Fantastic to receive this feedback from Anthony Hehir - one of the participants in last week’s $2 a Day Sight and Life Challenge. We would love to hear from others who’ve taken the challenge!
For the past week I lived on $2 a day, standing by half of the world’s population who live on this amount, or less, for food and drink each day. It was both a powerful and humbling experience, and really put things back into perspective for me. During the week I was pretty much always hungry. The quantity was not so small, however I soon realised how easy it is for me to simply snack on something when hunger calls, or eat more at a meal if I know it may be a longer time before my next meal.
The diet was meticulously worked out to cost under $2 per day based on food prices in South Africa. I was allowed 3 square meals per day, as much water as I wanted and up to two teabags per day. For those of you who are interested, this is my list of food for the week (I didn’t use the sugar and still have some milk and margarine left over):
- Bread: 15 slices
- Orange: 1
- Apple: 2
- Pear: 2
- Banana: 2
- Tomato: 10
- Onion: 3
- Potato: 2
- Garlic cloves: 2
- Chilli, red: 1
- Broccoli head: 0.5
- Egg, large: 5
- Minced beef: 100g
- Chicken breast: 1
- Milk: 960ml
- Yoghurt: 2 small tubs
- Cheddar cheese: 210g
- Margarine: 40g
- Macaroni: 250g
- Rice: 120g
- Baked beans in tomato sauce (±400g can): 1 can
- Sweet corn (±400g can): 1 can
- Tuna (±170g can): 1 can
- Chicken stock cubes: 1.25
- Oil, sunflower: 70ml
- Oats: 120g
- Sugar, brown: 85g
- Peanut butter: 60g
- Jam: 30ml
- Black tea bags: 14
What did I learn?
- I am now aware of just how lucky I am. Not being able to simply grab an extra slice of cheese, extra muesli, some more fruit, salads, and my favourite – wine, made me realise just how lucky I am to be so food secure (see here for the definition of food security) when more than half the world is not.
- I realise how much food I can waste. When preparing a salad we may cut off bits of carrots, or throw away the stems of broccoli. When I was hungry this past week I would have happily eaten a bowl of carrot off-cuts and broccoli stems.
- Food is my biggest passion – and between studying Nutrition & Dietetics and spending hours in the kitchen as a hobby, I definitely have my fix. But what I learnt too is that on a humble diet using only the above ingredients, one can be quite adventurous with meal ideas. Some of the meals I had this week were utterly delicious… tuna pasta bake and broccoli cheese soup to name a few. We do NOT need to spend so much money on food to eat delicious meals.
- I am ever so grateful for, and recognise the luxury in having variety in my daily diet. Health authorities advocate for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. I can get this in so easily, and if I wanted I could have 15 portions a day without batting an eyelid. But those who live on less than $2 a day do not have this luxury. Their diet is comprised largely of staples… bread, maize, rice and other grains. Some fruit and vegetables are accessible, but not nearly in the right variety or quantity needed to supply sufficient micronutrients. And another area that such a diet lacks is in protein. Animal protein is expensive. A piece of chicken or beef is a luxury. I can go to the shops and buy ingredients to prepare a dish containing chicken, beef, fish and pork if I want to (not sure how that would taste!), but these foods are eaten in small quantities by the poor because they are expensive. They struggle to meet their energy requirements, let alone protein requirements. This is especially of concern in children who are at high risk of conditions like kwashiorkor which are absolutely devastating. When working in hospital practice in South Africa I could count new cases every day of kids coming in with severe protein deficiency. And if protein deficiency is there you can be sure vitamin and mineral deficiencies are there as well.
- While I had unlimited access to tap water over the past week, I am mindful that for many people, access to clean, safe water is not a guarantee, and some people need to walk several kilometres every day to the nearest water source. Water is needed in every aspect of our lives. We need to preserve it as much as possible.
