The Conversation Continues.

Less is enough!

Less is enough!

Like many of you, who follow this blog, we too were surprised to see that the spirit of our project has continued to captivate people during this time of economic belt-tightening. Yesterday, a woman named Rebecca Currie appeared in a segment on Good Morning America about her efforts to eat on one dollar a day. The results? Buy what you need. Shop around. Don’t waste.

We discovered the same things in our original exercise back in September. The TV piece was based on an article written by Kristen Mascia of People Magazine, which came out on newsstands Friday, in which Currie claims (as she does on her blog) that we didn’t do a good job of eating well on such a small amount of money. After reading through her blog, it seems like a lot of the same challenges we faced came up for her as well.  And while I was hoping to learn something from her experiment, I am sad to say that I didn’t.

Now, in comparison to the Standard American Diet, both of our experiments were better in some ways, but that’s not saying much. People in our country overeat, they eat far too many animal products, and not enough plants. Additionally, there’s no reason to eat chicken or eggs for protein, when beans and rice are cheaper and meet the same need, without the cholesterol, or the environmental impacts of factory farming. For people who care for animals, there’s also their suffering to consider.

It could be argued that some of what she made was “more balanced” than some of our dishes, but the results were largely the same. Especially when it came to eating fresh foods. We could afford some fresh foods, as shown on the days when we had salads, oranges, and soups made with broccoli and potatoes, but both our’s and Rebecca’s exercises in extreme eating underscored one of our main conclusions: the produce section was largely out of reach for those on a limited budget.

The main difference between our projects, was that we were trying to survive, and she was trying to make a point about healthy eating.

While the b-roll on Good Morning America shows colorful selections of produce, and the photo in People has Currie at a Whole Foods, both images are misleading. Luckily the folks at Good Morning America had the sense to invite a nutritionist on to the show to assess the meals available for a small amount of money, and she made clear that Currie, like us, didn’t get enough to eat, and that adding things like fresh fruit to a morning bowl of oats is what makes a diet more healthful. Again, fresh foods. Particularly fruits and vegetables. Like Currie, we also ate some fruits and vegetables, but not nearly enough. And overall, both of our experiences had us eating very little. Currie states that she set out to challenge our claim that you can’t eat fresh foods on a dollar a day, and at the end it was clear that she proved us right.

We agree with Currie that it is absolutely possible to eat healthful for less, and we know that many Americans are learning the same lesson right now; and not because they’re blogging. We’re thrilled that our little experiment could keep this conversation about the economics of food going for so long.

In closing, we want to congratulate Rebecca for finishing her project, and look forward to chatting with her soon to compare insider notes on the experience!





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13 responses to “The Conversation Continues.

  1. Barbara

    Christopher, The Good Morning America segment led me to your site. I have been really inspired by your story. I hope to be more grateful for all that I have and to be willing to share much more with others. Thank you.

  2. We are a single income here in our home. (I hope soon to be back in the land of the working) But out of the 4 people in this home, 2 of us do not consume meat and any other meat is purchased on sale only.

    However, we could not afford to eat healthy on one dollar diet. We spend on average about $30 a week just on produce, and anywhere between $75-&100 a week on staples. And the rule in our home is, “If we ain’t out of it, don’t put it on the list.”

    I can see how folks might think that the dollar menu at fast food joints may seem appealing, but in the long run, i know I am doing the right thing for my family.

    You guys are awesome!

  3. Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

  4. Tom

    “After reading through her blog, it seems like a lot of the same challenges we faced came up for her as well. And while I was hoping to learn something from her experiment, I am sad to say that I didn’t.”

    I honestly don’t know how you could have read Rebecca’s blog and say you learned nothing from her experiment. In so many ways the challenge she set before herself in “LessIsEnough” was so fundamentally different from the one the two of you embarked upon.

    For instance, it’s clear that the two of you had a stock of food from which to pull from, portioning out each stock item (a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, flour + other bread making ingredients, etc) such that the combined portions were small enough to total less than one dollar per day. Rebecca, on the other hand, started with nothing — no stock of food — and worked up a mini pantry of goods, one dollar per day, one day at a time.

    (Granted, she did start her first day out with slightly more than $1)

    As well, your rules included the notion “that we could only take free food that was available to everyone in our area.” (Day Seven) Free food (be they grocery store samples or free lollypops “foraged from Tattoo Shop”) was something Rebecca did not include in her experiment. And while this might seem minor, it meant that she needed to set aside money for salt and/or any other condiments that she wanted to include in her food.

    Rebecca genuinely enjoyed her morning meal, whether it was just a personality/taste preference difference or if she was making some wise additions to her (steel-cut) oatmeal (toasted sunflower seeds). There was never a “Dreaming of bland oatmeal only eight hours away” (Day Seventeen) comment in her blog.

    Perhaps the two biggest differences that I see in the different approaches — and the two biggest lessons to be drawn from Rebecca’s approach over your approach — are:

    * Rebecca intentionally set out to prove that someone could eat well, eat a healthy diet, on a dollar a day. Instead of falling back on Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and popcorn for daily food staples, Rebecca’s experiment proved that a varied diet consisting of healthy, fresh food was possible and, really, not all that difficult.

    * Rebecca was not constantly hungry. In fact, much to her own surprise, she wrote that she wasn’t all that hungry despite the somewhat limited amount of food/meals she was eating. Your blog, on the other hand, made continual references to how hungry you were.

    (“Today I was fine until I got home, but upon entering the kitchen, it took everything I had to not tear open the closest container of food and pour it down my throat. I was not just “hungry”, I was bordering on frantic.” [Day Eight] “Today was the first day that I really felt like asking, “Aren’t we done yet?” [Day Eleven]”)

    Given all of this I’m not sure how you were able to read her blog and not feel that you had learned anything.

