Surviving On A Dollar A Day

by Jean Freim

Could You Survive A Food Budget Of One Dollar A Day?

Can every person in America afford to eat a nutritious diet or is being healthy a luxury of wealth? I pose this question not as an economically challenged person whining about the cost of broccoli in my local super market but as a citizen of a country that is facing a desperate economic situation. I have found that I am not the only one to ponder such issues. Kerri and Christopher Pearson, two social justice teachers, have done more than just ponder. They have completed a very interesting experiment. For an entire month, September of 2008, they lived on one dollar per person a day. They called it the One Dollar Diet Project and wrote a great blog while completing their experiment. While this was a bit extreme it was a great illustration of just how difficult it can be for someone in poverty to simply feed themselves.

Looking at the menus that the Pearsons had created, they showed a huge deficit in vitamins and minerals. Using the Diet Analysis software given with our nutrition class I analyzed a typical day on the Dollar Diet Project. According to their web blog on a typical day the menu consisted of “Breakfast: 1 cup cooked oatmeal - $0.06 Lunch: PB and J sandwich on homemade bread - $0.36,2cups popped popcorn with salt - $0.07 Dinner: 2 Bean and Rice Burritos - $0.42 (Beans - $0.07, Rice -$0.11, Tortillas - $0.05ea., small strips of Lettuce - $0.07, 1 TBSP taco sauce - $0.12) Dessert: 1TBSP Peanut butter - $0.05. Grand Total $0.96” Important to note the tortilla’s and beans were homemade. While this analysis is a rough estimate because it is difficult to know the exact portion sizes and brand names used, I came up with the following breakdown based on an 1879 kcal diet what would be needed to healthfully sustain a 130 lb female:

Kcal (g) Protein (g) Carb (g) Fat (g) Chol (mg) Omega-6 (g) Omega-3 (g) Fiber (g) Sugar
Thiamin (mg) Ribo (mg) Niacin (mg)
Menu 1265.07 43.95 187.69 38.09 14.29 8.46 0.50 22.68 19.65 1.20 0.73 11.30
% RDA 67% 93% 211-305 (g) 42-73 (g) 5% 71% 45% 91% No Rec 109% 66% 81%

Vit B6 (mg) Vit B12 (mg) Fol (mg) Vit C (mg) Vit D(mg) Vit A (mg) Calcium (mg) Iron (mg) Magn
Vit E (mg) Potas (mg) Zinc (mg) Sodium
Menu 0.64 0.07 653.70 8.24 0.04 291.33 378.14 10.88 262.50 2.02 1220.87 5.66 3620.47
% RDA 49% 3% 163% 11% 0% 42% 38% 34% 85% 13% 26% 71% 241% !

As you can see while they did well on some nutrients they were lacking in so many of the important vitamins such as Vitamin C, B12, Vitamin E, and Calcium! The entire day was lacking milk or fruit of any kind and the only vegetable that they had was lettuce. This is not exactly the kind of balance that our USDA Food Guide Recommends! The Pearson’s do not recommend it either.

One of the driving forces behind their project was the fact that so many of their students and citizens of thiscountryare living in the kind of poverty they had the luxury to experimenting with. “While us rich folk usually sit around with the luxury of deciding on which of the thousands of possibilities we could choose from for dinner, one billion people have no choice at all. For while we do this as a challenge to explore the depths of our habits and our relationship to food, there are those who couldn’t fathom the idea of having food and not eating it.” This fact was not lost on this couple and they talked at length about the way the diet affected them, their moods, energy levels and attitudes towards foods.

In the beginning they felt better because they were not consuming so many extra calories but quickly their energy was sapped and it began to affect their attitudes, “I have noticed that around feeding times we are both very short with each other. We just want the food to be ready, but we have to calculate and figure out how much of a portion we can have. It can get a bit tense.”All of this has me wondering about children in who are expected to be sitting nicely in class ready to absorb the wealth of knowledge that their teachers have ready for them. If adults have difficulties it is no wonder children are struggling with attention issues in the classroom.

The Dollar Diet Project is a great example of the struggles small food budgets place on families as they try to provide healthy meals. As our nation is struggling with an economic crisis I worry more and more about our children growing up in households where fresh fruits and vegetables are seen as a luxury. The importance of a well balanced diet is widely accepted and hopefully the consequences of our sacrifices will not have too detrimental an impact on future generations.

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