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 Day Five: Final Reflections


To say I’m not looking forward to being able to eat whatever I want tomorrow would be a lie. But I also haven’t found the challenge quite as gruelling as last year. Perhaps a bit more tedious due to the monotony of the meals, but not quite as difficult or exhausting.

I’ve enjoyed the number of conversations that have come from my experience. It’s been fun to watch my concerned colleagues run calculations to see if I might be able to have just a crumb of lemon drizzle (a half of a thin slice came in at .10p). That means they are engaging with the issue and are starting to grasp the limited options available to those who live in extreme poverty everyday.

It’s surprising the number of people who desperately want to see me game the system and find sneaky exceptions to the rules. ‘Can I just buy you lunch?’ No. ‘What if the food is being given away for free? Can you eat it then?’ No. These questions highlight the wealth that we enjoy in the UK. The concept that I may actually have to do without for even a short time is difficult for people to understand. We are unfamiliar with lack. But for the 1 in 8 people who will go to bed hungry tonight, there is no gaming the system. They are part of a larger system that for so long has worked against them to keep them in poverty. But I believe we’re making progress.

For starters, Live Below the Line UK has more than 5000 participants and has already raised over £500,000 for various charities. That’s 5000 people who are engaging with the issue of extreme poverty and actively working to understand it. That’s a recipe for change.

The other question I was asked most frequently this week was the accuracy of using a £1 as the marker of extreme poverty. ‘But you can buy a lot in India for £1.’ And this is true, if we were measuring exchange rates, but we’re not. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than what you can buy in the UK for approximately £1 or in the US for £1.25. If you click round to each of the Live Below the Line country websites you’ll soon notice that each country is doing the challenge set to a different daily dollar value. The Australians appear to be living large on $2 per day for 5 days. Though the dollar amounts are different in each country the experience is basically the same. To live on $2 in Australia is very similar to living on £1 in the UK. That’s because the World Bank definition is adjusted for purchasing parity, rather than exchange rate. So if you imagine what it is like to live in the UK for £1 a day – for EVERYTHING – not just on food and drink, that gives you an idea of what it means to live in extreme poverty. Does that make sense?

It’s been great to engage people in the issues and I only wish there was more time to chat about these things during the work day. Fortunately, the end of Live Below the Line is only the beginning of learning and understanding the issues surrounding extreme poverty. If you would like to learn more about extreme poverty and what you can do to see it end within a generation (our generation!) then please become a Global Citizen.

Though I’ve finished Live Below the Line for another year, I encourage you to sign up! You can take the challenge and raise funds up until July 1st.

Which reminds me, I’m just shy of half way to my fundraising goal. Please sponsor me here and a huge thank you to everyone who has sponsored me this week! https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/leannehooper.

Lastly, I’m so proud of the HTB and Alpha team who took on the challenge like champs! We are currently at the top of the Faith Group Leaderboard and have raised just shy of £3000. It’s been wonderful to take the challenge as a team and I’m grateful for their encouragement!

Live Below the Line Day Four: You’re Not Going to Throw That Out Are You?


Today I thought I would share my team’s Dine Below the Line lunch, but when you work for a busy charity it turns out that these things are difficult to organise. Only 4 of us were able to make it and even I turned up late after a meeting started late and ran late. We each brought our own portion of food, so it was less of a ‘Dine Below the Line’ experience and more of a lament the monotony of the food we’re eating and encourage each other to make it through the final 36 hours.

It was glorious to sit outside in the sun and enjoy my slightly spiced up meal of rice, chicken, frozen veg, ‘now with tomato pasta sauce!’. Apart from the pasta sauce this is the exact same meal I have consumed for lunch and supper for 3 consecutive days. I actually couldn’t finish all of my dinner, which I suspect has more to do with the gag reflex I’ve developed whenever I look at a bowl of white rice than the hunger I’m experiencing. But don’t worry! I certainly didn’t throw away the remaining food. The benefit of eating the same thing everyday is that it’s easy to add leftovers. Even though Jonathan and I have been eating the same breakfast that we have everyday, the bland hardboiled eggs (£0.14 each) are somehow less fulfilling as I know that nothing I eat throughout the day will make up for the lack of flavour. But they do give me the strength to walk to work at my usual pace.

The highlight of my day was when a fellow LBLer in the office ‘sold’ me a bag Asda crisps, which cost £0.05. I actually have £0.10 left in my daily total, so the crisps were a welcome change. I had to turn down lemon drizzle during our team tea time today, but I was able to indulge in this tiny treat. The crisps paired with the remaining half of my banana left me feeling strong as I started my walk home from work. But halfway through the walk I started to feel shaky and weak and had to slow my purposeful stride considerably.

For me, tomorrow is the last day where I willingly face these challenges. But there are 1.2 billion people in the world for whom the ‘challenge’ of extreme poverty is a daily reality. The challenge of extreme poverty is evident in some of the things I’ve experienced this week: fatigue, poor concentration, weakness, and a lack of choice. These are real challenges. Thankfully, we live in an exciting time in history; we live at a time where we have real solutions to these challenges.

I encourage you to Live Below the Line to gain insight into what extreme poverty feels like. Seriously! You have until the end of June to take the challenge and raise funds, so why not sign up? And you happen to know someone (me) who can offer advice and top tips and cheer you on for those tough, but rewarding 5 days.

I also encourage you to learn more about the exciting progress that is being made as millions are lifted out of extreme poverty. Why not sign up to become a Global Citizen? As a Global Citizen you will have access to videos, articles, and reports about ending extreme poverty within a generation and what each of us can do to make this vision a reality. As you read articles and share videos you gain points. With these points you can enter to win tickets to concerts from (I assume) your favourite bands. But more importantly you’ll learn more about the issues surrounding extreme poverty and help build the movement to see it end. To check it out and sign up please visit globalcitizen.org.

You can also sponsor me as I head into my final day of living below the line. livebelowtheline.com/me/leannehooper