Living #Belowtheline Is Nothing Like Actually Living Below the Poverty Line

STORY BY Candace Bryan

Published: April 24, 2013

Recently Ben Affleck announced that for five days, he would support the Global Poverty Project's “Live Below the Line” campaign by eating less than $1.50 worth of food every day for five days. He joins a long list of celebrities who have also lent their support to the organization in the last few years, including Hugh Jackman and Josh Groban. The idea behind the project is not only to raise money for the organization, but also to see what it’s like for the millions of people around the world living below the poverty line, to experience their struggles and starvation.

Now, I think it’s totally great that stars like Ben Affleck feel an altruistic urge to raise money and awareness for the horrible plight of others, but there is something so false about the way they’re doing it, that almost gives it a publicity-stunt feel.

I’m not trying to say that spending only $1.50 dollars on food isn’t hard. But I think the reason it’s hard for celebrities or other people living with decent incomes is completely different than the people who actually live below the poverty line making a dollar a day. It’s different because every day that Affleck participates in campaign, he will be faced with the challenge of temptation. As he sits in his nice home in his safe city, he will be living with the knowledge that he could go get more food if he really wanted.

But part of what makes living in extreme poverty so miserable is, in addition to the lack of satisfying sustenance, the uncertainty about food down the line. When you are trying to stretch little over a dollar on not just food, but clothing and shelter, you don’t have the luxury of knowing that in five days things will be better. Chances are you also don’t live in a great area, and have to fear theft of your few possessions and fear for your general well-being. You also likely have to deal with medical issues caused by years of poor nutrition. Oh, and you’re also probably working extremely hard, maybe even doing manual labor, just to make that $1.50.

Sure, I guess living with mild hunger for five days is admirable, especially if it makes you realize just how cushioned your life is. But I’m not convinced that it “gives a glimpse” (as the organization’s website claims) into the real life and experience of those people who have no other choice but to live below the real poverty line, not for five days, but for their entire lives. 

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