A Live Below the Line Follow Up: Let’s Talk Waste

il_570xN.448429408_rh29“I will definitely not participate again next year.” Each year this phrase flies from my mouth within the final days of my Live Below the Line challenge. Fatigue and hunger have a way of dampening my exuberant enthusiasm for changing the world and I assure myself that this is the last time I go five days with limited choice and calories. This year was no exception. However, in the 2 months since the challenge has ended I’ve realized that Live Below the Line has value that stretches beyond those 5 days. Of course, Live Below the Line is valuable to the various charities who raise funds to continue their poverty ending work. Canadian participants of the challenge raised nearly $150,000 that will go towards ending extreme poverty. And in turn, this is hugely valuable to the international community and to those people who are working hard to lift themselves out of poverty.

But I’ve also realized that this challenge impacts me in deeply personal ways. Every time I Live Below the Line I’m encouraged by the show of support from family and friends. I’m always a little surprised that so many people care so deeply about this issue. And this reminds me that I am making a difference and that my actions not only impact people on the other side of the world, but also impact those closest to me. And with that comes the challenge to do more.

If I’m perfectly honest I can become somewhat lackadaisical in my actions towards ending extreme poverty. Living Below the Line serves as an annual reminder to redouble my efforts and take stock of my current habits. Live Below the Line is kind of like New Year’s Day as I look back to see the positive changes I’ve made, but also resolve to do better moving forward.

This year the challenge made me more aware of how much food we throw away. Since moving to Calgary our schedules are less consistent. Even though we usually go to the grocery store every couple of days, which in theory should cut back on waste, I still find that we end up throwing away items that have been forgotten about at the back of the fridge. Often I plan to eat the leftovers from last night’s dinner, but am called away to work at the last minute and either forget about them or know I’ll have no time to heat them up so I leave them in the fridge only to throw them away the following week.

And I’m not alone. A 2012 study revealed that Canadians waste roughly $27 billion worth of food every year. You might think that this comes largely from the strict food rules that restaurants and supermarkets must adhere to, but think again. Just over half of that food waste comes from Canadian homes when people like myself throw their leftovers and rotting produce in the garbage and compost. This staggering waste puts pressure on food producers world wide, but it also poses a risk to the environment as rotting food in landfills significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

I’ve decided to take 3 steps to decrease the amount of food we throw away and the amount of waste we produce.

1) We’re aiming to become more mindful of what we purchase and when we will eat it. For us that will require planning ahead a bit better than we have been and may even mean pre-planning our meals for the work week. Although common wisdom says more trips to the grocery store will equal less waste, I think we may try less trips and work with what we’ve got. By planning ahead we can take a realistic look at when we’ll actually eat those leftovers. Buying adequate freezer containers will also help us to waste less as we can pop things in the freezer for those times when life moves more quickly than our planning and we’re unable to eat as planned.

2) Growing our own garden. One of the perks of living in a home with even the tiniest backyard is the ability to grow our own produce. One of the most frequently thrown away items in our house is lettuce and spinach. We decided to grow our own greens to cut back on our waste and packaging. We’ve planted a variety of foods with varying germination periods so that we receive the instant gratification from our efforts with foods like lettuce and berries, but also enjoy the fruits of our labour well into the winter months with potatoes and beets. Our garden is small, but in this small way we’re doing our part to decrease the pressure on the world food system.

3) Composting. Compost is certainly not a substitute for simply not throwing away our food and only purchasing what we will actually eat and use. However, there are times when we produce food waste that cannot be easily used, such as banana and avocado peels. In this case we thought it would be fantastic to compost. Not only is it better for the environment, but it will provide us with nutrient dense soil to use in our garden and plants around the house. In our small and temporary home we decided it would be best to compost in a small container using worms. We ordered a half pound of red wigglers from Green Calgary and they now live happily in a small container in our garage slowly but surely working their way through our waste.

My commitment to decreasing the amount of food we throw away was strengthened by this video from Sustainable Table.


Live Below the Line: Day 5 The End Is In Sight

5th May 2014

It’s the last day of the challenge and I feel deeply encouraged. Thank you to everyone who has so generously donated to my campaign on behalf of World Literacy Canada. With your support I have surpassed my goal and am now aiming to reach $650 instead of the original $500! Thank you so much!

