MRDF's Executive Director, Kirsty Smith, and her family are spending £1 each a day on all their food and drink as part of Live Below the Line. They are helping to help raise awareness of the 1.4 billion people worldwide who live below the global poverty line, surviving on the equivalent on £1 a day.
Participants: Kirsty, Stephen, Caleb (10), Leah (8)
Last year I did Live Below the Line on my own and found it an isolating experience. It was difficult to make my £5 stretch to an interesting and nutritious range of meals and I was having to cook my meals separately. This year we are doing it as a family and our £20 seems positively luxurious as we are able to put pasta AND chickpeas AND potatoes into the trolley. We plan out our meals and hope there is enough to keep the children motivated until day 5 (the value pack of 12 mini-bags of crisps for 48p helps). Bananas are surprisingly cheap. Cheddar, a staple for me as a vegetarian, is out of the question.
Lunch: Thin brown bread, cream cheese and cucumber, value crisps, banana
Dinner: Pasta with tomato, onion and carrot sauce
Porridge is a fine start to the day. I have a late breakfast to try to make the rest of the day easier and it lasts until lunchtime, but the bread is so flimsy, and the filling so insubstantial (how thinly can you slice a cucumber?) that I am already hungry again by 3pm. I am sustained by the thought of my pasta which is so welcome a sight that I realise I quite often snack so much during the afternoon that I sit down to dinner not really hungry. The children are quite enjoying the challenge, constantly asking how much every part of their meal is worth, although Leah was a bit put out that she could not have any pudding this evening.
Lunch: Left over pasta and sauce from Mon eve for me, thin brown bread, pate and cucumber for everyone else, apple, biscuit
Dinner: Pea soup and bread
I eat my breakfast early and am hungry by 11am – this makes it difficult to focus on my work. The desire for coffee is also strong and numerous cups of hot water do not assuage it. Our weekly shop included a treat in the form of a packet of biscuits, something I don’t normally eat, and this offers some solace but I am missing the pistachios or walnuts I might normally snack on during the day which are now out of my budget. At teatime, Caleb reports that his class was allowed to clear all the leftover school dinners and his neighbour consumed 4 iced buns in front of him – to his credit, he remains cheerful but the novelty has certainly worn thin for Leah.
Breakfast: None – got up too late to make porridge
Lunch: Thin brown bread, cream cheese and cucumber, banana
Dinner: Chick peas with tomato, onion and carrot sauce, biscuit
I don’t leave enough time before my train to make breakfast and am therefore forced to go without, which makes me irritable and does not set me up well for an intensive day of meetings. Many of the community members our partners work with have to work long hours away from the house, often after cooking a meal for which they have had to expend a huge effort to fetch the firewood and the water. The morning may feel long for me but at least lunch and dinner are easily sorted. Over dinner, we discuss what we might use the remaining £1.47 of our budget on, and concur that actually, we don’t need it.
Lunch: Left over chickpea mixture, value crisps, apple
Dinner: Pasta with tomato, onion and carrot sauce
I am craving citrus fruit and salad and feel as if I am “carbing up” for a marathon. The cheapest things in my basket are also the least healthy. An older child plays a mean trick on Leah and some of her friends by giving them chillies to eat and, in severe discomfort, she is given ice-cream by the school – she is worried that this “counts” but we reassure her that all medicinal intake is acceptable, and in any case we have our buffer amount. I am looking forward to tomorrow when it will be over, but am acutely aware that for 1.4billion people, there is no buffer nor no foreseeable “end”.
Lunch: Thin brown bread, cream cheese and cucumber (the children have value crisps, there aren’t any left for the adults), banana
Dinner: Omelette, baked beans, peas, with left over chick pea mixture
It is the last day and we are all looking forward to a celebratory breakfast the next day when my son tells me he is feeling faint – I panic. What have I done, I ask myself?
But when I explore it with him further, we establish that he has not been eating less quantity than his normal intake (although the quality may be more questionable) and that more sandwiches were available if he had asked for them. It unfolds that it is the sense of deprivation that has created the feeling. Although he knew he could have more, it would have been from the limited menu of our weekly allowance, without any ability to partake of other opportunities that were there e.g. friends eating cakes or sweets around him that he could not share. And this is one of the keenest lessons of the week for us as it resonates with one of MRDF’s main goals – to increase the opportunities and element of control available to some of the world’s poorest people who are faced with limited choices in so many aspects of their daily lives.
The family sits down to celebratory croissants for breakfast, crusty rolls and ice-cream for lunch and a takeaway for supper – our entire weekly budget blown in one day. We enjoy it with a greater appreciation of the richness of taste and variety, a tinge of guilt, and a renewed recognition of how fortunate we are. We review the week and what we will continue to do and buy, and agree we are glad it is over. I tuck my children in extra tight as they go to sleep.