$1.50-Per-Day Challenge: How Chefs, Celebs and TV Anchors Are Getting By

Celebrities and political figures are among the thousands of people living on daily food budgets of $1.50 during the Live Below the Line challenge, a campaign to raise money and awareness for global poverty

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Matt Sayles / Invision for Fiji Water / AP Images

Actors, singers and political figures are among the thousands of people living on food budgets of $1.50 per day during this week’s Live Below the Line challenge, a five-day campaign to raise money and awareness for global poverty. How is everybody coping?

The World Bank estimates that 1.4 billion people on earth live below the extreme global poverty level — the equivalent of $1.50 per day in the U.S. Accordingly, as many as 20,000 people have volunteered to get by on $1.50-per-day food budgets this week during the challenge, which ends on May 3.

Last week, the campaign received a major boost of attention when Ben Affleck announced his participation. It turns out, however, that the A-list actor-director is only taking on a minichallenge.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Affleck originally neglected to mention that he was only participating in the challenge for a single day — not the full five days stipulated in the program guidelines. Maybe that explains why Affleck isn’t listed anywhere on the Live Below the Line fundraising leaderboard.

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Hunter Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, and singer Josh Groban occupy the second and third spots, respectively, among top fundraisers. At the very top of the list is Sydney Pedersen. There’s a reason you’ve probably never heard the name: she’s just a regular 15-year-old high school student from Utah who recruited friends and family to join her in the challenge. Her dining choices for the week include dry toast, crackers and baked potatoes. How did the teenager get off to such a great start raising money for the cause? “One Friday I just sat down and called people for five hours — all the contacts in my mom’s cellphone,” Pedersen explained to the Salt Lake Tribune.

While the official Live Below the Line week is taking place right now, actor Tom Hiddleston (Loki in The Avengers) Tweeted about his experiences living on omelets, beans, rice and vegetables during his own five-day challenge in early April. Many of Hiddleston’s choices seem inspired by UNICEF’s recipe guide for helping participants make it through the week with a daily food budget of $1.50.

The Canadian Press went beyond UNICEF’s basic recipes, offering a list of tasty and economical dishes from well-known chefs and culinary experts. A caramelized-onion-and-potato frittata is suggested for lunch, and linguine with sausage and mushroom ragout is on the menu for dinner. Both are supposed to cost under 65¢ per person (Canadian currency).

Coffee is off-limits for many participants because it’s too expensive, so complaints of caffeine-withdrawal headaches are abundant this week. Restaurants, of course, are completely out of the question. Actress Sophia Bush admitted a moment of weakness during the challenge while passing by a burger joint. Next to an Instagram photo of Umami Burger, she wrote, “I suddenly understand how Superman feels when someone hits him with Kryptonite. Ouch.”

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This is the second year of participating in Live Below the Line for Groban, and while he hasn’t revealed much in the way of how he’s handling the challenge, the singer’s fans have been sharing their menu decisions. “I’ll have an egg in the morning and a salad for lunch with green tea and chicken broth for dinner and more tea,” one posted on Groban’s site.

Two local TV anchors and a news producer at WHNT in Huntsville, Ala., are participating in the challenge and sharing their experience with viewers. Anchor Greg Screws has been surviving on off-brand bologna, peanut butter and scrambled eggs, while colleague Clarissa McClain went the route of focusing on pasta and Ramen noodles. Naturally, some commenters just had to second-guess their choices: “Even a homeless person can do better with $7,” one chimed in, suggesting dry beans, corn bread and potatoes as more affordable (and filling) alternatives. “None of these people have any idea how to live frugally,” another wrote. “Frozen dinners? Prepackaged processed meals? Instant oatmeal? Spaghetti sauce? Have you people not heard of rice, beans, canned tomatoes, steel cut oats, dry pasta?”

Fifth-graders at Connecticut’s New Canaan Country School have been developing menus (and working on their math skills) that won’t go over the $1.50-per-day budget. As students filled out sample menus on worksheets, they “realized how little they could purchase for $1.50 a day,” their teacher noted in a blog post. Snacks generally consisted of bread and tap water.

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At last check, no commenters bashed the menu choices made by the students. Then again, no one had commented in response to the post yet.