TORONTO - Could you live on $1.75 a day and eat nutritiously?
Hundreds of Canadians are going to join thousands around the world next week in a challenge called Live Below the Line, created by the Global Poverty Project to raise awareness of global poverty.
The $1.75 figure is the Canadian equivalent of the extreme poverty line as defined by the World Bank. Some 1.4 billion people around the world live on that amount for all their needs, not just food and drink.
"Lost Girl" star Zoie Palmer and Aaron Abrams from the TV series "Hannibal" are among those in Canada lending their voices to the challenge, while others such as Ennis Esmer, Canadian actor and comedian, and Osman (Oz) Bey of CTV’s "The Listener" and Carrie-Lynn Neals of City’s "Seed" are taking the challenge themselves. In the U.S., Oscar winner Ben Affleck is planning to take the challenge to raise awareness.
From next Monday to Friday, participants are asked to spend no more than $8.75 total for all meals and drinks. They are not supposed to eat food they have on hand unless that cost is factored in. They can drink tap water. They're asked not to accept donated items from friends or family, though monetary donations are encouraged to help participants meet their fundraising goals.
"For a lot of people $1.75 a day is less than they spend on their morning coffee, so it is a step outside of most people's comfort zone," said Erin Deviney, Live Below the Line campaign manager in Canada.
"Often we're asked to make donations or sign petitions and I think that this is that next kind of level and it gets you thinking and gets you engaged and it gets people talking."
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Live Below the Line in Canada has partnered with four charities — Cuso International, Raising the Village, Results Canada and Spread the Net. Participants can designate which charity they want money they raise to go to.
Most people living in extreme poverty, the most severe form of poverty, are in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, the South Pacific and Latin America.
"We're asking people to live on $1.75 a day for food and for drink, but if you were really living in extreme poverty that $1.75 a day would absolutely have to stretch for every single need in your life."
Deviney, who has volunteered with Cuso International in Cambodia and Grenada, gave the challenge a trial run a couple of months ago and plans to do it again next week.
"I think the interesting thing about this challenge is how much choice, how much opportunity you have every single day and you don't even realize you have it.
"When I did my trial run of this, I spent $8.75 for 15 meals and by the end I would say I was psychologically hungry rather than physically hungry. And the next day I was running around in between meetings and I had forgotten my lunch and I stopped to buy a salad and it was $9.95. I think at that point that put it all into perspective for me."
"Psychological hunger" includes lack of variety, being unable to pop into the nearest grocery or convenience store for supplies or snacks and not being able to just open your fridge or cupboard and eat whatever you want.
She said the "top thing" people highlight after they've done the challenge is a realization of how much food they waste.
Most people will need to plan and shop prior to taking the challenge. Rather than going to the nearest supermarket, Deviney suggests a trip to a bulk food store or market.
She's pooling resources this weekend with a group of girlfriends, who plan to shop and cook together, then divide the items so they have more variety over the week.
Several Canadian culinary experts have pitched in with recipes that cost 50 cents to 65 cents to prepare. Celebrity chef and Food Network Canada host Roger Mooking said he's participating because he's been in the situation of surviving on a minuscule food budget.
"I used to live on $1.65 a day food budget for a good chunk of my first couple of years in Toronto," he said in a release.
"It is something I will never forget and drives me every single day to keep looking ahead and appreciate all that I have to be grateful for. For me this is not a challenge as much as a reminder."
This is the first year Canada has joined Live Below the Line, which started in 2009 in Australia. New Zealand joined the following year and this is the third year for the United States and United Kingdom.
To sign up for the campaign or find out more about the initiatives of Live Below the Line, visit livebelowtheline.ca.