In an initiative to gain an understanding of how 1.2 million people live in extreme poverty, thousands of Australians are set to live beneath the poverty line next month.
From May 4-8, these Australians will sustain themselves on two dollars a day, an equivalent to living below the extreme poverty line.
The Live Below the Line campaign is an annual fundraising venture hosted by the non-profit youth organisation Oak Tree. The campaign aims to encourage Australians to live on two dollars a day for five days to experience living beneath the poverty line and raise money for overseas organisations. In partnership with these organisations in Cambodia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea, Oaktree hopes to raise funds to train teachers, fund scholarships, renovate and provide educational institutions for young people in these developing countries.
The Newsroom spoke to a previous Live Below the Line participant and dietician Dr Karen Charlton about her experience and advisory in the challenge and whether it is possible to lead a healthy lifestyle in Australia on such a small amount.
“No definitely not… I would question whether you can eat at all on two dollars a day, never mind healthily over the longer term,” she said.
Dr Charlton mentioned that food in Australia is of a higher expensive due to the cost of labour in farming. “There are some examples of where the government has subsides core foods [such as] fruit and veg, dairy products, meat and the carbohydrate components.
“You could get your required amount of dairy from the cheaper milk but really if you try and balance what people need and even using the cheapest sources of food from the various five food groups… I would question whether you can eat at all on two dollars a day let alone healthily,” she said.
Speaking from her experience, Dr Charlton mentioned the food groups that had to be eliminated to survive on the two dollars a day challenge, the most expensive being protein.
Being a vegetarian, Dr Charlton mentioned she didn’t miss meat and believes that in order to get a healthy intake of protein on two dollars a day you have to effectively follow a vegetarian meal plan. She found meals that consisted of lentils, beans, chickpeas and dry varieties that are “cheaper than the tinned ones” were the most effective. “You can get your protein but you have to follow a vegetarian diet to a large extent,” Dr Charlton said.
The latest Australian health survey found that 22 per cent of Indigenous Australians live in a household that experiences food insecurity. Dr Charlton described the figures as “staggering”.
“If you put that into context, against world standards, in a country that does have social security, and does have a welfare system given all of that, there are whole households that are going to bed hungry… In Australia, no child should go hungry.”
Dr Charlton said the Live Below the Line challenge is not just about just raising the money; it’s about individually experiencing hunger and being aware of the cost of food.
“For months and months I was so aware of food cost, every time I went to get a coffee I would think $3.20… I’ve blown my budget,” she said.
If you would like to donate to Dr Charlton’s Live Below the Line challenge, click here, – Greta Levy
Top photo by Isabel Williams.