- I usually eat a lot. My friends and family know how much food I can put away. Being reduced to these smaller portions I experienced hunger pangs like I never had before. It is quite simply the most awful feeling. I could not concentrate very well some of the time, I was still hungry after my meals, and I went to bed with a hollow feeling in my tummy each night. I know the quantities I ate the past week would be enough for some of you, but not for me. And I was actually lucky, because even if I was hungry after my last meal, at least I knew with 100% certainty where my next meal would come from. This is not the case for millions and millions of others.
I guess some of you want to know what the nutrient profile of the week’s diet was. It met only 43% of my daily calorie requirements, and of course it was therefore lacking in carbohydrate, protein and fat. Additionally the diet only met 38% of my vitamin A requirements. Vitamin A deficiency is wreaking havoc in the developing world, and its consequences are devastating. A few facts:
- An estimated 250 million preschool children are vitamin A deficient and it is likely that in vitamin A deficient areas a substantial proportion of pregnant women is vitamin A deficient.
- An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. (http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/)
I am pretty sure many other important vitamins and minerals were lacking. This makes me feel very passionate about the work my company does in the developing world. We are a micronutrient manufacturer, and work very closely with manufacturers, aid organisations, regulators and governments to fortify staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals. In a developing world where food security, variety and access to nutritious foods is often not possible, staple food fortification is the most effective way to prevent disease and deficiency.
Oh, and I also lost 2kg this week while on this diet. I am not surprised.
So what will I do differently going forward?
- I will be much more aware and grateful for my food security
- I will waste less and recycle more
- I will speak up more about these topics, as they are important to me and should be to everyone. Adequate nutrition is a basic human right, and no one should go without their daily nutritional needs.
- Who knows – maybe I will start a project in the near future which can help, even in some tiny way, to address this problem we have. I already have some ideas.
Many friends asked me why I was doing this challenge and told me it would change nothing. Well to them I say it has at least changed me. It has changed my perception, my gratitude, my mindfulness, and my insight. I am stronger and better for it, and don’t regret it for one minute. Maybe I did not create a mass movement towards eradicating hunger in the world (not that I expected to!), but hey, you know what, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The “butterfly effect” is a theory where something as tiny as a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world could possibly be the catalyst behind a hurricane in another part of the world several weeks later. If my butterfly effect (eating on $2 a day) has simply made you think a bit more critically about food, nutrition, and those less fortunate, then I have achieved my goal this past week. Who knows…maybe one day hunger and malnutrition could be a thing of the past. And if we all flap our butterfly wings in our own small way, the power of the collective could have tremendous results. What have we got to lose?
It seems hard to believe that this is the last day of the $2 a Day experience - it has been both a challenging and a learning experience. The biggest surprise was that I thought I would have been more hungry, but thinking about it, it could well be that I knew and could say to myself, “this is only for a week”. That makes a huge difference – tomorrow I can go shopping and once again fill my fridge and fruit bowl. For the billion living with hunger today, tomorrow they will still be hungry. That is unless the rest of the world (each one of us) takes their plight seriously and contributes in some way, no matter how small, towards a world without hunger. Indeed, my week of living on $2 of food will have made no difference to the children that died during the week, it will not have eased the hunger pangs of anyone anywhere, but it has brought about a profound change in me.
My over-riding thought, as I think back over the last 6 days, is the word appreciation. Appreciation firstly for what I have (but pure luck of the circumstances of my birth I can be counted as wealthy) and secondly, appreciation for what billions go through each day - the anguish of parents who cannot provide enough for what their families need; the inability of children to concentrate at school, even if they want to, because they are hungry. In the words of Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos “Investments in food and nutrition are not only logical from a business point of view but are imperative to build healthy societies and a healthy world… And we also know this is critical for peace and stability. If people don’t have food they have three options: They can revolt, they can migrate or they can die. We need a better plan.” But there is HOPE, there are proven and cost effective solutions that can be taken to scale and I too can play my role in the way I live my life. The $2 a Day challenge (mindful of the definition of the word challenges as ‘a test of one’s abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking’) has made me determined to personally take on six things:
- I will decrease my food portions – I need less than I think
- I will recycle more and waste less and take my responsibility towards sustainability seriously
- I will be more mindful about my use of the precious yet increasingly scarce resources of water and electricity
- I will keep my little vegetable patch going
- I will make soup every two months for the local soup kitchen
- I will continue to speak up and speak out, where and when I can, as the voice of the less fortunate and the vulnerable towards food and nutrition security for all.
