Living on $3 a day

Here's what $3 buys you in Sydney. Is it enough for you to feed yourself for the day?

The greengrocer takes my apple and weighs it.

“That’s 81 cents,” she says. Suddenly, an apple seems as luxurious as caviar. I put it back.

I’m trying to spend just $3 a day to feed myself as part of the aid group Plan Australia’s From Cup to Crop challenge. Thankfully, it’s just one day a week during March, but it hits hard when I realise just how much I take good food for granted.

As the restaurant critic for Taste.com.au in Tuesday’s The Daily Telegraph, I can spend 50 times more money on dinner for two. That’s enough to feed a child in the developing world for 15 months.

I know some Australians do it tough when it comes to feeding their own families. The demand for programs such as OzHarvest, which distributes leftover food to people who need it, keeps growing, but the overseas figures are both shocking and staggering. More than 5.3 million children die every year from starvation and malnutrition. That’s 14,250 children daily: the horrific Japan earthquake toll reoccurring day in, day out. It’s a quiet disaster that creeps along without the media flicking the switch to 24-hour coverage. The last time anyone really noticed was when Bob Geldorf got shouty about it 20 years ago.

Plan Australia hopes to raise $800,000 during the From Cup to Crop Challenge. That’s enough to feed 7300 children for a year in places such as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Cambodia.

When the box from Plan Australia arrived in the mail, the postage cost more than the ingredients it contained: 400-grams of flour, 60g of red lentils, 50g of peanut butter, 15g each of sugar and salt and 25ml of oil.

All up, it cost just 30 cents, but more importantly, together the ingredients delivered 1200 calories, enough to feed a child for a day.

Many people in the developing world live on less than $1.25 a day, which the World Bank defines as extreme poverty. That money also has to cloth, house and hopefully educate the children.

But now, I have to feed myself and at the butcher’s, even $10kg mince looks expensive. I splurge on chicken wings at half the price, getting two for 74 cents. The previous week, I went to Sydney Fish Market for protein, looking for cheap fish, such as leatherjacket. Two whole sardines costs 82 cents. The carparking costs me more than my daily food bill.

Back at home, I strive to create a balanced meal. My friend Lyndey Milan is also taking part, along with a number of chefs, including Pete Evans, Luke Mangan, Adriano Zumbo and Chris Manfield. Lyndey is as thrifty as she is smart. She creates a beautiful menu: pearl barley and apple porridge for breakfast, 60 cents, rice and vegetable patties for lunch, $1.07, and a $1.33 dinner of spiced chicken wings with dahl.

Plan Australia sent me a box of basics, which I supplement with fresh vegetable, rice and oats. Everything is measured carefully and a 45-cent egg seems like a king’s ransom.

The box contains 400-grams of flour, 60g of red lentils, 50g of peanut butter, 15g each of sugar and salt and 25ml of oil.

All up, it cost just 30 cents, but more importantly, together the ingredients delivered 1200 calories, enough to feed a child for a day.

My food is pretty basic, using 100g of oats, 14-cents, for breakfast to make porridge. I once knew uni students who lived on porridge three times a day. I have nine cents left in my budget, so I grab a few sultanas – eight, does anyone ever normally count them? – and toss them in for sweetness.

It’s a normal day really, until mid-morning when that $3 would normally be spent on a cup of coffee. Not today. It’s a bitter irony that many of the world’s hungry live in coffee-growing countries. Today I think about that over a hot water and give thanks for the aid groups who work to end child labour on coffee plantations.

When you’re hungry, the brain flicks the switch to obsessive. Your head is crowded with thoughts of the next meal, where you can gather food from, and whether there’s anything you can do to supplement your rations. Can I use herbs from my garden? Should I turn “freegan” and salvage food from dump bins?

For lunch, I’m in damper territory and use the flour Plan Australia supplied to make flatbreads. This isn’t Masterchef. There are no judges to impress, so I fall back on childhood love of peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, spreading half of my 50g of peanut butter on the still-warm, pan-fried bread and adding slices from half of my 35-cent tomato. I’d add celery, but it’s expensive at the moment, so I decided I couldn’t afford it. I never thought I’d find celery too posh.

I wish I had a cow. I’d make cheese. Or maybe steaks.

I’m still hungry, so I take one of the chicken wings and a rich, think soup with red lentils, adding a splash of sugar and peanut butter too, plus half my carrot, five cents, and a little broccoli. It tastes really good.

As the afternoon wears on, the fruit bowl on the kitchen table is teasing me. It’s like Nigella Lawson asking me to come back to her place for something to nibble on, so voluptuously full and tempting. I feel like a Dickens character, standing the cold, nosed pressed up against the glass, watching people warm inside as the tuck into a hearty meal.

Should I eat the other half of my carrot for afternoon tea?

Dinner is Chinese. I have 100g of rice, 19 cents. It reminds me that saffron-robed Buddhist monks walk the streets of Thailand and Laos at dawn, relying on the kindness of strangers for alms. It’s their food for the day and what you receive is it. This challenge is making me think about the relationships we have over food, from the pleasures of a shared table to tin of food we drop in the hamper box while shopping at Christmas. We eat to live, but there’s a deeper nurturing of the soul that comes with feeding others.

After steaming the rice and fry the egg in the wok, slicing it up to mix through the rice. My remaining chicken wing, broccoli, carrot, tomato and zucchini make a stir-fry, seasoned with 5 cents worth of soy sauce. It’s humble and filling. I hope around the world, others can say the same about their meal.

Tomorrow, I’ll go out to a restaurant. Many people in the developing world live on less than $1.25 a day, which the World Bank defines as extreme poverty. That money also has to cloth, house and hopefully educate the children. One billion people are hungry. Even on $3 a day, I was lucky.

 

  • The From Cup to Crop Challenge ran during March 2010. For details, see fromcuptcrop.com.au

 

  • A version of this story first appeared in the Saturday edition of The Daily Telegraph.

 

 

 

Share |