Day one below the line: Porridge for breakfast; rice and beans for lunch; a half carrot just now. In a few hours, I’ll be sitting down for, well, rice and beans again for dinner.
This is now my 3rd year taking the challenge, and the thing I can say about all 3 years is how quickly, sharply and acutely the challenge turns all of my focus to food.
- How much for those tea bags?
- How many scoops in the big batch of beans I cooked that must last the week?
- What are you going with this week? (said to co-workers at the microwave)
- How many more hours until I can eat again?
But to be fair, the focus turned to food before the challenge even began. Putting together the food list for the week is one of the trickiest parts…shuffling and reshuffling options to make the most of £5, I went to 4 different shops to buy food on Saturday over the course of about 4 hours, working with calculator and basket in hand to end up with:
- 500 grams of dried red beans – £.99
- The smallest bottle of cooking oil I could find- £.99
- 7 small onions – £.50
- 1 kilo of rice – £.40
- 500 grams of oatmeal – £.39
- 10 baby potatoes – £.35
- 80 bags of “tea” – £.34
- 10 cubes vegetable stock – £.30
- 4 carrots – £.20
- 1 head of garlic – £.20
- 1 small can of peas – £.19
- 3 chili peppers – £.10
So there you are – a week’s food and drink for £4.95. The rough plan is oatmeal and water for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch and then either rice & beans/potato & onion/fried rice for dinner. So on the surface, it could be worse. But when I realise just how far a bag of beans goes, that 20% of my cost was sunk in cooking oil, that the only flavour will be stock cubes, that my stomach is rumbling already, and that I won’t have a green bite other than canned peas…well, you get the sense.
And that’s the idea; we take a ‘challenge’ to be precisely that. From my experience, different days bring different challenges – whether that’s the budgeting at the start, the hunger pangs to follow, the mental fog that sets in, or later the fatigue – and so I will share both these different parts of the challenge as well as a few reflections that I hope will tie it back to our work and what your support is going to fund.
To that effect, a few thoughts for Day 1:
- The hidden challenge of hunger often goes unnoticed. To be very clear, I make no claim to be living with true hunger this with week; bluntly, it will be over for me after a week unlike those 1.2 billion who live in extreme poverty week in, week out. When we think about these people, most of us can empathise with the sensation of hunger and most can imagine the emotions that accompany it. What most of us don’t realise is just how hard most people work just to be hungry. The thing is, these people are easily working 6 or 7 days anyway, and they don’t just go down to the local shop for their food in a one-stop shop…rather, many of the people I’ve known living in Nicaragua, Uganda, and the other places I worked spend many hours every trudging from market to market and shop to shop to get the lowest prices they can. Operating on a £5 budget begins to simulate this reality – I walked to 3 different places just to knock the cost of my potatoes down by £.10 – and it begins to give a sense of what those living below the line do day in, day out to make ends meet.
- Budgeting on the edge. Poor people are classic ‘price takers’ in the economic sense…they have virtually no control over the prices of the goods they rely on. Unlike the UK and USA -where we can shop across infinite options, buy online, and use saved income to buy in bulk in big boxes and store food to eat over time at a lower cost per serving – those who are literally hand to mouth are forced to buy at current prices and with no advantage of buying in bulk, so on the margins they lose again. I felt a similar frustration when buying my cooking oil for the week… 1.5 litres of sunflower oil would have cost me £1.26, but I was forced to buy 200 millilitres for .99 just because I couldn’t allocate any more of my fixed £5 on oil. Now factor in the wide fluctuation in commodity prices – the cost of vegetable oil increased 4.9% in February alone – and you get a sense of how hard it is to budget below the line.
It is simply insane that 1 in 6 people in our world live in extreme poverty with challenges like this. That’s why your support and the work that Restless Development matters. While we may not lift 1.2 billion people out of extreme poverty this year or next, it can and must be done in our lifetime.
Perry Maddox is Restless Development’s COO and is joining the rest of the staff in the London office in the Live Below The Line challenge this week. You can donate here.