Your kindness has bouyed me at times when I felt tired, headache-y, and unsure about whether I would hit my fundraising target. It has been encouraging to know that there are so many people around me who support my efforts and, most importantly, that there are so many people who are passionate about this issue. Your donations, retweets, likes, and encouraging words are evidence that there is a movement growing to end extreme poverty. Your actions and words show that there is an international community who is willing to support those who are working so diligently to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. That has been one of the most encouraging parts of this experience.

I was also encouraged today as I talked about extreme poverty with colleagues on my lunch break. I sat at a table with three people who have all immigrated to Canada from countries that are currently or used to be poor. I had barely finished explaining the challenge when the three of them shared their experience of moving to North America and their surprise at the amount of food that is wasted and taken for granted. I was struck by one colleague’s experience of growing up in Vietnam. As a child, she explained, her family could not afford meat and could only provide her with small portions of rice and vegetables for her meals. She laughed at how quickly she put on weight once she moved to Canada. And then she went on to provide anecdotal evidence of the progress we have made in the last 30 years as she described how her relatives, who used to be very poor, were now quite affluent. Her story reveals that we are making progress in the fight to end extreme poverty. In fact, in the last 5 years the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 1.4 billion to 1.2 billion people around the world.

We can end extreme poverty by 2030. It won’t be easy, but together we can cheer each other on to take action each day and remind one another that we’re all in this together. If you haven’t yet donated to my campaign there’s still time! Please do make a donation if you’ve been thinking about it. And for those of you who would like to take further action to end extreme poverty I encourage you to sign the #by2030 petition and check out Global Citizen to find out further action you can take. 

Thanks everyone!

– See more at: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/participant#sthash.Bgy0UD4l.a5eKn1a6.dpuf

Live Below The Line: Monotonous Days 2, 3, 4

2nd May 2014


I meant to take a photo of my rice with lentils for a bit of a change from the rice and beans, but in my hunger I forgot so here’s a photo of the rice and beans – but in a colourful dish! Eating the same bland portions of food repeatedly for the past 4 days has been difficult and I’ve struggled to finish many of my meals despite my hunger. Living below the poverty line means living with a severe lack of choice. While I dream about all the things I can’t wait to eat on Saturday there are 1.2 billion people in the world who struggle to obtain an adequate amount of food each day let alone having the opportunity to choose their food to suit their current tastes and cravings. And this lack of choice is certainly not limited to food. Some families do not get to choose whether or not they will send their children to school. Or they may be faced with the reality that they do not have access to basic medicine, life saving vaccines, or family planning resources. There are so many ways that choice is limited when you live on less than the equivalent of $1.75 per day in Canada.

I feel so grateful for all that I have, all the opportunities I’ve been given, and the many choices I get to make each day. But surely I do not deserve these choices more than anyone else simply because of where I’ve been born. Everyone should have access to plentiful food sources, education, medicine, vaccines, and the opportunities to provide for themselves and their families. And that’s what I like so much about World Literacy Canada. Their aim is to provide opportunities for women to become leaders in their communties. Giving women options and choices through education and literacy benefits not only one woman or even a group of women. These opportunities benefit children, families, and whole communities and will help many people to get up on that first rung to development. 

Thank you so much to everyone who has so generously donated to my campaign. Every penny goes to helping lift people out of poverty and I encourage everyone who hasn’t already to donate!

And lastly, here’s our meal plan for days 2, 3, and 4…

Day 2

2 eggs $0.41

1 Banana $0.33

Brown Rice (90g) $0.20

Black Beans $0.19

1 Carrot $0.18

Sweet potato (roughly half) $.033

Salt & pepper $0.04

Total = $1.68 

Day 3 was exactly the same except we swapped out the black beans for lentils ($0.15) and a dash of curry spice ($0.02) for a total of $1.66.

And today, Day 4, we simply swapped the rice and lentil dinner and the sweet potoato lunch so our total for the day is exactly the same at $1.66.

