a peek inside the fishbowl

06 May, 2013

Live below the line: final thoughts

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you|Yaktivism

Thank you all so much for your support and enthusiasm for this challenge. Donations are still coming in too! I was thrilled to see new donations from Laurel Anderson, Amanda Large, Nancy Mooney, and Heather Burke. You guys are awesome. You can see peek at my team’s fundraising efforts right here. We’re one of the top teams in Canada!

I didn’t update my Live Below series on Friday because I spent the entire day on the road. I had to drive to my mom’s place (3 hours from Ottawa) to bring her to an appointment she had with her ophthalmologist (another hour away on top of that). I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to adhere to my menu, mostly because the drive is long and includes multiple rest stops that always include gas and coffee and snacks. I was secretly worried that I was heading for trouble… a long ride with no coffee? IMPOSSIBLE.

But you know what? I’d already spent four days surprising myself, so what was one more?

I packed a cooler with the remainder of my food and went on my merry way. I drove past every Starbucks and every Tim Horton’s, and when I did have to stop to pee and stretch my legs I didn’t buy my usual “road trip treat” of Cheezies and Coke. (My weaknesses. Gah. There it is.)

Fortunately, timing was on my side. I was able to make my usual breakfast of oatmeal before I left and I sipped black tea from a thermos along the way. I arrived just in time to pull together a quick lunch (two eggs, 1/2 potato, some diced onion):

May 3 #dailylunches for #livebelowca

.. and then we were off to the appointment. When I returned I had enough time to make a final dinner before heading back to Ottawa. This time I used the remainder of my bouillon cube in my pasta/onion/canned tomato mix, which made a huge difference:

LAST DINNER - Dinner day five for #livebelowca

And then I was back on the road again. There were no stops for coffee and snacks on the way home either (as far as I was concerned the challenge ended at midnight) but I sure did notice how MANY places there were to stop. When you’re hungry and broke you tend to notice these things: the signs extolling the latest deal on 12″ subs, the Tim Horton’s on every corner, the McDonald’s drive thru’ windows enticing you to pull in – not for a meal necessarily – but a quick snack. You don’t even need to leave the comfort of your car. I find this new reality seriously disturbing. Is convenience winning? Sure looks like it, doesn’t it.

Anyway, yes. Food.

Interestingly, I had some food left over. I had a bit of rice, some brown sugar (I bought too much) and a couple of locally farmed eggs. (I tell ya, those eggs sure saved my bacon!) Clearly I miscalculated somewhere. I also did not provide daily meal totals. Sorry folks. I just had no energy for math at the end of a long day. I also wish I had planned my menu a bit smarter, read: with more spices and SALT. But I didn’t. Oh well. Also: canned peas are disgusting, no matter what you do to them.

Live Below was one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever taken on. I wasn’t faint with hunger, but I certainly was uncomfortable at times.

My lowest point came on Wednesday or Thursday as I walked around my backyard, looking for something – anything – I could eat. I was looking for chives or lemon balm for tea, but the only thing I could identify as edible was dandelion leaves. I ate one. And didn’t like it.

But it is pretty amazing how little we actually need to get by, isn’t it? Let’s take protein for example. Adult women need about 46 grams of protein a day. (Source)

  • 1 cup of milk has 8 grams of protein
  • A 6-ounce steak has about 42 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of dry beans has about 16 grams of protein
  • An 8-ounce container of yogurt has about 11 grams of protein
  • An egg has 6 grams

We’re generally eating way more than we need. Of everything. I think this is a problem, one which is reflected in many things: rising childhood obesity for example and diabetes cases, etc. Parents, I urge you to ask your pediatrician if your kids are overweight. Don’t trust your own judgement on this – just ask the question. You owe it to your child’s health.

Anyway, I am getting off topic again. Sigh. Live Below is about extreme poverty, not its polar opposite.

Eating on $1.75 was a tough slog, but I’m so glad I did it. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did, and I feel stronger for having been though it. It certainly opened my eyes as to what it’s like to go without, how my brain doesn’t work when my fuel gauge is low, and what I need to eat in order to get by.

