Living Below the Line 2013
A group of 8 members of my local benefice (collection of Anglican Churches) decided to ‘Live Below the Line’ of extreme poverty this year[i]. This meant living on the equivalent of a pound a day.
“Live Below the Line is challenging individuals and communities to see how much change can be made out of £1. By living off just £1 per day for food for 5 days, you will be bringing to life the direct experiences of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty and helping to make real change. Think about that figure – 1.4 BILLION – that’s over 20 times the population of the UK – living every day in extreme poverty.”
– Live Below The Line, The Cause.
As Mum and I lived in the same house we decided to pool our resources so to speak and have £2 a day (or £10 for the week) on food to share. Many of the recipes for our food for the week came from http://agirlcalledjack.com/.
Money Spent: 49p each
On Monday we decided that unlike last year we would try having two decent sized meals a day, plus an apple for a snack, rather than having three meals. So late morning we had scrambled egg (just egg, and a bit of salt) on toast. It wasn’t the nicest meal I’ve ever eaten, but two eggs and two slices of toast were sufficient to fill a hole. That evening we had Red Lentil Bolognese[ii] which I was unsure of (not being a fan of lentils will make you wary) but it was a lot more palatable than I expected. It is even something I may try again!
I came into this week with several pre-conceived ideas, especially after last year’s menu. I will admit I did pig out on the Sunday, which possibly was why I didn’t feel overly hungry or worried about eating today.
Money spent: 75p each
We had our apples mid-morning today, deciding that we would have our main meal at lunch time and our eggs and toast for supper as I was working late. For lunch we had Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers [iii] with potato wedges. This is definitely a dish I will try again, but will possibly add more cumin and coriander. I managed to last until I got home for my boiled egg and soldiers (having learnt that I really don’t like scrambled egg without milk) which was sufficient. I was rather hungry by the time I got home from work, but in comparison to last year I was feeling rather good. Of course, having entered the week in full health has made a big difference this year.
Money Spent: 61p each
Again we had our apples mid morning; I couldn’t help wishing the apple was slightly bigger! Today’s main meal was a very pleasant pasta dish[iv]. It is one I will try again, but I will make more pesto to go with the meal. Today I had my eggs poached on toast. Definitely the best way so far.
This was the day I really started to miss coffee…or anything other than water. Although I was enjoying the food more this year, I still missed the ability to snack and pick what I want, when I want. I found myself driving home thinking about what the first thing I would buy on Saturday would be (it was tiramisu – chocolate, coffee, sugar and alcohol!)
Money Spent: 76.5p for myself and 92.5p for mum
We had the second half of the Red Lentil Bolognese today, refreshed with some extra chopped tomatoes and served with rice and peas rather than pasta. I decided to stick with poached eggs today, and missed my apple as I just didn’t fancy it.
Other than missing Coffee I was not struggling as much as I expected I would. I am very aware that I was counting down the days until Saturday when I could eat and drink whatever I wanted. People who live on the equivalent of less than £1 a day don’t have the luxury of thinking in two days I can eat what I fancy, they just have to survive.
Money Spent: 93p each (I also carried over the two apples I had not had earlier in the week)
As I needed to be able to take the food to work today we decided on carrot and coriander falafels[v]. These were lovely, the best meal of the week and I really enjoyed them. I also had rice with peas and broccoli.
Mum had been worrying (because that’s what Mums do!) as how I would manage with it being such a long day at work, I wasn’t as worried as I didn’t think I’d have a problem, as being on reception isn’t physically demanding. Both of us were wrong, I managed, but it wasn’t easy. My concentration was completely shot, when it came to dealing with more difficult requests from customers I really struggled. It was a stressful day anyway, but when all I could think about was how hungry I was it was even worse. I went home Friday night, longing for a drink (alcohol, no more water please!) and some chips. Instead I went home and had a very early night.
Although I enjoyed much of what I had eaten that week, I am very aware that at every meal I was considering what could be done to improve what I was eating. I kept thinking “If I had more money, I could add…” It made me realise just how much I take for granted. A glass of milk. A bar of Chocolate. More fruit, vegetables, meat, fish…
This week we had to actively think and plan what we were going to eat, as a result nothing got wasted, all food was eaten. Normally I just throw food together; leftover food gets left until it’s fed to the dog, or put to compost. Having limited resources this week certainly made me think about my relationship with food.
What I was eating wasn’t bland or unfulfilling, but I constantly thought about what I could do to improve the meal. In the long term the diet would probably not provide all you need for a healthy balanced diet, but it wouldn’t kill you. 1.4 billion People live on less than this, for their entire lives. It could hardly be called a true comparison either as we have the benefit of a competitive market driving food prices lower and lower. In reality, a lot of what was an option for us would not even be able to be considered if we lived in extreme poverty.
By living on less than £1 a day, the only thing that really suffered was my interest in food. What I was eating was sufficient, but it lacked the flavours and textures I was used too. It needed more salt, more spices, more protein, and more excitement. More. More. More!
So for a week I ate slightly less than normal, less frequently. I wasn’t overly hungry. I wasn’t seriously impairing my health. I wasn’t lacking important nutrients. I suffered from food boredom because I am lucky enough to live where I can pick and choose and experiment with what I eat. And at the end of the day, it was only for a week.
By luck of the draw I have not just enough food, but the luxury of choice in what I eat, when, where and how much I can consume. The people who don’t share our luck, don’t have choice, they simply have survival.
2, 000, 000 children each year die from lack of food[vi] while children in the western world are becoming more obese, and starting to suffer serious health problems early on because of their weight. Makes you think.
This week has achieved that much. I have spent so much time thinking about my attitudes, how spoilt I am. I was the child in the supermarket that had a tantrum when I couldn’t get what I wanted. I was the ‘poor’ student, blowing money on coffee shops, alcohol and takeaways. I am the westerner who had plenty to eat but complained because it wasn’t up to the standard I am accustomed too. I am a member of the small percentage in the world who does not have to worry about where their next meal will come from. I can drink whatever I fancy without worrying about whether the water could kill me.
This year, the world’s most powerful leaders will meet in the UK. They could change the future for millions of people who live with the day to day struggle of hunger, but only IF we work together to force them to fix it. A campaign has been started by hundreds of charities working together to end world hunger[vii]. We are being called on to make a difference by making our voices heard. This can be as simple as signing the online petitions, writing a letter to our MPs, attending the IF events. This year our leaders are being challenged to make the world a fairer and more equal place, but everyone has their own part to play. Maybe it’s spending 40p extra on fair-trade bananas at the supermarket, or buying local rather than expecting food to be shipped from the other side of the world to suit our needs.
On Sunday, in our churches, we use an Iona[viii] Holy communion service, and every time I hear and pray the words, I am reminded how lucky I am, and how we are all called to action:
What do we bring to Christ’s Table?
We bring bread, made by many people’s hands, from an unjust world where some have plenty but most go hungry.
What do we bring to Christ’s Table?
We bring wine, made by many people’s work, from an unjust world where some have leisure but most struggle to survive.