Next month, I'll be taking the Live Below the Line challenge (which I blogged about earlier this month). It means feeding myself on the global poverty line of $1.50 per day for 5 days.
To prepare, I've been tracking my food spending for the last month or two. The last time I tracked my food spending closely was in 2005 and 2006, when I was fresh out of college and making about $18,000 a year. Back then I was spending about $25 a week on food. There was hardly a packaged item in my house. The freezer was empty, except for portions of soup that I'd make from scratch in large batches. Meals were based around lentils, beans, dried peas, potatoes, rices, and pastas. The fresh vegetables I could afford were primarily cabbage, carrots, and onions.
Today, I'm spending two or three times as much on food: $50-75 a week. I admit, I was a little surprised my spending was that high. But it is easy to look around my kitchen and see why. My freezer is stocked full of cheese-less pizza, Gardein chickin' fingers, veggie potstickers, and coconut ice-cream. My pantry contains not just modest dried goods that cost $0.99/lb, but fancy french lentils, heirloom beans, and a rare Italian grain called farro that sell for $4.50/lb at Whole Foods. Raw nuts and dried fruits at $7-10/lb are in stock, and at least three different kinds of non-dairy milk. I see a few avocados, which cost $0.50 each on a good day, but up to $2 a piece if you aren't paying attention. I see chips and crackers and chocolate bars. Those were $2-4 a package. Add in a $10 restaurant lunch during the work week... yup $50-75 makes sense. But how unnecessary.
I don't remember feeling deprived when I was eating on $25 a week. I'm not exactly sure why I drifted from that life-style, except that I was living without cable or internet back then, and I hadn't established a group of friends in the area. All that free time meant I was happy to prep lots of food from scratch - it's not like I had anything better to do. If I avoided Hulu and Facebook, I bet I could pull it off again. But I'm lazy and I have the extra cash. So I've been making the selfish choice to spend far more on food than I need.
But even at $25 a week, I was still way above the global poverty line. The money I use to spend on food for the day will need to stretch to cover 10 meals during the challenge.
I've got some planning to do...
P.S. You can donate through my Live Below the Line page here.