– See more at: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/participant#sthash.Bgy0UD4l.dpuf

Live Below the Line Day 1

The day started off solid with 2 hardboiled eggs, but it wasn’t long until I was reminded of the things I will miss the most over the course of the week. I was up early for a work event at the library and met a fellow library friend for a coffee and a chat before taking our seats. Well, she got a coffee and I eyed her caffeinated beverage and sipped my tap water while we chatted. Once in the warm, dimly lit auditorium my desire for caffeine became acute as I struggled to keep my eyelids open. By the lunch break I was ravenous and had to settle for my green banana while my colleagues and friends sauntered out to the lobby for a catered lunch. A catered lunch that included brownies. Normally, I would have sipped and snacked my way through the presentations to keep my energy levels up. But when you live below the poverty line this is not an option. I can’t imagine how I would have coped if I had to put in a full day’s work, especially labour intensive work, with such little food in my tummy.

At the event several speakers shared the latest books being published and I was struck by the fact that while we were discussing the latest trends and the best ways to get kids reading over the summer there are millions of people around the world who lack basic literacy skills. In fact, the UN estimates that “globally, 123 million youth aged 15 to 24 lack basic reading and writing skills around the world; 61% of them are young women” (MDG Fact Sheet). I may be skipping my coveted caffeinated beverages for a few days before hopping right back on that caffeine train, but even without the caffeine I still have access to a solid education. I can still snuggle up with a good book and develop new skills to enhance my job prospects. This is a right that not everyone in the world enjoys. This is a right that World Literacy Canada is working to provide as it fills the literacy gap.

My stomach rumbled, my head hurt, and I struggled to focus on my commute home. Normally, I would have been prepared with a delicious snack in my bag to tide me over until lunch, but there was certainly no room in the budget this week. At home I eyed the fruit and nut mix on the counter, but restrained myself and began cutting up my sweet potato for what turned out to be a very late lunch.


I also had to prepare supper and the next day’s lunch for Jonathan and myself. Living below the line means that we can’t just grab something for lunch if we don’t prepare food in advance. There is a lot of planning involved. Supper included black beans, which required a minimum of 8 hours soaking and at least 1 hour cooking time. If I had forgotten or simply didn’t feel like soaking the beans both Jonathan and myself would have gone without supper and lunch. Of course, I didn’t forget, but I was reminded of the limitations experienced by those living in extreme poverty. For most people around the world living on the equivalent of $1.75 per day in Canada leaves enough money for just 2 portions of rice and vegetables per day. There is no money for meat and certainly no money for the extras that I enjoy every day.

And so I challenge you to donate the cost of your daily coffee or chocolate bar or other daily ‘treats’ to my Live Below the Line fundraising campaign. Your donation will go to World Literacy Canada and help to provide the literacy tools that women who live below the poverty line need in order to become leaders in their communities.

What’s in Your Bag?



You know you are relatively unprepared for Live Below the Line when you’re rushing into Superstore at 10pm the night before the challenge starts. I’ve joined forces this week with Jonathan, my husband, which meant that we had $17.50 between the two of us to spend on our 5 days worth of food.

It is so tricky to ensure that you stay within the $17.50 while simultaneously ensuring that none of your meals for each day exceeds the $1.75 limit. Here’s what we ended up with…

  • 2x 12 pack of eggs – $4.94
  • 10 bananas – $3.50
  • 4 large sweet potatoes – $2.76
  • 1lb bag of carrots – $1.78
  • 900g bag of brown rice – $1.97
  • Small portion of black beans – $0.76
  • Small portion of lentils – $0.90
  • Allocated salt & pepper – $0.40

All this for the grand total of $17.01

The plan is to have 2 eggs each per morning with a banana as a snack and then some combination of sweet potato, rice, beans and/or lentils throughout the day. I’ll share how we did on days 1 and 2 next.

Live Below the Line the Canadian Version – Why I’m Taking the Challenge Again


Even though I signed up to Live Below the Line weeks ago the challenge really snuck up on me this year. And by snuck up on me I should say, in all truthfulness, that I quite purposefully ignored the fact that in the near future I would spend 5 days living on $1.75 per day for food and drink.

This is my third go at Live Below the Line, but my first time taking the challenge in Canada and I was dreading it. You might think that after 2 years of LBL I would be an old pro with nothing to worry about. You might think I’ve perfected the art of buying 5 days of groceries on such a small budget and making the most out of the food that I purchase. You might think that the challenge would be a breeze by year three. And those things might have been true if I still lived in the UK. But after being back in Calgary for 6 months there’s one thing I’ve come to learn – food is more expensive in Calgary than in the UK. In fact, from what I hear from friends and family, food might even be more expensive in Calgary than in other major cities across Canada.

