My husband, Joe, has been reading a bit about monastic
tradition and spiritual disciplines lately. I think this
is what brought on the $2 a day idea. But sometimes he just
suggests crazy things that turn out to be great, so it could have been
that as well. For example: moving into community with other
couples. He suggested it and I thought it was a little
crazy, but he was excited about it.
Joe is excited about something, things usually happen kind of fast,
before I’ve fully digested the idea.
And before I knew it,
we had moved into a house with another couple with the intention of
taking in at least one more person.
And it’s been awesome.
We’re all stretching and growing in grace through living
together (and sharing one bathroom); we lift each other up, and we cover
each other’s shortfalls.
Our community has a family dinner and meeting each week, and it was at
one of these that Joe suggested that we do the $2 a day experiment.
The idea is to limit your food budget to $2 per day per person
for a whole week. In 2009, about half the world’s
population (48%) lived on
less than the equivalent of $2 a day, according to USAID and the
Population Reference Bureau.
includes housing, food, transportation, everything. Joe
suggested that we take on the $2 a day challenge in order to enter into
this experience of poverty, to express solidarity with our neighbors
around the world, and to practice a time of fasting.
I admit, I was not excited about this idea to begin with. It
sounded like a lot of meal planning, and my afternoon chocolate fix
would certainly not fit in the budget. I wasn’t looking
forward to the self denial and lack of comfort food. But I
do believe that we must take the second greatest commandment seriously
(Matt 22: 34-40), and actively pursue ways of loving our neighbors as
ourselves. So we decided to jump in and started thinking
about meals for the week.
We decided that we would not compromise on the quality of food that
we buy in order to decrease our costs. We think it’s
important to buy organic, fair trade, and local whenever possible, in an
effort to love our neighbors who plant and harvest our food. We
also decided that we would gather $56 worth of provisions (4 people x
$2 x 7 days) and put them in a box, and that’s what would be available
to us for the week. We weren’t going to count $2 a day
exactly, knowing that if we ran out of food, we’d be doing a traditional
fast for the rest of the week. Also, recognizing that our
budget probably wouldn’t support three meals a day, we made some
allowances for free food. A local cafe gives away their
two day old bagels, which we grabbed for lunches, and we deemed the free
coffee at work allowable.
Meal planning wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Three
of the four of us are vegetarian, so eliminating expensive meat from
the menu was easy. We got old fashioned oats and sugar for
breakfasts and flour and yeast to make our own bread. We
planned three big meals: a simple bean chili, pasta with garlic and
olive oil, and rice and beans. Each of these meals made
enough to feed us for two nights. We also bought eggs,
butter, milk, and tea. This cost us about $44, leaving us
with $12 for when the food ran out.
Our meals were very plain and simple, and our
portions smaller. But it was good. We
started to see that we could eat very well on a very small budget.
I also realized that I’ve been overlooking the goodness of
simple foods. I found a new appreciation for the simple
luxury of butter. But we also knew that this was only part
of the experience of poverty. Only our food budget was
subject to this limitation, so we were still able to spend more on our
food even on this limited budget than those with whom we were trying to
express support and solidarity. We live in a culture of
abundance, where free food is everywhere.
The hardest part of keeping to the budget was keeping the spirit of
the challenge and denying ourselves all the free food available to us,
since our poorer neighbors don’t live in communities that have so much
extra. Even though we were eating free bagels, if we
didn’t avoid the free food at our jobs alone, we wouldn’t be
experiencing much poverty at all!
Well, almost all of us refused the free office food. Bruce,
Sharah’s husband, struggled with this a little more than the rest of
us, and ate the food at work that was offered to him. His
rationale was since it was free; he wasn’t spending anything, so he was
participating in the project. Upon finding this out, I
told him that if our household was a family in a third world country,
he’d be the smooth talker hitting up the tourists while the rest of us
worked. He agreed.
Honestly, I was mad. He ate more than everyone else
to begin with. I had tried to not resent that throughout
the week because, to be fair, he has a hundred pounds more to maintain
than I do. When we were thinking about how to execute the
project, I had been concerned with absolute equity: I had thought that
we should apportion the food into four boxes rather than one, so
everyone had their own share. That way, if one person is
injudicious, the rest of us wouldn’t suffer. My very
graceful husband pointed out that community doesn’t work that way.
Of course, he was right. But I’d been refusing
food at work all week, I was hungry and cranky, and Bruce not only had
been eating munchkins every day, he had been out with a friend and
bought a beer. I was self righteous. I told
him I had been refusing food, and he wasn’t participating. I
went and tattled on him to Joe, who was trying to sleep and merely
responded, “lame.” This did not satisfy my anger. I
imagine this sort of resentment and argument is common in families
around food scarcity issues, but we’d never had that issue before.
The next day, Sharah, Joe, and I separately came to the conclusion
that the appropriate way to interact with the beer situation was to
deduct the amount spent from the remaining food budget. Again,
if we were a family in a third world country and one member went and
spent the food money on alcohol, we would all be affected. When
we came together that evening, we questioned Bruce on the cost of the
beverage and of anything else he’d bought to eat. We
didn’t do it very well. He felt interrogated. He
felt judged. This is certainly not what we intended
through the project. He honestly felt he had been
participating, and was proud of how well he’d done. He was
surprised to learn he could eat smaller portions and be satisfied with
simpler foods. To be told this wasn’t good enough was a
slap in the face.
We apologized. No group endeavor should be allowed to
threaten the unity of our community. Again, we were
stretched and grew in grace toward one another, submitting our desires
and expectations to the greater good of the community.
On the last evening of our challenge week, we had some flour, an
onion, some garlic, an egg, some milk, and rice left. We
also had about $6, accounting for the cost of the beer. It
felt like we should celebrate, so I made a dinner of flat bread with
some scallions from our garden and the garlic with fried rice made with
garlic, onion, and the last egg. I cheated just a little
bit by using some soy-ginger dipping sauce we had leftover in the
fridge. It was surprisingly good for so few ingredients.
That left the last few dollars available to buy a package of
Newman-Os. We demolished the whole package along with the
rest of the milk immediately after dinner. I don’t think
there is a better way we could have ended the week.
Our normal weekly food budget is $100. We found that
we could eat pretty well on $56. We are donating the
difference between our normal food budget and what we spent during the
$2 a day week towards assisting hungry families. We also
decided that we could easily subtract $10 from our usual $100 weekly
grocery fund to set aside for a relational tithe, so that when a need
comes up, we’ll have a small fund with which to meet it. If
no needs arise, we will donate whatever we have saved up to a ministry
we love in Bosnia.
The $2-a-day challenge showed us that we can easily eat a little
less so we can give a little more. Imagine if we all
looked at our lives and found areas in which we could have a little
less, so that others could have a little more.
Lesley currently serves as a Global Outreach
leader at New Life Fellowship in Saratoga Springs NY, and is working
towards becoming a full time missionary. Check out her blog at www.jewelsforbih.blogspot.com.