Today I went to work, at a full-scale restaurant (whose name I will not disclose for this subject matter), just after watching the documentary film Living On One Dollar (2013). As I walked inside the building, the first thing my manager asked me was, “What should I get to eat today?” sighing as she read our menu for probably what was the hundredth time. As she asked this question, I flashed back to the scene where Chris and Zach, the main producers/actors in the film, purchased lard to mix into their beans in order to increase fat and calorie intake; a cultural dietary-trick that villages in Guatemala have grown accustomed to in order to meet basic nutritional needs. Without a word from me, she gazed up from the menu, scoffed, and said “I guess I’ll go with the Shrimp Pasta…again. Come to the host stand to review the specials.”
I asked myself as if looking in a mirror, are we so blinded by abundance that we seem to forget all that we are blessed with?
The mission to understand cultural norms within the villages of Pena Blanca for Zack and Chris was so deep that they willed themselves to live for two months under the poverty line, just as the residents. The locals were portrayed as hard-working, resilient, and cooperative within their community. During times of strife, communal bank clubs and micro-financing were options to those who had a great living community surrounding them, or a stable job and home to report living in. However not everyone had those luxuries and most were lucky to even have an inconsistent income of the equivalent to one dollar per day. But what if you did have a community to rely on? More than the stress of where their next income would come from, is the stress of being able to take care of their family’s most basic needs; such as soap, a stovetop instead of cooking over a flame indoors (which risks the lungs and produces harmful side affects in their children from the smoke), having to decide between feeding their child or sending them to school, or simply that the only water source available has traces of dirt and small bugs.
Getting to choose a gourmet meal off of a menu is a simple luxury that is overlooked and regarded as more of a “chore,” or “activity” you might do with friends, family or colleagues to come together over exciting news, business or for additional bonding. Whether my boss truly wanted the shrimp pasta or not, I examined the luxury that the both of us had, having a consistent income that puts food in my stomach, puts me through school, pays my bills and ensures a 401k in my future.
Food is regarded with much more respect and hard work in these areas such as Pena Blanca where people struggle daily to meet 2,000 calories, as their standard diet consists of rice, beans and bananas, having no idea the next time they might receive any income. Having such a small margin of income forced the producers of this film to re-establish their dietary habits. When the actors realized that it was more of a financial risk in farming a chicken that may not lay eggs instead of purchasing immediate produce, it implied that locals are not getting the most optimal nutrition. Most families have more than 5 people to take care of and cannot afford proper protein-sources. The film demonstrates that no matter your gender, you do what you have to do to put food on the table for people in your home by working hard every single day and creating a steady income is the most important for survival.
The best way that the locals get a chance at successful careers is through micro-financing. This is a system of small loan increments that are given to individuals who have a way of identification or ID, amounts typically ranging from $30-$500. With just a $200 loan, a local woman was able to create a weaving business, that eventually paid for her living expenses and her education (keeping in mind that not only do American children go to school as for free, our government even requires it by law…). A $35 loan helped a man pay to get his wife a doctors appointment and medicine that helped prevent her from dying. What is crazy to me after viewing this film is that the western world takes for granted even $500 that might go to a pair of shoes or the next new iPhone, when that money could pay to feed an entire village in Guatemala AND fix their leaking roofs.
The luxuries that westerners view as basic standards of living have truly created a cognitive dissonance within us, as well as greed, ungratefulness and blindness to the realities of the third-world, living in much harsher and different circumstances. Whose job is it to ensure the betterment of these people? How can we help to begin to solve this problem in the world? Because to me, the world does not have a food shortage problem, the world has a food-allocation problem. Land is being used to farm GMO crops for agriculture instead of properly growing food to ensure optimal nutrition and that the poor are fed. These farm animals will later be eaten by the first world while the third world is left to feed all of us while most starve. Though this type of business cannot be fixed over night. For now, people like us and the college-graduates who produced the documentary have the means and responsibility to exploit these world issues, and have them be known on a social-level where people can help donate their time or money to the cause, and to help empower people like those in the Pena Blanca village. Thank you to the producers in this film who continued to harbor my passion for joining the Peace Corps and other NGO’s in my future.