If you did the $2 a Day Challenge or where impacted by it, I’d love you to share your thoughts and experiences with us at Sight and Life - Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S I’m sure you’ll want to know the nutritional value, of a few key nutrients, of the $2 a Day menu that we followed….
For women the diet provided 55% of the recommended daily energy requirements, 49% of the vitamin A, 60% of the calcium and 54% of the iron. For men the diet provided only 43% of the recommended daily energy required, 38% of the vitamin A, 60% of the calcium and almost (95%) met their iron needs. Interesting is, that just replacing the bread (as we have experienced, a staple food when living on a low income) with bread that has been fortified with a mix of micronutrients, as is required by law in South Africa, increases the daily intake for women to 58% for vitamin A, 60% for calcium and 68% for iron. A significant improvement for virtually no increased cost to the consumer! No wonder that the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 (www.copenhagenconsensus.com), comprising an expert panel of 8 outstanding economists, ranked micronutrient fortification as the third most promising solution to ten of the most pressing challenges facing the world today.
FACT A DAY: The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.
As I drink my banana smoothie, I am sure that I will be hungry by 10am because it seems so little – I try to drink it slowly to make it last, as if that will somehow make me feel fuller for longer. A smoothie was a great idea because my almost last (there’s one apple left on my kitchen counter) piece of fruit had turned black and was very soft so this was all it was really good for.
I think about the 2 A’s, the major barriers often cited as to why the poor don’t include sufficient vegetables and fruit (which we know are a major source of vital vitamins and minerals) – affordability and availability. It is a reality that fruit and vegetables are one of the most expensive items in the diet and if you don’t have access to a fridge, for storage, many won’t last very long. We often suggest to people that they buy what’s in season and buy in bulk to reduce the cost but today I am acutely aware that buying in bulk is not an option for the poor, as firstly they often don’t have the kind of cash on hand to buy large amounts, and secondly few people living on $2 a Day have a fridge!
If you have traveled in Africa you will have seen the small stores (seldom more than a piece of wood balancing on a few empty crates) at the taxi ranks or bus stops, with little piles of for example 4 tomatoes or 3 onions each on a plastic plate. Each selling for the same price, each carefully worked out to cost the change that is probably is someone’s pocket. There is no luxury of “I think I’ll have…”, no option of different varieties of tomatoes, little consequence if you complain about the quality. That’s what there is. There is little choice, little dietary diversity. So it not surprising that micronutrient deficiencies, especially in the long term, are almost inevitable. This makes chronic malnutrition, measured by stunting (low height for age), the norm for many. You might not even notice anything when you look at a group of children playing in the school yard, but when you see two kids of the same age (one stunted and one not) next to each other, it really hits you (see picture).
Not only do these children not physically grow to the same height but their brains too can be stunted. Some 200 million children under the age of five, mostly living in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, fail to reach their cognitive, motor and social-emotional potential because of micronutrient deficiencies and inadequate stimulation. These children will probably fail at school, fail to achieve their income potential, and remain trapped in the poverty cycle. A tragic, even if not blatantly visible, reality. The good news is that only a few weeks ago the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in his 5-year Action Agenda committed to “Unlock the potential of current and future generations by putting an end to the hidden tragedy of stunting of almost 200 million children by mobilizing financial, human and political resources commensurate with the challenge.” Nutrition security (the right type of foods, in the right amount, at the right time for the right individual) is central to the eradication of stunting and Sight and Life and DSM are fully engaged in developing innovative micronutrient based solutions to contribute towards the dream of a world without hunger. That dream keeps me going when I feel a hunger pang…
FACT A DAY: 70% of brain growth occurs before 2 years of age and if children do not have access to nutritious food up to that age, the effects can never be reversed and you can see a reduced brain volume of up to about 40%.