It might appear that I get more money to spend in Canada at $1.75 per day versus £1 per day in the UK, but this amount has been adjusted for purchasing parity which takes into account the difference in food costs. Despite the ‘increase’ I knew this year’s challenge was going to be more intense than in previous years. In the UK we could purchase a box of 100 Fairtrade teabags for .80p and a package of 16 custard creams for £1 thanks to the ‘basics’ line at Sainsburys or other similar low cost options at other shops. But there are very few low cost options at major grocery stores in Canada. Most stores have their own product line, which is usually a little cheaper, but is not aimed at the low budget consumer in the same way that the UK shops cater to this market. 

This realisation, that even though I technically have the same amount of money to spend the challenge will likely be more difficult this year, has led me to a second, more important understanding of extreme poverty. I often tend to think of the ‘world’s poor’ in very generic terms. When I hear about the 1.2 billion people who continue to live in extreme poverty I often get the same image in my mind – you may have a similar image – of a person from a particular ethnic background who lives in a dusty, dry rural area and must walk miles to obtain water from a questionable source. But, in the same way that my Live Below the Line experience is completely different depending on whether I do it in Canada or the UK, people living in extreme poverty also have extremely different lived experiences. I don’t know all the stats about who lives where, but I do know that not all the world’s poor live in Africa. Many live in Asia and South America. And not everyone who continues to live on less than $1.75 per day lives in a rural community. Some live in cities. Living in extreme poverty looks different from person to person. And that means that ending extreme poverty is going to look different for each person, community, and country. And that’s what I love about Live Below the Line – there are thousands of people in Canada, the UK, and the U.S.A who are living below the line in support of a variety of charities who are all doing excellent work to help end extreme poverty. Despite my dread I simply couldn’t sit out on the opportunity to raise funds for a charity that is doing such excellent work. Which leads me to why I’m taking the challenge for the third year in a row.

The reason is simple – I believe it’s possible to end extreme poverty and I believe that the lives of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty have value. And we have cause to believe that these fundraising efforts work. The number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990. This has been accomplished in part thanks to the strategic efforts of hundreds of charities world wide. But there are still 1 billion people in the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. There is still more work to be done if we are to end extreme poverty by 2030. And that’s why I’m living below the line in support of World Literacy Canada, who are working to empower people, especially women, by teaching them literacy skills to increase their employability so that they can support themselves and their families. Please consider sponsoring me as I live below the line for World Literacy Canada and be part of the movement to end extreme poverty.

Fair Accessories for the Holidays

Is anyone else out there suspicious of all those sparkly, glittery accessories available at the mall? I certainly am. I want to know who made them and how much they were paid. You’ll have an extra glow at the office Christmas party this year with these Fairtrade and Fairmined accessories.

Need to add a little something to jazz up your holiday finest?


‘Double Helix’ Earings by Hovey Lee $48.00

Hovey Lee’s first jewellery collection garnered positive attention from both the arts and fashion world. Hovey Lee upholds the standards of the Fair Trade Federation and the No Dirty Gold Campaign to ensure that all her pieces are made in a way that brings dignity to miners and ensures sustainable mining practices. Add these reclaimed brass accessories to your holiday finery and you’ll feel merry and bright (clever you for seeking out Fairtrade accessories!) the whole night through.

Canada’s ethical diamonds sparkle on the hands of people the world over. Did you know Canada is also home to Fairtrade and Fairmined jewellers?


Custom jewellery from Hume Atelier.

Vancouver based Hume Atelier specializes in bespoke jewellery using Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. They believe in connecting clients to producers and helping people become aware of the people behind their unique products.

T’is the season to pop the question!


Engagement rings from the Fairtrade Jewellery Company in Toronto.

Toronto’s Fairtrade Jewellery Company was the first Fairtrade certified jeweller in North America and is proud to use Fairtrade and Fairmined gold for their jewellery. If you’re planning on popping the question this holiday season make sure the future of the gold miner will be as bright as your future together.