I try to make that up.

How this had affected me

I can tell you that the physical manifestations, whether real or imagined, are enormous. Everything from dizziness to moments of confusion doing the simplest of tasks (At one point yesterday I found myself so addle-brained that I had to use my phone calculator to add 50, 24 and 17). The odd part is that hunger isn’t really one of them. My mother, being the country minister’s wife on a tiny budget she is, taught me about stick-to-your-ribs type meals and that has greatly helped in us being full if not necessarily satisfied at the end of a meal.

I have tried to explain to a few people what we are doing and why and I have come to realize that until you do it you cannot fully understand the problem these people face on a daily basis. I think about the food we have thrown out because nobody wanted “leftovers again?” I think about the times I went to the store and overbought which caused us to subsequently overeat. I think about the times we complained about how we were so full we felt miserable. There are people in this world who will never ever have the opportunity to say that, who will go their whole lives without ever knowing what a full belly even feels like.

Will Kelly and I change any of that in these 5 days? Probably not. And it’s that feeling of hopelessness that I can only imagine these people waking up to every day that brings tears to my eyes as I write this.


The Cuban and I have decided to continue raising money even though I blew past my goal last night! ($500 was an arbitrary number I came up with that seemed challenging enough and now I realize I should have aimed higher.) It came when I read on Twitter last night that someone wanted to support me and would donate anything over the allotted $1.50 per day that she spent for the week. By the end of the week, we will calculate what we would have spent plus how much the leftover food costs and donate that money.

We have also chosen to donate any leftover canned food and pasta we bought for the challenge to the Central Illinois Foodbank.  (The CIFB also added one of my posts to their tumblr site and how cool is it that a food bank has a tumblr? That is so dope.)


« Living Below the Line: Day 4 Recap | Main | Living Below the Line: Day 3 Recap »

Reader Comments (6)

$7.50 for a week of food.

When I think of how much we spend, to keep my growing girls in fruit and veggies, I am stunned. A bag of apples the other day cost about that and we will be through the apples long before the week is over. What about the oranges, bananas, and berries they eat daily? On this budget fresh fruit wouldn't enter our house.

This is a great post, by the way. Just like Kelly, you are a natural born writer. :)


May 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJodi Carmichael

Thanks for this reflection. It really does make me think about the level of skills and education required to actually accomplish this in a way that allows you to get the maximum nutritional value out of what you're buying and cooking. You're both able to be quite strategic about all this, because you have the skills, the education, but that comes at an intangible cost we can't easily quantify.

May 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

Where can I get a Cuban? So awesome of you to support Kelly this way. I love it. You guys are so great to give so much. I'm super impressed.

It's the endlessness for people who have to live on such meager budgets that really gets to me - I have never had to live on so little for a long time. I have been poor and hurting for long periods of time but I was helped by friends who would share food with me and family who would sometimes bring me groceries so I had a sort of safety net. But I remember when my husband and I were first married and had a very small income - we ate a lot of potatoes. I remember one week we had $13 to buy food for the whole week. We bought a ten pound bag of potatoes and onions and I think a few apples and possibly some canned beans. So to have to live off of half of that for a week of groceries month after month, year after year - no one should have to go through that.

May 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAngelina

I don't have words. It is moments like this where I am slapped hard in the gut by my own privilege. It is obscene, by these standards, what I have spent on food this week alone--mostly eating out since my husband is out of town on business and juggling the kids and their activities down a man leads to less time to cook.

I often think of what we through away and it saddens me. I also think about some of the crap I buy my kids (because it's easy). It is so easy to forget the choices we have and how those choices don't exist for others in any way shape or form. My fridge and cupboards are full right now--with mostly nutrient rich foods. I don't have to think about where my next meal is coming from.

Thank you Kelly and the Cuban for taking on this challenge. The more "real" people we know who face these struggles, the more we can those we know in the people we don't. It'll make me much more aware of my choices and of the ones others might not have.

May 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Dalai Mama

I absolutely love reading your take on this week. I too am really surprised by how it has affected me physically, mentally and emotionally. My heart aches for those who have to do this consistently.

Here's to Friday!

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