Global challenge: Spend $1.50 per day for food

10:21 PM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When researcher Preethi Haran, 25, takes her break at the University of Minnesota veterinary school this week, lunch is her only full meal of the day.

"This is Indian flatbread made with wheat and salt, and chutney made with tomatoes and onions. This is what I am having for the entire week because that is what fits into the budget," she said, pointing to what would be a meager meal to most.

Her budget is $1.50 a day. She's taken the Global Poverty Project's "Live Below the Line" challenge, eating on $1.50 day for five days, which the organization calls the equivalent of extreme global poverty.

Haran was inspired to sacrifice after working with UNICEF and witnessing child poverty in her native India. She only eats oats for breakfast, goes without dinner and only drinks tap water.

"I do feel strongly child poverty is not something we as a society, community or nation should take lightly because they are most vulnerable sections of our society and cannot fend for themselves. We should take some action to rid our community and societies of this evil," said Haran.

The staff at the Northpoint food shelf in North Minneapolis will tell you, hunger is not a half world away, it's also next door.

"More than 50 percent who come in here are struggling by the food stamps they get," said pantry staffer Marquis Wise. "I can't tell you how many stories of people coming in here hungry, saying they have no food, and how they are thankful we are here to help them make it through the week."

Kat Buckner, a mother of three from Minneapolis, receives help from Northpoint. She says she is the working poor living along the poverty line, with the challenge of feeding her family with the paycheck she has.

"That's impossible. I can't think what I could buy for $1.50 that could feed me and a kid," said Buckner.

More than one in ten Minnesotans are living in poverty, and the number is rising, according to researchers at Minnesota Compass, which is part of Wilder Research Center.

"It's a surprisingly high number of people in poverty in Minnesota .We have over 622,000 people, that's about 12 percent of our population and as a group kids are most likely to be in poverty. Around 194,000 kids in our state are living in poverty," said Craig Helmstetter, Ph.D., a senior research manager with Minnesota Compass.

Helmstetter says federal poverty threshold is around $11,000 for a single person and around $23,000 for a family of four.

"One thing we are particularly concerned about is while overall our poverty rate is lower than the nation as a whole, if you look at populations of color here in Minnesota, the poverty rate is actually higher than populations of color elsewhere in the U.S.," said Helmstetter.  

The reality here in the U.S. and around the world has motivated American celebrities like Ben Affleck and Josh Groban to also try the Live Below the Line challenge this week.

University of Minnesota student Taylor Moore is also taking the challenge for the second year in a row as the president of Students Against Hunger at the U of M. She says she's surviving the week on beans, rice, lentils, oats and popcorn purchased at Aldi, and through experience learned those foods will sustain her.

Preethi Haran says from her experience, living on $1.50 a day is possible, but restrictive. The money she'll raise through the challenge will be donated to UNICEF.

"It depends how much you are willing to give up. The food is repetitive, it is lesser in quantity, you don't have freedom of choice to eat what you want," she said.

Research at Minnesota Compass shows 260,000 households receive food support in Minnesota, which averages out to $235 a month per family.

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