ENCINITAS — “Most of the world eats on less than a dollar a day,” Christopher Greenslate said, spearing single grains of Spanish rice on his fork. “And we thought, why couldn’t we do the same?”
Next to him, Kerri Leonard nodded. “It didn’t start as a big statement — it began as a way to save money,” she said. After a particularly expensive month this summer, they agreed that the magnitude of their food expenditures was ridiculous. Eventually the question arrived: Why not eat on $1 a day? So they did. Starting Sept. 1 and ending Sept. 30, they limited themselves to a $1 a day allowance for food.
As Americans, we can peruse a variety of food — healthy and unhealthy — with minimal effort, but that luxury is costly. According to Globalissues.org, almost half the world — more than 3 billion people — lives on less than $2.50 a day. Even at poverty level in the United States, $9,827 annually, individuals earn almost $30 a day. It is a tiny amount to live on, but it allows more than $1 a day to eat.
Despite the initial rationale for the “project,” as they’ve grown to call it, the significance beyond the pocketbook is not lost on them. Greenslate and Leonard are English and Social Justice teachers in North County and vegan as well, so they are aware of the ramifications of their experiment. They founded a blog, Onedollardietproject. com, where they have posted a substantive analysis of their experience.
The first entry begins, “Today we start our 30 day challenge of a one dollar diet.” It sounds optimistic and even a little fun, like a sort of high-impact summer camp. “When we first started talking about doing this, we didn’t really have an agenda … it just seemed like an interesting challenge.” Every day of
the experiment, either Greenslate or Leonard or both of them would record the experiences of the day, reactions, or unexpected problems they encountered. Additionally, they hoped to bring awareness to general poverty issues, urging readers, friends and family to donate to the Community Resource Center in Encinitas; which is still accepting donations. But most importantly, their experiment needed rules:
— All food consumed must total $1 each.
— No free or donated food unless it is available for anyone.
— The cost of planted food is factored into the total.
— Try to cook a variety of means; ramen noodles can only be prepared if it is otherwise impossible to stay under budget.
The price of guests’ food comes from the host’s dollar.
Armed with these rules, and discipline of both stomach and spirit, the project began.
Of course, they had to make dramatic changes. It began with handmade tortillas and ended with a squad of 10-gallon tubs of bulk raw ingredients. Along the way, they recorded the cost and reactions of every day’s food, uploading recipes as well. But accompanying the Spartan tacos and tiny polenta cakes, several issues integral to they way we eat came to the forefront: consumerism and waste, global poverty, inequity, food choices and social psychology.
In addition to the recipes and general reactions to their diet, the blog provides worthwhile information about these tangential topics. For example, in one entry in which they bemoan the loss of fresh produce in their diet, they point out that there are no grocery stores in West Oakland. There are 56 liquor stores and one 99-cent store, but nowhere to buy fresh produce so the residents are limited to one diet model. Another vignette is a trip to the movies where, after spending $20 on tickets, they are only too aware of the sheer magnitude of messages for consumption they are being battered with.
Out of these discussions, and subsequent ones, they have fleshed out the ideas that underlay their project and developed a little following in the process. Their experience was discussed a few weeks back in the New York Times, and Fox News and other media have been approaching the couple. They also have a literary agent and a book in the works. “We have a number of experiments lined up to help us have a better understanding of the cost of eating well in America,” Greenslate said.
The importance of this project lies beyond just their perspective; the appeal is broader than just the narrative of two teachers’ experience. There are the health and whole food aspects to it, the cost-effective living aspect, and more, but the primary aspect is subsistence. “Food is a universal need: we all need food, we love food,” Leonard said. “The thought of anyone depriving themselves of food — particularly intentionally — is kind of shocking. Food is something that is really important.”