By Lucia Barbier
Amnesty International Maastricht Students (AIMS) has challenged the community to live below the line this week from Monday 24th of November until Friday 28th of November. Living below the line means having less than a certain amount of money each day to buy food. In the Netherlands, living below the line concretely means having to live of no more than 2.90€ a day including all other expenses. This is very little if you consider that a sandwich in the library is already 2.85€ which can barely be considered a full meal since it does not even include a drink. But this is not the biggest problem. Buying a sandwich at the library for 2.85€ also means that you have a total of 5 cents left to provide yourself with food and drinks for the rest of the day as well as to pay your bills. Impossible huh?
It really seems impossible to do this but some people really have to calculate their expenses in a way like that. In the Netherlands, a bit more than 9% of the population lives below the poverty line meaning that they can spend no more than 2.90€ for a day’s nutrition and their other expenses. In order to raise awareness of this problem and to really take a comprehensible approach AIMS challenged the people of Maastricht to live below the line this week. Many people voluntarily took part in this challenge and the Facebook event was frequently used to share creative ideas of how to get as much food as you can with the little money you have. The original idea was that you have to buy everything new and you do not use anything you already have at home. This means that you have to try to buy salt and pepper, oil and vinegar etc. new. But since the majority of the people taking part were students AIMS decided that you could also just calculate the value of what you were using from home. Some of my friends and I also took part in this challenge, however, I also decided not to buy everything new everyday. This is not because I am scared of taking the challenge in the most serious way possible but rather due to the fact that I still had food at home which would have gone bad otherwise.
Therefore, I decided that I will use the food I have and not try to buy any new food this week. Usually, I go grocery shopping every two days so it has been quite a challenge for me not to do so in the past few days. Luckily, the challenge does only include food and not your total expenses such as rent, bills and bike repairs. Otherwise it would have been even harder to stay within the limit. Using the food I have at home worked quite well for me until. I did not spend any money on food on Monday and I also decided not to do so on Tuesday which means I “saved” some money. This allowed me to go and see The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1 on Tuesday since it was “cheap day” for 5€ per ticket. It is arguable whether I can be actually proud of my “savings” since I used food the past days that I already had at home. Anyways, at the cinema I also did not suspend the challenge which means consequently: NO POPCORN. With a price of 2.50€ that is usually in a student’s budget every once in a while, but when your total budget is 2.90€ per day you think twice before you buy some popcorn.
Thinking twice is in general something that I have learned to incorporate in my consumption behavior in the past few days. Sticking to a certain budget helps you to question whether you really need something or whether you just want it because some advertising team has done a pretty good job at wrapping that chocolate bar. I hope I will be able to maintain this critical attitude towards my own consumption behavior also now, after the challenge. Another thing I will try to do which was stimulated by the challenge: I will not try to say “I’m hungry” everytime I crave some food. Because craving is not being hungry and even if it is more than a craving, we still do not really know what hungry is since we always have that thought in the back of our heads that we can buy food if we need to. People who really live below the line cannot do that. Therefore, I think the challenge has been quite stimulating in many ways. If you missed the challenge but still want the experience just challenge yourself! Try to feed yourselves from 2.90€ per day for five days!