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My experience: Living Below the Line

 You may or may not have seen over social media the Living Below the Line challenge. But what does Living Below the Line actually mean? Well, it refers to the poverty line. Living on a mere £1 per day for food and drink is classed as extreme poverty here in the UK. The challenge that was set was to live below the poverty line for five consecutive days in a bid to raise awareness of extreme hunger and poverty both here in the UK and globally.

  
Did you know that 1.2 billion people on planet earth today live below the poverty line? This is nearly 20% of the world population. In a day and age where we have excessive access to technology, processed foods and the internet, doesn’t it seem astonishing that this many people can still be living in extreme hunger today? Well, it was time to do something about it. If I could make even the slightest difference in raising money or raising awareness of these extreme circumstances then I was going to do it. I accepted the challenge and here is where my Living Below the Line journey began.

I decided to start my challenge on the Monday, meaning that I would be living off £1 a day for food and drink from Monday to Friday that week. This was an interesting choice for me seeing as I had an exam on the Tuesday, which required focus and attention, however I felt like this was an important cause and the time period needed to be adhered to.

To kick off my challenge, I took a trip to a local “budget” supermarket, where the prices of food appeared to be much lower than in the regular supermarkets or shops where I tend to buy my food. I grabbed a trolley and started to find items from my pre-prepared shopping list. Before I went to the supermarket I actually used an online shopping tool to see how much/what food I could get for my £5. I concluded that my diet for those five days would consist heavily with refined carbs and processed foods, and this seemed like a great paradox to me. Why should people who are unable to spend much money on food have to allow their nutrition consumption to cease simply because they couldn’t afford to buy the fresh produce? Perhaps this is why there is such an obesity epidemic here in the UK: families budgets are being more tightly squeezed and many feel as if the only way to feed their family well is to purchase the cheaper, more filling and longer lasting foods, such as white rice and pasta.

  
The items I picked up were as follows:

  • Four white potatoes
  • One head of broccoli
  • A bag of white rice
  • A bag of white pasta
  • A bag of oats
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A bunch of bananas
  • A tin of baked beans
  • A tin of sweetcorn
  • A tin of garden peas
  • A jar of sweet and sour sauce
  • A jar of Bolognese sauce

The grand total of these items was £4.98. This meant that the only drink I would be able to consume over the period was water – bye bye yummy hot chocolates and lattees!

  
It was really shocking to me to see how many tins and refined foods I picked up whilst I was trying to stick to my £5 budget. I am usually a stickler for health; I usually shudder at the thought of eating a bowl of white pasta covered in processed sauce from a jar – however, this week was about survival, not luxury.

  
I was very organised and decided to plan my meals for the week according to my ingredients. Breakfast would be simple – porridge with water each day, sometimes with the additional half a banana for sweetness and flavour. This was a far cry from my usual porridge breakfast made with almond milk, berries and maple syrup. The reality of the challenge and the extreme hunger people face on a daily basis was starting to kick in. Lunch and dinners would be alternates of pasta, rice or potatoes with a different sauce and tinned vegetable combination. Again, this was a million miles away from my usual complex “superfood” filled salads of nuts, seeds, hemp, goji berries and the like. I was starting to realise how much I took my idea of ‘normal’ foods for granted. I was incredibly lucky to have access to these incredibly diverse foods whenever I fancied them. I could afford to pop to my local shop to pick up some medjool dates or some raw honey if I ran out – being able to say that whilst living in extreme poverty is something which would not occur very often. I am much more thankful now for the opportunities I have and for the food I have been able to eat for the last 22 years.

  
Breakfast was, as mentioned, a bowl of 50g porridge oats made with water topped with some sliced banana. This breakfast remained constant for the entire week – it was filling for a little while, but the lack of flavour or texture wore off very quickly. I was craving sweetness and creamier porridge by day three.

  
I made a pasta vegetable dish where I cooked the white pasta in batches, ready to then have again at lunchtime the next day, and then added some sauce from one of the jars alongside some vegetables. A jacket potato with (a very small portion of) baked beans was a staple dinner throughout the experience. The potato was dry, lacked any flavour and also left me unsatisfied and craving green vegetables or salad. And my third lunch/dinner combination was a bowl of sticky white rice with vegetables. 

    

Again, the novelty of a simple bowl of white rice soon wore off on around day three, where all I craved was a nice fresh, wholesome salad with some hummus, or even dressed with a little olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

  
It was safe to say that by the end of the experience I was hungry, both in terms of physical hunger as well as a hunger for nutrients, vitamins and wholesome goodness that I had become accustom to. The experience showed me that you really cannot buy much food, especially nutritious food, when you are simply living off £1 a day – not to mention the lack of drinks you can have! I was sick of water by the end of the first day, but realised that water is a necessity for many starving families across the world. We take water for granted. All we have to do is turn on our taps and we have access to clean, fresh drinking water to let us be hydrated all day, every day. Many families in poverty stricken regions of the world have to walk miles to simply gain access to clean drinking water without having the risk of infection or disease. This puts things into perspective.

  
To conclude, I am glad I took the challenge as it really opened my eyes. It made me more grateful for the ease, access and variety of foods I am able to buy and consume. It made me more grateful for simply being able to satisfy my hunger whenever I need to by going to the next shop, or reaching into my fridge to eat something whenever I want. And finally it opened my eyes to the severity of the suffering and poverty that nearly 20% of the global population face every single day and it has made me more determined than ever to do as much as possible to change that.

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3 replies »

  1. Wow, an interesting read and well done for sticking to the challenge, I’m impressed as I’m ashamed to say I know I wouldn’t have the same willpower as you. Amazing and such an insight!

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