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Kathleen Elkins took the Elon Musk challenge and spent $2 a day on food for a month.

Stashed in: Founders, @troutgirl, Awesome, @neiltyson, @elonmusk, Nutrition!, Parents, Poverty, Personal Finance, The Martian

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Her diet for the month mainly consisted of pasta and oatmeal, but she was able to supplement with peanut butter, tortillas, bananas, and sunflower seeds. An occasional egg or sweet potato too.

She used a lot of sugar and salt for flavoring. 

This diet would not be sustainable more than a month because no vegetables and low protein.

Challenges and experiments do not put people in the real-life emotional state of having to live off of hotdogs, etc., and also not for a predetermined amount of time when the whole thing will be over. Never underestimate what other people go through. Never say "I can imagine".


Plus, as you'll see below, what she eats is mostly fantasy compared with what real poor people eat. 

Here's Kathleen's summary:

When Elon Musk was 17, he lived off a dollar a day for a month to see if he had what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

He explained the experiment to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in an episode of Tyson's StarTalk Radio podcast:

In America it's pretty easy to keep yourself alive. So my threshold for existing was pretty low. I figured I could be in some dingy apartment with my computer and be okay, and not starve.

In fact, when I first came to North America — I was in Canada when I was 17 — and just to sort of see what it takes to live, I tried to live on $1 a day, which I was able to do. You sort of just buy food in bulk at the supermarket ... I was like, "Oh, okay. If I can live for a dollar a day — at least from a food-cost standpoint — it's pretty easy to earn $30 dollars in a month, so I'll probably be okay.

I decided to replicate the challenge this past month. I adjusted for inflation — $1 in 1988, when Musk was 17, is the equivalent $2 today — and set aside $62 for the 31-day month of January.

Musk lived off mostly hot dogs and oranges, occasionally mixing in pasta and jarred tomato sauce. I bought mostly bananas, pasta, and peanut butter and would switch it up with the occasional fried egg or sweet potato.

I reached out to Musk after completing the challenge. "That's great, although I would not encourage anyone to live on $1 a day," he wrote me in an email. "That would not be super fun. Also, I did this back in 1990, so a dollar went a lot further back then. Would be much harder to do that today."

(Yes, I realize he just said 1990, but I did the entire month based on the value of a 1988 dollar, and I'm not about to re-do it ... so bear with me. The point still stands.)

Thirty-one days, 14 bags of pasta, six jars of peanut butter, and too many bananas to count later, I completed the "Elon Musk Challenge" with $1.07 to spare. Here's what it was like...

Kind of like Matt Damon surviving in The Martian.

More here:

Almost a parody of what an educated upper-middle class white American thinks is poor people food -- but she doesn't know much about nutrition. Shopping at Trader Joe's? Eating 2 bananas, pasta, and peanut butter every day? Sticking with her preferred sweet foods rather than trying to maximize nutrition?

More to the point she ignored the basic principles of eating cheap:

* Processed foods are more expensive for the nutrition you get

* Warm foods fill you up more than cold foods, especially warm foods with broth

* Learn from peasant cuisines, centuries of folk wisdom went into feeding people cheaply

I don't have time to go through her whole budget, but I'll just say if I had to do this I would start by moseying on down to my local Mexican grocery store or Walmart and buying 10 lb of rice ($6, 100 servings or you can upgrade to more-filling brown rice for $7), 5 lb of pinto beans ($7.50, 65 servings -- you can actually get 8 lb for this price), and a big bag of dried chiles ($3.50). With that you can be sure you will have SOMETHING hot and decent to eat for $.55/day, with protein and vitamin C and fiber -- the hardest things to guarantee in poor cooking -- and now you have $45, more than 2/3 of your budget, to add flavor and nutrition to your diet.

That's so much a better idea. It's almost worth a rebuttal as a Medium post. 

It's so important to eat nutritionally. It's so hard for some people to understand that. 

I kind of suspect from context that she doesn't have that healthy a diet to begin with. If you look at the foods she prefers, they are all straight off a kid's menu: bananas, peanut butter, plain buttered pasta. Her "treats" were ice cream and cheese pizza, again like a kid. She prefers to snack frequently like a kid. She admits she didn't even THINK about protein until her athletic performance tanked! And even though she was hungry all the time, she didn't seem to crave the higher-fat foods that most of us associate with satiety. So I suspect her normal diet is about as high in (processed) carbs and low in protein as this, really a recipe for skinny-fat.

I suspect you're right about her original eating habits.

Worse, a lot of the processed carbs she eats are sugar, which are the worst processed carbs:

The peanut butter that is her major source of protein and fat is high sugar, too.

Sunflower seeds and an occasional egg are simply not enough protein and fat for a balanced diet. 

She could eat this way for a month but what does it really prove?

I guess it proves that if for some reason you were forced to live on half of what food stamps give you, you could survive but you'd be on a fast track to diabetes-ville.

Remind me, can people live nutritionally on what food stamps give?

The average amount of SNAP cash benefits here in California is $142/month/person (which can be supplemented in some areas with programs that give you extra money for buying or growing produce, and also with food bank donations). The average American spends $151 PER WEEK on food. Households that have a strong tradition of cooking at home, which includes a lot of immigrant households, have an easier time than those who have lived cut off from their food roots for a long time. So I would say it CAN be done, but I'm guessing it's not easy or probably all that common. McDonald's gets everyone some of the time, you know?

I do know. 

The average American spends over $20 per day on food but food stamps only offer under $5 per day.

So something's gotta give on a budget. 

Separate but related: Poorer children are three times more likely to be obese.

Reasons include diet and not as much exercise.

Reddit comments:

I read a very intriguing study recently that posits poor families simply cannot afford the waste that is apparently a necessary part of teaching children to enjoy new and more healthful foods. Apparently kids are all conservative eaters -- I bet partly because there is less social pressure on them to like new foods, I mean adults can't exactly spit out caviar and truffles at a dinner party because they are strong-flavored but kids give zero f's -- and they have to try a food like 10 times before they will accept it (although this formula does not appear to apply to ice cream or other processed sweets). Rich families think nothing of throwing away 10 plates of food to get their child to eventually accept a new fresh healthy food, but for poor families that is an unacceptable level of expense -- especially since healthy foods are more expensive than staple carbs. Oh and apparently the whole "you are going to sit at the table or go hungry until you eat what I put in front of you" battle -- a staple of literature and TV earlier in the 20th century -- is no longer considered good parenting either. Who knew?

That IS an interesting study. 

Seems like a consequence is that poorer kids are less likely to learn to take risks.

Also, eating nutritionally on a limited budget seems to be something people learn, not an innate skill.

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