food

$2 a day? Easy! Yeah - that's what I thought too.

By Jayne McCartney

I grew up believing we were poor. And in many ways we were. My mum was a single mum who finished school in Year 8. There were five kids aged from 4-11 when our dad left. I can’t think of the bravery it took to approach the manager of the local Woolies and ask if he had any work. All she had in her favour was a willingess to work hard. He took a punt on her and it paid off. She worked her arse off.

Still, things were always tight. Back then if you received welfare money it came in a cheque delivered by the postman. Mum received what she called a ‘deserted wives’ pension’ – which was as demoralising to receive as it sounds.

I have memories of having to take a note to school on pension day asking my teacher if we could go home for lunch- because there was no food for lunch on that day. We would head home, hoping the postman had been so mum would have money. We would be sent to the shop to buy a loaf of the freshest, softest white bread and 20c worth of thinly sliced devon. Those sandwiches in a hungry belly were the most divine thing ever.

Jayne McCartney. Image: Supplied

Mum also got paid from her casual job at Woolies on a Thursday night. She would do a shift until the store closed and then catch two buses home to us, carrying as many bags full of groceries as she could manage on her own - bought with her pay during her tea break.

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As we waited for her, the younger kids would often look to me to feed them. Sometimes there wasn't much. I remember scraping together some flour and sugar and cocoa to make biscuits one night, and I was a wiz with a cheap packet cake mix. When mum would stumble in the door at 10pm on a Thursday night with bulging shopping bags we would dive on her to see what treats she had - sometimes a bag of Fantales or a packet of Adora Cream Wafers or Iced Vo Vos.

So yeah. I've known what it's like to be a little hungry. But most of the time we were always well fed thanks to the generosity of our extended family - our grandfather was a butcher in Taree so we would have a freezer stocked with meat after he visited. And after family parties we always had so many leftovers from our Aunt who was an amazing cook.

Jayne thought living on $2 a day would be easy, she was wrong. Image: Supplied.

When I saw the Live Below the Line initiative I was immediately interested. I've only ever done one fundraiser before. A 60km bike ride and I can't even recall who it was for. I just like riding my bike and everyone in the pub where I worked when I was a student was happy to sponsor me.

But this feels closer - even though I haven't known genuinely abject poverty and thank my lucky stars daily.

It's easy, when your belly is full and you have your pick of anything on the supermarket shelf to delude yourself into thinking you could survive being poor. I occasionally wonder what I would do if the rug was pulled out from under me. I'm a single mum and I share care of my two kids with their dad. I have a university education and a fabulous, well-paying job. But even now there are days when the rent is due and the bills have to be paid and the kids need a new pair of shoes and someone's computer screen is broken that I look at the bank balance and it's not too healthy. But we live a very, very good life. We have a gorgeous home and everything anyone could ask for. We have treats and meals out and we go to movies and the theatre and we are ridiculously fortunate!

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How would I cope, I wonder, if I lost my job due to illness or other misfortune? I sometimes think of ways to feed my kids on less if I had to. A loaf of bread is cheap so we could live on sandwiches. Sounds easy doesn't it? Well everything is easy until it's real.

I thought I was pretty aware of the cost of living, but I didn't really realise how truly unaware I was until I signed up for Live Below the Line. This past week I've entered the supermarket each day imagining what it will be like in May when I do the challenge for five days. I've tried to really limit what I spend to feed myself. My kids are with their dad this week so I haven't had to worry about feeding them too.

This trial run has opened my eyes. The very cheapest packet of rice is $1.50. That's almost one whole day's budget blown. Looking at that rice I realised what this really means. That first day I spent under $10. I bought a single chicken breast for $2.35. I bought a chilli for 5c!!! Flavour! I bought a lemon - 85c. And then I splurged on some basil for $3 - what a luxury! I quickly realised I should be growing herbs, although I do know a place across the road that has rosemary growing in the front yard. I bought a loaf of bread for $2 and grabbed a box of Smarties on special for $1. I was proud of myself and also a little terrified. There was an entire week's 'below the line' budget gone. Of course I was able to go back to the supermarket the next day and get more food but I find now I am hyper aware of the cost of things.

It was my son's birthday on Friday and all he wanted (after the Nike shoes we splashed out on a few weeks back!) was a backpack filled with junk food. It felt almost wrong to spend $30 on nothing. The night I bought his treats I went to the supermarket quite late and before I got to the confectionary aisle I passed by the deli. There in the warming oven was a half a BBQ chicken marked down to $2! I felt a little thrill just seeing it through these new eyes. Oh what a gift that would be to a hungry person.

Today I got a little thrill because a loaf of wholemeal bread was marked down to 70c, so I snapped it up. I've also found I am suddenly attuned to waste in a way I wasn't before. I cooked a little tomato and onion to go with my dinner the other night. When I couldn't finish it all I popped it into a little container and ate it with my eggs this morning. I see the people fishing in the harbour when I go riding, and while I'm not a big seafood eater I wonder if they are supplementing their budgets with the fish they catch.

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Image: Supplied

I'm not sure how I will plan my five days living below the line, or what I will eat. But I'm excited to read how others have done it and to take in the lessons that will come my way during the challenge.

I'm also a bit realistic and I don't really know how much this will change my habits in the long term, but I hope some good will come of it. At the very least I hope to raise some money for this great cause.

Live Below the Line is a youth run, peer-to-peer anti-poverty campaign. It challenges everyday Aussies to Live on $2 a day for 5 days, the equivalent of the global extreme poverty line whilst raising money for those living in extreme poverty in the South Asia Region. Funds go towards supplying education resources to young people in remote communities. To join Jayne in taking the challenge this May, head to: https://www.livebelowtheline.com.au/. Donate to Jayne here.