Wednesday, 10 May 2017

£1-a-day Food Challenge - Above or Below the Line?

So, the end of May and the start of my £1 a day food challenge, inspired by The Hunger Project's campaign is not that far away. One of the questions that has been bothering me is whether my stint of living on £1 a day for food and drink will really qualify as living "below the line" and, if not, does that invalidate the whole idea?

The conclusion I've come to is, "No, it won't qualify as "living below the line," because there's a lot more to living below the poverty line than simply having a restricted food budget to draw on for a few days ie limited access, (or no access at all), to clean running water, limited fuel and very basic cooking facilities, no refrigeration or freezing facilities, constrained access to food supply sources, few, if any, On-Line resources etc etc and I can't transplant myself completely into such a context. So, although I shall not be spending more than £1 a day on food or drink for the five or six days of my project, my existence will be a whole different ball game from that of someone for whom it's a daily, inescapable reality, and for whom it has been like that for a long time. Does that then invalidate the whole idea?

Well, no, I don't think it does. It does mean that I must be very cautious about any instinct to feel that I know what such a reality would be like on the inside track, just because I have limited my expenditure on food and drink to £1 a day. I don't know and I can't know. I am on the outside track and I mustn't ever think otherwise. Checking one's privilege is no idle sound-bite with this.

On the other hand, if the result of living life on £1 a day, inspires me to give generously to hunger-relieving charities and pulls me up short on my cooking and eating habits, leading to less waste and more respect for the food I eat and those who work to provide it, as well as encouraging me to be more self-sufficient in the way I use and husband resources, that is, I believe, a good thing. Food waste in the lands of plenty is one of the reasons that those in the lands of scarcity go short.

I have to accept that the context I live in, is just that. For the impact of the challenge to have lasting effect that will shape my future behaviours and choices irrevocably, I feel there is actually some merit in the experience being anchored in, rather than detached from, my own daily reality. The challenge for me, in that sense, is not intended to be an isolated, alien bubble, but the beginning of something that, I hope, will live on and grow and evolve over time. A trivial, insignificant contribution maybe, but better than doing nothing at all and, as Mahatma Gandhi said, "We must become the change we wish to see in the world."

It's very easy to become bogged down by the sheer scale of world problems and feel there's no point in even trying to respond to them, so intractable are they and so little are we, or our efforts, but of one thing we can be sure, if we all do nothing because of that, nothing will change. I also happen to believe that one of the most powerful forces, perhaps the most powerful force, on this earth, in the 21st C, is the power that rests with consumer choice. And that rests in the hands, not of governments or leaders, but in the ordinary hands and ordinary lives of ordinary people. The everyday consumer choices I make; the everyday consumer choices you make; the everyday consumer choices we all make; shape and influence much more than perhaps we realise.

So, to answer the question I posed myself, no, I don't think my £1 a day food challenge really qualifies as "living below the line" although that's where the idea came from. But neither is the whole thing invalid or a waste of time because of that.

The parameters that I've set myself are a compromise which is in one sense unsatisfactory, from a purist point of view. Compromise is always unsatisfactory, from a purist point of view. But because that compromise roots the experience into my ongoing context, I hope the effects will survive, at least in part, long after the five or six days of the project have ended.

So I shall stick to my budget and my carefully costed meal plans but I shall also use those resources around me that are free to me - things growing in my garden and the hedgerows (not much at the moment, it has to be said), the sack of left-over grain given to me, after my farmer neighbour's harvest was finished last year and any eggs that my bantams see fit to lay, although if you think I shall be living off fresh eggs every day, sadly, I shan't be. Having been laying prolifically, up until Easter, the bantams have now all gone broody and there's nary an egg in sight, so at the current rate, unless they start laying again soon, the project will be entirely eggless, other than the few I have used in a couple of things I've already cooked and frozen.

