Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard, high school teachers outside San Diego, were griping about the rising cost of groceries when they decided to see what life is like for the billion people on earth who spend $1 a day on food. The couple's blog took off, and their book, On a Dollar a Day, hit stores in February. They're part of a growing population of consumers chronicling their efforts to do without, swearing off such things as riding in cars and buying clothes or buying anything new at all. And they're not making these vows simply to save money. For some, the goal is spiritual cleansing. For others, it's to raise awareness of big issues like the environment. It's also a cheap way to gather good material. If a book deal comes out of it, so much the better.
High-profile books like last year's No Impact Man, which details one New Yorker's attempt to spend a year without having a negative impact on the environment, may be particularly popular now because of the Great Recession. It is no longer fashionable to flash bling. Today's monklike experimenters are flaunting what they don't have.
"It's like everyone is doing their own version of Lent," says A.J. Jacobs, the virtuoso of this self-as-guinea-pig genre. He has written about such odd and intermittently enlightening challenges as living strictly according to the Bible for a year, during which he followed the Ten Commandments as well as lesser-known rules like the ones prohibiting the shaving of beards and wearing clothing of mixed fibers.
These kinds of experiments are designed to be a shock to the system, but do they have any lasting effect? Greenslate and Leonard decided from the get-go that they would do their dollar-a-day diet for just a month, and even that limited period wound up being a major challenge both mentally and physically. They were so hungry, they experienced dizziness at work, crabbiness at home and extreme boredom of the tongue after too many bland meals of oatmeal or beans. A nightly dollop of peanut butter was the only indulgence that fit the budget.
After their month was up, they cut loose with some chocolate doughnuts. "The feeling was probably similar to what addicts feel once they finally get a fix," writes Greenslate in their book. "Pure ecstasy, with a recognition for how good it feels to be bad once again."
But they don't binge very often. Like other deprivation bloggers, they say their project made them realize they need far less than what they were accustomed to consuming.