As I make my breakfast of egg on bread that will go with the single orange sitting on the counter in front of me, I realize that I am officially ‘hungry’ for fruit and vegetables! They are such a key part of my diet and our office lunches in summer are usually a big salad with a multitude of ingredients and my evening meal usually contains at least two vegetables.
It makes me think about hunger as the world often perceives it, the starving individual, versus the ‘hidden hunger’ that is the far greater problem. By definition hidden hunger is micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency in a person’s diet. It is in fact malnutrition as it should properly be defined: poor overall quality of nutrition. The estimates are that some 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger. These individuals may eat enough calories to live, but have a basic diet that fails to provide sufficient levels of crucial vitamins and minerals that allows them to be mentally and physically healthy. Hidden hunger is a global issue of extreme and rising importance that is often ignored and underappreciated despite its devastating consequences for individuals, communities and countries’ economies.
While the global financial crisis, rising food costs, world hunger and environmental concerns are issues which dominate the news agenda, one is unlikely to read about hidden hunger in newspapers or see it talked about on television. Yet it impacts both the developing and the developed world. The most obvious victims are in developing countries where the diet, as I am now experiencing, does not provide them with the variety of foods that ensure that they get the micronutrients that they need – usually because they cannot afford or cannot access a wide range of nutritious foods such as meat (I have 100g of mince and 1 chicken breast for 7 days), eggs (amazingly we have 5) and fish (a single tin or tuna) as well as fruit and vegetables (what I’m craving).
Image: 1 weeks worth of groceries at $2 a Day
The long-term consequences of hidden hunger are damaging on a massive scale - poor nutritional quality leads not only to impaired mental and physical development in young children, but also to the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases and thus higher mortality in later life. It is tragic and I am again overcome by gratitude for what I have and how it has enabled me to become what I am and I am more determined than ever to be a voice, an advocate for those, especially the children in the 1000 Day window of opportunity, who are stunted and will thus never reach their full potential and remain trapped in the poverty cycle.
FACT A DAY: Food is not the only challenge those living on $2 a day face - More than 1.6 billion people (a quarter of all humanity) do not have access to electricity while another billion have unreliable access hampering efforts to improve health and livelihoods and to conserve the environment.
My thoughts on yesterday’s ‘challenge’ centre around how lucky we are to have so much food choice and how I take for granted that my fridge normally has all sorts of things in it, the fruit bowl in the office also usually contains an array of fruit and we even have a treat drawer in the office, to fill that need for ‘something sweet’ (usually sometime after lunch)!
Now all that is gone for the week – the fridge looks especially empty with just a few tomatoes, eggs, cheese and margarine! That reminds me, I really don’t like margarine and so have decided that rather than use it, I’ll go without. The poor do not have the luxury of exchanging, they can’t say “I don’t like this so will have that instead”. If they choose not to have something, they go without and going without can turn a gentle grumbling hunger into gnawing hunger pains, perhaps to the point that you eat what you have and learn to be thankful for it.
As I prepared the evening meal of chilli con carne, which by the way I thought was delicious and really filling, I was also acutely aware of how easy it is for me to just turn on the gas to cook and turn on the tap to get hot water to wash up afterwards. My mind turns to the millions of women who spend up to 4 hours a day collecting fuel for household use, sometimes travelling 5 to 10 kilometers a day. Preparing even the simplest of meals is a burden that is just one of their many roles and responsibilities. In rural areas women as farmers plant, weed and harvest crops and tend livestock. As caretakers, they look after children and other relatives and the elderly, prepare means and manage the homestead. Many earn extra income as wage labourers, producing and selling vegetables, or engaging in small-scale trading and enterprise. The definition of challenge is “a test of one’s abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking” – indeed for me this challenge, for just 7 days, is stimulating but I feel for the millions who have to live each day on $2 - for them it cannot be stimulating, for them it is simply about survival.