This challenge reminded me that I’d be ok if for some reason – heaven forbid –  our circumstances changed and we needed to make do with much much less. It wouldn’t be easy, but we would survive.

Food was reduced to mere fuel for five days, and I remembered how important it is to me to eat well, how food – for me – is a joy that brings great comfort and happiness. When that is taken away, well, I cannot fathom what that would be like over the long term. Food is life. Food is joy.

I really missed seasonings and cooking oil, fruits and vegetables. I couldn’t care less about the meat I was missing but would have stolen hot sauce from the grocery store if this had gone on much longer. (Just KIDDING. Ok. Not really.)

The next time I hear someone near me complain about there being no food in the house I’m going to point them to a potato and an egg and an onion and tell them to go make something, because I don’t ever want to hear those words ever again. We are so lucky to have a roof over our heads and a healthy variety of delicious food in our bellies. This is a luxury that so many people do not have. It’s worth noting that this degree of poverty is not just limited to people living overseas. It is an issue for people right here in Canada too.

On a parting note I wanted to mention one more very important thing. Together we have raised close to $97,000 to support the work of Cuso International, Raising the Village, RESULTS Canada and Spread the Net. That is not an insignificant figure. For example the $8,874 dollars raised for Spread the Net will buy 887 bednets which will protect up to 4,435 people for up to 5 years. Now THAT is something to be proud of.

So thanks again folks, for following me along this journey, and for every tweet and social share. You have made a difference, and I really appreciate it, and I know many others do too.

This was the last post for the Live Below the Line challenge, in which I was trying to feed myself on $1.75 per day, for five days. You can support me by making a small donation right here. Even donating the amount you’d spend on your coffee today would make a big difference. Thank you!

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10 Responses to "Live below the line: final thoughts"

1 | Jayda

May 6th, 2013 at 3:11 pm


Thanks for encouraging me to do the challenge Andrea. It was difficult but I am happy I did it and I feel much more grateful for food than I did before. Was it me or did everything taste so good this weekend?!

2 | Melanie

May 6th, 2013 at 3:28 pm


Just catching up on your challenge – congrats for finishing it! This is a great wrap up post and while I wasn’t able to think about doing something like this this year (new mom) I’d be interested to try in the future.

3 | Jen_nifer

May 6th, 2013 at 6:03 pm


Congratulations on completing the challenge!

4 | Javamom

May 7th, 2013 at 10:07 am


I followed this and am very impressed how you persevered! Congratulations. I’m sure you enjoyed your summer-weekend-meals in a whole new light! :)

5 | Alexa Clark

May 7th, 2013 at 11:54 am


Glad to have done this with you, it made a big difference in what was a challenging 5 days!

6 | Julie G.

May 7th, 2013 at 4:16 pm


I’ve been following along on your challenge & have appreciated your insight on the subject. Bravo to you, I’m not sure I could have been as creative as you were with so few ingredients.
Now – go treat yourself to a coffee!

7 | Chantal

May 8th, 2013 at 3:38 pm


I know I didn’t comment during your challenge but I read every day and your posts made me think. A lot. About what we eat, why we eat it, and how lucky we really are. Thanks for doing this!

8 | Life of K

May 8th, 2013 at 9:19 pm


Just catching up now (on all blog reading!) and I wanted to say that I’m impressed you stuck with it. In the middle of the week you sounded so defeated. I can’t even imagine.

9 | The trouble with wheat | Javaline

May 24th, 2013 at 3:30 pm


[…] Your diet should fuel you and, like Andrea in the Fishbowl mentions often enough in her blog (for example in this final post of a series), should be a pleasant, enjoyable experience. Food growing, food prep, food consuming is a social, […]

10 | „Live Below the Line” sau cum e s? tr?ie?ti cu 1,5 dolari pe zi | Dana rozMarin

February 19th, 2018 at 4:49 am


[…] ?i a f?cut-o cu atâta succes încât acum scoate o carte cu re?ete foarte ieftine, MintLife, Quiet Fish ?i un exemplu românesc, Farfuridi. Fiecare cu abordarea lui, unii s-au descurcat mai bine, al?ii […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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