This is one of the broody bantams who shows not the slightest sign of abandoning her post in the cosy nest-box, despite having been sitting on nothing for over a fortnight and only emerging to eat and drink. She has a habit of doing this and is nicknamed "Little Brown Brooder" as a result. Not exactly innovative in the naming stakes, I grant you, but an accurate description, nonetheless!

I've tried humming the old 1920s song to her:

"Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken, lay a little egg for me!
Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken, I want one for my tea!
Oh, I haven't had an egg since Easter and now it's half past three,
so, chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken, lay a little egg for me!"

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Image used with permission)
But so far, without success. "Not a chance!" she says!

That's OK though - in the past I would simply have bought a box or two of free-range eggs to plug the gap, but free-range eggs are relatively expensive to buy and certainly beyond the £1 a day budget. Learning to live within the limits, not just of a very stringent food budget, but within the rhythms of the seasons and of natural production cycles is part of what the challenge is about.

I am, however, persisting in talking nicely to my rhubarb patch every day - it's taking a long time to regenerate itself after my depredations on it earlier this Spring and I would very much like it to help me out at the end of the month. Anyone have any magic suggestions as to what might encourage it? I've been watering it, as well as talking to it, but it doesn't seem to be doing a lot of good. There's a lot of comfrey, growing in, taking over the garden so I am wondering whether I ought to make some of that comfrey tea fertiliser. Anyone got any experience of that?

The very-frugal-basil-plant is, unlike the rhubarb, growing apace.

I have pinched out the central pair of leaves at the top now and while it's a long way off providing enough foliage to make a batch of pesto, it will certainly provide a few happy leaves for adding flavour and interest to my thrifty meal plans. A fact which gives me a totally disproportionate sense of satisfaction.

E x


  1. Just knowing that you have the choice to spend an extra pound makes it difficult to imagine how desperate it is to 'live below the line' but that doesn't invalidate your project. Since reading your last post, I've been very aware this week about how much I spend on food and realised I'm not quite as frugal as I believed! It has made me value the fact that I can make a healthy choice or (in the case of a pack of eclairs) a frivolous treat.
    Can you eat comfrey?

    1. I think it's that raising of awareness that's as important as anything else. I've certainly found it's uncovered some spendthrift surprises in my own shopping! I don't think you can eat comfrey other than in a medicinal way but I am willing to be corrected. If you can, I shall certainly not want for greens - the garden is full of the stuff! E x

  2. You certainly made me think about my own spending and indeed waste from both this and your last post. I have tightened up a little particularly with the cooking, batch cooking a lot more and using leftovers. Awareness is such a good thing, so I do thank you for that.

    1. Thank you - I'm glad you've found it helpful. It's interesting that actually it's often the little changes we make to how we do things that have quite significant effects even just in our own homes. E x

  3. I have been reading this and your last blog post with great interest. I am full of admiration for you to embark on this project! I have been thinking about your project, poverty, inequality and so much more, regularly since I read your first post - whenever my busy brain had some downtime, your project surfaced in my mind. I am also involved in a teaching programme that has low resource settings at its heart, in this context it is low or no resources with regards to access to healthcare and subsequent health problems with both infectious and non-communicable disease. I am a bit overwhelmed actually with all the whirling thoughts in my head, joining my already whirling thoughts on ecological health etc.... Raising awareness is an important step to changing behaviours and I am grateful to be reminded of my extreme luck to live in rather favourable circumstances. I don't think I'd be able to join your in this challenge for many reasons, not least my inability to grocery shop with moderation (my husband does all our shopping). Wishing you luck and a glut of wild foods! x

    1. What an interesting project to be working on Christina. It's quite disconcerting how compromised even very basic health care is by really low resources and how wide-scale the impact can be especially with infectious diseases. I guess the ebola epidemic was the most recent example of that - a reminder of how quickly a local problem can go globally viral, literally.
      It's interesting what this food challenge throw up in terms of what it makes one think about, isn't it? Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. E x


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