Did you know that the typical grocery store in the United States stocks as many as 30 000 different products that you have to choose from? Simply amazing and such abundance of choice is inaccessible to so many millions.
Above family: United States: The Revis family of North Carolina. Food expenditure for one week $341.98
Below family: Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp. Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23.
Source of images: These photos originally came from a book called Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. See the complete photo essay at Timemagazine’s site.
FACT A DAY: In developing countries women typically work 12 to 13 hours per week more than men.
I sit outside in my garden with the birds singing and the days heat beginning (it is summer here in the southern hemisphere) with a treasured cup of tea - mindful that I only have 2 tea bags for the day - and write my journal from yesterday (Day 2) of the $2 a Day Challenge…
The day started with a very satisfying slice of toast with baked beans and I ‘stole’ a little cheese from my allowance for dinner to grate on the top! Later on, I thought that perhaps I should have kept the tea for mid-morning, as on a typical working day tea is a regular companion and a good distraction between tasks or as we chat in the office about projects. Then I realized that the answer was in fact simple – RE-USE the allocated two tea bags! Wow, how easily we throw things out – use a tea bag once and throw it away, a little jam left at the bottom of the bottle and we rinse it out, a soft patch on the tomato and we throw it away. I am reminded of my grandmother, who had lived through the war, saying “waste not, want not” as she bottled the fruit from her fruit trees, and I thought it was old fashioned and even silly when you could buy fresh fruit in the store almost all year round! Now, all these years later, in the context of the $2 a Day Challenge, not wasting (keeping the tea bag and using it more than once) certainly results in not wanting (I can still have four cups a day)! And it goes beyond that, surely if we care about our environment now, future generations will still be able to survive.
Back to statistics - Consumers in rich nations waste a combined 222 million tons of food a year – that’s almost as much as all the food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa and if we reduce food waste by 25% we will have enough food to feed 500 million people. At dinner I make sure that I use almost every bit of the allocated tomatoes and I enjoy the broccoli, stems and all! Fascinated, I search for more information on my grandmothers favourite proverb and see that although it seems ‘waste not want not’ was first recorded in 1772, there is an even earlier (1576), more alliterative and I think more powerful version ‘willful waste makes woeful want’ – it is more true today then perhaps ever before! Note to self: I must re-cycle more.
FACT A DAY: 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year, which amounts to roughly 1/3 of all the food produced for human consumption.
Yesterday as I started on the $2 a Day Challenge I felt excited to experience how the millions we at Sight and Life want to help, feel each day when they wake up wondering - what will today bring? I realise that even on the challenge, I am still lucky because I know that there will be food to eat each day, even if it is less and very different to what I am used to. There are 1 billion people in the world today who don’t have that luxury and who don’t know where their next meal will come from or, even worse, know that there won’t be a next meal unless it is provided by charity or a UN agency such as the World Food Programme (who provide life-saving food and nutrition assistance to over 100 million people a year – with over 80% being women and children! www.wfp.org).
I am mindful of mothers who today sent their children to school on nothing more than a cup of tea and perhaps a slice of bread, knowing that it is not enough and that they will be hungry in class and probably won’t be able to concentrate. I feel drawn to the plight of those mothers who dream that their child will have a better life then they have, but who must wonder if that will ever be a reality…
At lunch yesterday I had to force myself to eat a peanut butter sandwich - I hate peanut butter - it sticks to the roof of my mouth, it… I stop myself! I have food. I am grateful. As I ate my dinner and enjoyed it, I reflected on Day 1. I realise that what I have missed most, is my usual many cups of tea and how easy it is in my world to snack - a bunch of grapes mid-morning, a biscuit during a meeting, an extra bite of cheese as you prepare the evening meal… I went to bed not only grateful that I was not hungry but thankful for my many blessings and the abundance of food and food choices that I usually have available.
