While we leave middle America to rejoice in their over-exuberant-and-more-than-a-little-bit-scary national pride over an illegal execution (f**k yeah!), today I want to introduce a fundraising challenge which aims to draw attention to the reality of extreme poverty that impacts over 1.4 billion people. The Live Below the Line campaign, which in the UK is taking place between May 2nd – 6th, asks us to live on just £1 a day for food and drink in an attempt to raise awareness about extreme poverty and also raise some money for charity along the way.
Of course, for those living in extreme poverty this £1 per day would have to cover a lot more than just food – living costs, health care, education, transport and everything else – so in some ways you could argue that the campaign makes light of the true reality facing so many people around the globe. However, the importance of doing this campaign (beyond raising money for charity) is to make us aware of the limitations of choice that poverty brings immediately with it and to help us better understand and empathise with the billions of people around the world who are struggling just to survive. We are blessed in our luxurious lifestyles granted by modern society to have everything at our fingertips, almost anything we desire can be obtained with ease and we rarely want for anything important. Whilst preparing for this challenge, it becomes very quickly apparent that your options are now limited to a number of very basic food staples and nothing else – and that planning and rationing your food becomes your top priority.
Meat, dairy, sweets, alcohol are off the menu entirely; replaced with rice, pasta, lentils, carrots, onions, potatoes and other basic produce. A few cheap spices, stocks and condiments such as peanut butter and strawberry jam make up the flavour component of the next five days of food in our household. One saving grace is that because my wife and I are doing the campaign together, we were able to use economies of scale to do some bulk purchasing – otherwise the options would have been limited even further. What all of this means is that the next five days will consist of eating a vegetarian diet consisting mostly of low-quality carbohydrates combined with a handful of different flavour combinations. It’s certainly far from our usual chicken or pork dinners, or lunchtime indulgences at the local sandwich shop near work.
It’s difficult to really say just how much of an impact a campaign such as this will have on my understanding or empathy for those who must live day-to-day in conditions of extreme poverty. The more cynical out there would argue that this is merely trivialising a horrible reality; others have said that living on £1 a day for food isn’t really that difficult. In some ways, both of these attitudes have valid points to make – but they are also indicative of the apathetic nature most of us fall back onto when faced with the glaring economic hypocrisy that typifies modern society. In a world intently focused on these wonderful motivators we call ‘success’ and ‘progress’, most of us are content to ignore the plight of those less fortunate and presume that others will take care of the problem. Taking part in an initiative such as Live Below the Line is an opportunity to kickstart something bigger in our lives and the lives of those we come into contact with.
Raising a few hundred pounds for a poverty-reduction charity might seem like a null event that is easily dismissed as a neo-colonialist way of approaching global inequality; but the underlying motivator of a campaign such as this one is not merely to raise money, but to raise empathy. Empathy is one of the qualities that we can never harness enough of, and anything that moves us in that direction is something that should be embraced wholeheartedly.
For those of you interested in hearing more about this campaign, do have a look at the Live Below the Line website. The campaign has already begun today in the United Kingdom, but it is scheduled for later in the month in the United States (May 16 – 20) so there’s still time for many of you to sign up and start spreading awareness about this worthwhile campaign. One of the immediate dangers of ecstatic nationalism is a form of emotional isolationism that reduces global empathy and in the end only serves the interests of the more sinister elements of the world. Anything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that combats this growing issue must be embraced. Empathy is the key to our future conscience, and living below the line is one of the tools at our disposal to develop it. So I encourage anybody reading this to take part, even if that means you just spend some time today looking into the nature of extreme poverty and educating yourself about the daily existence of many people you share this planet with.