A $2 food budget brings the message home

When I told my two primary-school-aged children that we were making some changes to our diet for five days, they whinged a little, asked if their lunchboxes would be embarrassing and then got their heads around what we were trying to achieve.

Spending $2 per person, per day on food for the Live Below The Line (LBL) campaign this week has been challenging and confronting, opening our eyes to what life is like for the billions of people around the world who live in extreme poverty.

As someone who writes about food for a living, the most confrontational aspect has been the lack of choice in terms of nutrition, flavour, texture and ethics.

With $30 for food for five days, we walked around the supermarket last weekend going back and forth and round in circles to make sure we were getting the best bargains.

We calculated the cost of everything, and by the end of the shop we had 40 cents left. The food we bought included pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, oats, dried beans, frozen vegetables, eggs, milk, bread and stock cubes (see our full list below).

My priority was the children's diet, and their need for protein, as our budget didn't cover meat. This is where the eggs and legumes came in, although I could only afford cage eggs, something I choose not buy usually for animal welfare reasons.

Cost concerns ... Frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables were largely chosen over fresh.
Cost concerns ... Frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables were largely chosen over fresh. 

I was confronted with the fact that I could only afford $1-per-litre milk and a $1 loaf of bread. These are other products I choose not to buy as farmers need to get the right price for their produce. Here I had no choice.

The hardest part for the children, so far, has been afternoon snacks: apples and carrots don't always satisfy. However, dinners of pasta with tomato sugo or rice with vegetables and boiled eggs for breakfast are going well.

The support you are offered by the LBL organisers, The Oaktree Foundation, makes it easier to get through each day. What started as a challenge between two Melburnians, Nick Allardice and Richard Fleming, is now a national and international fundraising campaign. LBL is now held in the US, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, and raises money for people who live in extreme poverty in countries such as Cambodia and Papua New Guinea.


People take on LBL in all sorts of ways, and we tracked down other participants. Flying solo is Kelly Ekenberg, 29, an accounts clerk from Melbourne's Ringwood East who was going to donate to a friend doing LBL. "But when I read about it, I decided to do it too," she says. Ekenberg is a vegetarian who kept her core shopping to lentils, rice, tomatoes, onion, garlic, frozen vegetables and flour.

"I've spent $9.50," she says. "I've realised I spend quite a lot on food; from now on I'm going to cut that back."

Opera singer Jeremy Kleeman, 22, from Brunswick is doing LBL with his flatmate and her boyfriend. He says it's been OK subsisting on a budget of $30 for the week, but he finds elements of the week socially challenging.

"It's interesting doing it in a group – a couple of times we have turned on each other a little bit," he says, telling the story of how some homemade apple muffins were being counted out and they found themselves questioning if someone had eaten too many.

Some of the ingredients the trio bought included chick peas and eggs for protein, oats for snacks and rice and pasta.

"It sounds cliched, but it's for a great cause and time is going quite quickly," says Kleeman.

There's a day and a half to go, and I'm confident my family will make it. While I'm missing cheese and looking at my cookbooks longingly – it's the choice we are given that billions aren't that is what lies at the core of LBL. We have choices and we shouldn't take them for granted.

Donations can still be made at livebelowtheline.com.au

Hilary's shopping list:

Oats $1.59

4 x 400g tinned tomatoes $2.76

1 lemon 50c

2 onions 52c

1 packet soup mix (dried legumes) $1.99

Vegemite $ 2.99

1 head of garlic 60c

1 dozen cage eggs $3

1kg carrots $1.19

2kg penne pasta $2.38

1 kg apples $2.54

1kg rice $1.19

Stock cubes 85c

400g bean mix 86c

400g cannellini beans 90c

Packet of grated parmesan $1.25

1kg frozen vegetables $1.49

2 litres milk $2

1 loaf white bread $1

Total: $29.60