Live Below the Line & the politics of food challenges
This is somewhat awkward for me to say. I joined a “youth organisation” dedicated to eliminating poverty etc. at the start of this year. We had to sign contracts stipulating we wouldn’t publicly criticise the organisation… well, I don’t plan on talking shit about them in this post — but how about just people in general?
Live Below the Line has recently ended: For one week all your food intake per day must not exceed $2.25, the global poverty line. I have mixed feelings about this challenge. On one hand, regardless of people’s motives, regardless of how patronising they may be, regardless of whether or not they actually follow the rules properly — LBL makes a lot of money that will be donated to actual good causes in the world. It doesn’t matter why you’re giving $10; if that money is going towards important things, fine. Whatever.
But there was a lot that made me uncomfortable about the challenge. For starters (or to end), all the people I’m friends with making social media posts about all the alcohol they’re going to drink or the big meal they’re going to have in the hours leading up to LBL finishing. Um. Didn’t you just spend a week “living in their shoes” — poor people don’t get to celebrate the “ending of their poorness” because — surprise! — they don’t stop being in poverty after a week. I thought that was incredibly, incredibly patronising. Claiming to understand poverty through this week’s experience, but then celebrating the end of LBL by doing something poor people can’t do.
Also, the congratulatory vibe from these end of LBL feasts: “Yay for me for surviving 5 days on $2.25/day of food. I deserve a turkey for all the hardship I put up with!” Because honestly, what is there to pat yourself on the back for? And think really carefully about this. Because if you say you deserve an award for “surviving” on $2.25 worth of food a day — no. You don’t get awards for living like someone’s actual life. But even if I was giving out awards for living on $2.25, the middle class kid who did it for a week is waaaaaaay down the list of award deserving people.
But it’s also unrealistic! And problematic! I HATED the campaign around LBL this year, the “I walk in their shoes because…” campaign. The point is: No you fucking don’t. And you never will.
I feel somewhat bad about using this person’s campaign photo to emphasise my point. This person does actually do important things in the human rights field and is a pretty incredible person — I do generally respect and admire them. But theirs was one of the few photos I came across that hid the person’s face — I don’t think any individual deserves to be shamed for what is a pretty collective mentality/failure of “privileged middle class kids who do food challenges”.
Plus, what they wrote is really wrong. This was the photo that made me stop and be very annoyed at the campaign as I was scrolling through my fb feed. In a phrase: It is the White Saviour Complex. People in poverty around the world don’t need “young kiwi leaders” intervening in their lives. It’s not about us! It’s not about what we can do, but how they can be given the resources so they can make the changes they actually want and need. Young Kiwi Leaders: Get the fuck away from their lives! I know it hurts to hear this but, you are not needed, you are not important, and you are not the fucking saviour of the world!!!! (In other words, everything you’ve ever wanted to say to the US — say it to yourself!)
The very essence of the campaign is so flawed. Again, you do not “walk in their shoes” and you never will. Apart from the practical differences: LBL’s $2.25 does not include the use of your car to get to the supermarket (petrol + WOF fees + maintenance fees); it does not include the ability to “shop around” and “buy in bulk” or to partner with sponsors; it does not include your fridge and stove or the electricity to run your fridge and stove; it does not include every single other living cost you incur, like rent and utilities and education and healthcare — and yeah, your wifi. It does not include having to work 3 jobs at horrible hours and nothing being open except for the expensive dairy when you get off work at 4 am.
And it doesn’t include fucking cheating either — sorry, you call it getting the scales out and “rationing your portions”. When Christine Rankin says milk and cereal only costs 37c per day so why can’t poor parents feed their kids breakfast — you know why that’s flawed logic, right? What supermarket will sell you one bowl of milk and cereal? If you want the milk and you want the cereal, you pay the full fucking 8 bucks. (And don’t forget milk goes bad if you don’t drink it fast enough).
Likewise, when you buy a bag of spices, you pay for the whole bag, not whatever pinch you end up using during your 5 days. If you’re going to buy 20 eggs in bulk, that’s $6.99 gone from your budget. You don’t get to count only 69c because you’re using just two eggs the whole week. No supermarket sells you individual eggs. It’s really irritating when participants buy a 25kg bag of rice, and then say “lol, this is only 10c cuz imma just use one scoop”. Fuck off. You want the authentic poor experience? If you can’t afford the bulk item then you can’t benefit from it’s cheaper price-quantity ratio.
Apart from all of those practical things, you will still never “walk in their shoes” when your “poverty” has a finish line. When, through your “hunger pains”, you get to know that it will all be over in two more days. When your “starvation” is a sign to you and alllllll~ your friends of just how fucking great of a person you are. When you get to think that your “suffering” has a greater purpose, that you’re ~saving the world~ — you will never, never walk in their shoes. Being poor isn’t a feel good experiment. You can stop pretending that you are experiencing anything close to what it’s like to actually live in poverty.
And for fucks sake, don’t base your whole campaign around this very wrong and patronising slogan!
— Argh, okay. I’ve lost the plot now in my frustrations. Here’s what other people think.
I just want people to be more honest. You’re not “living in their shoes”, but you can collect donations or whatever. — In fact, we shouldn’t be calling it the LBL challenge (because what is the fucking challenge here, honestly), but more like the LBL fundraiser or something. The good thing about LBL is that it gets a lot of people donating who otherwise wouldn’t — we could always use more resources.
The down side is all the self righteous people congratulating themselves for doing… pretty much nothing meaningful, in fact, causing harm every time they have the audacity to compare their “week of poverty” to actual poverty. And, thinking that their LBL experience now makes them an expert on what it’s like to be poor….. haha, no. Shut up. No one needs your pseudo ~deep and meaningful~ reflections.
Hammer, nail, head. One of my friends was talking to me about her week “living below the line” and her main complaint was that it made it hard to socialise. Cue incredulity. Poverty (read: NOT what you did this past week) has an impact on every part of life. You don’t get to whine because this very crude simulation of it put a five-day cramp in your wining-and-dining lifestyle.
Seriously disturbed by how people who complete LBL are celebrated. Hooray for raising some money, I guess — we’re not even going to talk about the discourse of the language used — but your simulated poverty should not replace actual, lived experiences of it.