    I hope that despite your blog writing here you are able to keep yourselves open to learning from the fine people over at Hyperion as you develop your book.

    Best of luck!

  5. I concede most of your points, but disagree that, “Rebecca’s experiment proved that a varied diet consisting of healthy, fresh food was possible and, really, not all that difficult.”

    Her diet was not varied enough, lacked an adequate amount of calories, and additionally lacked an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables. These were the same challenges we faced, and it was pointed out by the nutritionist on Good Morning America.

    Again, if you learned from her experiment, that’s fantastic, but I didn’t. : )

  6. fivecats

    Rebecca’s experiment was not one that was meant to be a fully supportive lifestyle change. That wasn’t the point of her efforts. The point was to prove that you could eat better on $1 a day than some had taken pains to say online.

    (For a true lifestyle change, check out who is eating for $3.33 a day)

    If you concede most of my points, how can you truthfully say you learned nothing from her experiment?

  7. Amy Billings Maine

    I am 50 years old, which means my parents raised me on a mix of Depression era food (creamed tunafish on toast, Spam, home grown vegetables,) and “new and improved” processed foods like Tang, Captain Crunch cereal, frozen french fries, and Miracle Whip. In my twenties, I witnessed a food revolution, when all of a sudden, the country was eating whole wheat bread, sprouts, feta cheese, tropical fruits like kiwis and mangos: foods that were previously considered “ethnic,” exotic, or just out of reach, the food of kings. You can’t imagine the explosion of choice, variety, and quality in our food culture just between 1976 and 1986. But, at the same time, the processed food habit expanded in our culture, especially for lower income folks, and today’s elightened generation has rebelled against agribusiness and the brutal treatment of animals. Now comes the Recession of 2009, and people are trying to eat Depression-style again, because they are broke, but in a nutritionally conscious way. The difference between your approach and Rebecca Currie’s, as I see it, is almost generational, even though you are approximately the same age. Currie’s approach reminds me of my parents’ generation’s, when food was just something you got on the table and you felt pleased if it was basically nutritious. Your approach seems shaped more by the “food as an ideal” of the baby boomer generation, i.e. food as medicine, food as identity, and food as a political issue. You are food activists, and she is a food pragmatist. Don’t forget, she feeds herself on $80-$90 dollars a month normally, which my Depression-era parents would applaud and I can only hope to aspirte to. You are focused on changing the politics of how we get food, which is a very different goal.

  8. I understand that. Your previous post pointed out the differences between our projects…I am aware of these differences, and concede them. Recognizing differences does not mean that I learned from her project. Again, as I stated before, both of our experiences show that neither of us got the amount of necessary calories, and neither of us got enough fruits and vegetables.

    Additionally, nutrition is by its very nature subjective, and will be different for each and every person. During our project, Kerri and I had very different nutritional needs based on the differences in our size, health history, etc.

    It would be good to keep in mind that these experiments in extreme eating are also highly subjective, both for the participants, and for the readers. Again, I am very pleased that you learned from Rebecca’s experiment, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else did too. LIkewise, we don’t assume that everyone learned from our experiment either. : )

  9. Amy

    I have to say, it makes me feel weird when you say you “didn’t learn anything” from Rebecca Currie’s experiment. I don’t know why this makes me think less of you, not that you care, but it does. I don’t know why I am spending so much time thinking about either of your “experiments,” maybe because I am worried about losing my own job and having to subsist on very little. Anyway, good luck to all of you.

  10. Groovy Girl

    I understand why you chose one dollar a day for your project (to raise awareness of the many millions of impoverished people who live on their currency’s equivalent of that amount or less each day). However, I’m curious as to why you continue to use that rather extreme amount to define food affordability, and I’m wondering what demographics you’re thinking of when you talk about healthy food being unavailable to people on a limited budget.

    The government-defined poverty level for a single individual in 2007 was around $10,000. Americans with incomes between $10,000 and $19,000 spend an average of approximately 25% of their income on food (both in-home and away-from-home food) which would mean that someone at the poverty level in the US would typically spend $2,500 on food, which is around $6.85 a day.

    It seems odd (at best) to set the level of “affordability” at less than one-sixth that. Wouldn’t it make more sense to talk about what kinds of food people can get for $5 a day rather than $1 a day?

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  13. Megan

    I am wondering whether these experiments included food pantries. While my husband’s construction business was going under in winter 2008, our weekly food budget for our family of 5 was $25, which comes out to just under $3.60 per day–well below $1 per person. But we ate well enough, mostly because we had an excellent food pantry/soup kitchen nearby. We would visit every other week, have a dinner of home made soup and bread, and leave with a brown paper bag filled with staples (and sometimes a treat for the kids like Jello) and another bag with a half gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a pound of frozen ground venison donated by local hunters. Granted my husband and I were constantly hungry, but the children ate well, and if canned goods can be counted, had plenty of fruits and veggies. The biggest problem was milk, the kids usually went through a half gallon a day and at $4 a gallon we were out a lot. I also baked my own bread. Flour and water and yeast is all you really need, and is a whole lot cheaper than $1 per loaf (at the lowest). I didn’t even have a loaf pan, I just baked it on a cookie sheet.
    The key was that the children always ate first and the adults got the leftovers. If there wasn’t enough for both of us I would let my husband eat because he went and did hard physical labor in freezing temperatures every day, so he desperately needed the calories.
    An unexpected side effect of living this way for three months before we finally broke down and got food stamps was that I gained a lot of weight. I guess not eating slowed down my metabolism a lot, and then every time free food was offered in any setting I would way overcompensate because I knew it would probably be the most food I would get all week.

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