Did you know? ‘The term living on/below the bread line’ comes from the Great Depression when people had to queue to receive food given out by charitable organisations in order to survive. It is believed that it all started in the 1880s, when a well-known bakery in New York’s Greenwich Village started giving unsold baked goods to the poor at the end of their business day.
FACT A DAY: More than 80% of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.
The Sight and Life $2 a Day Challenge is designed to make us personally aware of how more than half the world’s population lives each day. One billion people suffer from hunger and every day 16,000 children die from hunger related causes - that’s one child every 5 seconds. That is also just statistics and it is easy to forget that each of these individuals, each child also has a face and a family.
Coming from a developing country, I am acutely aware of the faces of poverty. Each day at my car window, as I wait at the traffic lights, I’m approached by someone with hands open in request that then point first to their tummy and then mouth. A silent language that clearly says “I’m hungry, please help me”. I’m aware that what makes me passionate about my work at Sight and Life, DSMs not-for-profit nutrition think tank, is the way we work to build bridges for better nutrition, to offer the faces behind hunger HOPE. We care about the world’s most vulnerable populations, and exist to help improve their nutritional status, often acting as their advocates and voice. I’m excited about how DSM invests in looking at innovative ways to bring nutrition solutions to the bottom of the pyramid. Micronutrient powders are cost effective and efficacious and can potentially impact to improve the lives of millions especially young children in the 1000 days window of opportunity.
As you begin the $2 a Day Challenge, take some time to look at the work of Sight and Life (www.sightandlife.org), read about the importance of the first 1000 days that starts a child’s future (www.thousanddays.org) and see how countries, civil society and the private sector are recognizing how key not only food security (having enough calories to live) is, but also nutrition security (having the right quality of food to allow optimal growth, development and health) as they sign up to be part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement (www.scalingupnutrition.org).
Post Script: While you were reading this 25 children died.
FACT A DAY: Every second child in the world lives in poverty and some 9 million children died before their 5th birthday – A third of these deaths are due directly or indirectly to hunger and malnutrition.
More than half the world’s population lives on US $2.00 a day! Join me, Jane Badham, as I Shine a light on the daily plight of the poor by participating in the Sight and Life $2 a-Day Challenge. Sacrifice your comfort and experience the reality and challenges of poverty and hunger as Sight and Life marks its 25th anniversary and we at DSM celebrate 100 Years of Vitamins – Solutions towards addressing malnutrition in all its forms.
2012, The Year of Vitamins, sees the world just three years away from the target set for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger YET the poverty and hunger statistics are frightening:
- 22,000 children under the age of 5 years die each day due to poverty.
- 2 billion people are affected by deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals, collectively known as ‘Hidden Hunger’.
- The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of global income. The richest 20% accounts for ¾ of world income.
Feike Sijbesma, DSM CEO at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos “You cannot be successful as a business in a world that fails.”
- Survive for 7 days (Monday the 13th February - Sunday the 19th February) on US $2 a day per person for all food and drink
- Share your experience of living on $2 a day – Blog, Tweet, Facebook and follow me as I blog about my experience of the 7 day challenge…
What you need to start (download using link provided):
- Your Guide (http://minus.com/mxj1Ufu78#1)
- The Shopping List (http://minus.com/mxj1Ufu78#2)
- The Menu (http://minus.com/mxj1Ufu78#3)
- The Recipes (http://minus.com/mxj1Ufu78#4)
Other resources (download using link provided):
- The Menu Costs (http://minus.com/mxj1Ufu78#5)
- The Recipe Costs (http://minus.com/mxj1Ufu78#6)
- The Challenge Banner(http://minus.com/mxj1Ufu78#7)
I look forward to Sharing my experience of living on $2 a Day with you – Share your voice too!