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Days 4 and 5 of live #belowtheline

May 4, 2013

So, I’ve now done my 5 days of Living Below the Line. The last couple of days gave me plenty of opportunity for conversations and reflection. Throughout days 4 and 5 I felt hungry like I hadn’t previously. Even though I had large plates of rice, and lots of frozen vegetables, it wasn’t filing me up. Not only that, but when I’d made a plate of food I’d sit there looking at it thinking, “I am hungry, but I would rather eat anything else but what is in front of me.” I would have thought that if I went on longer, I’d be willing to eat anything, but the lack of variety and the lack of flavour is really difficult to cope with (part of the reason I tried to be a bit creative with my last meal, an attempt to fry the mush, a bit like bubble and squeak).

My donations were slow to start and I was regularly being encouraged to speak up more, to tell people what I was doing. I was, in fact, walking into Westcott’s dining room with my food twice each day (breakfast and dinner), telling people what I was doing should have been easy, but eating something different was surprisingly embarrassing. I talked to those who knew about what I was doing, but in a way, I felt uncomfortable pointing it out to people. Partly because it might seem a bit self-righteous, partly because I think there is something alienating about eating something different. In reality, when I stood up on Thursday, during our community night, and explained what I was doing, I was encouraged, and received lots of funding for Christian Aid (not surprisingly). In reality I had, by then, spoken to lots of people, but I think it is interesting to note how divisive having a different diet can be. This is not surprising, lots of people have first hand experience of this due to intolerance, or in an attempt to loose weight. The Old Testament teaches that the Jewish people were set apart, as God’s own, by obeying a different diet. In 1 Corinthians 11: 17-22 Paul highlights the divisiveness of people eating their own food when they come together to celebrate communion. This is not surprising, but if we are in community with each other ( i.e. with all humanity as our neighbours) how does the existence of those who are having to feed themselves on the equivalent to £1 a day divide us from our fellow human beings.

Another point worth making is the challenge of refusing offers of hospitality. Part of the rules of the challenge were that I couldn’t accept gifts of food or drink from others. Many made the point that surely there are those (like Christian Aid) offering food and support to those living below the Extreme Poverty Line, so accepting such a gift would be realistic. The challenge was, I suppose, to experience life if organisations like Christian Aid weren’t there. Besides, even if they had received some food from others, to actually Live Below the Line, one would have to use one’s money on other expenses also. Nonetheless, refusing such offers and having to explain why wasn’t always easy. Katielou blogged about a girl who had to explain why she was refusing the offer of a sandwich, so her stomach didn’t begin to anticipate such hospitality which couldn’t be relied upon on a daily basis. The Bishop of Jarrow tweeted about the shame those using foodbank’s experience, Stories emerging of how deeply ashamed & humiliated people feel when approaching @gfoodbank#somethingisnotright [Bishop Mark (@BishopMark1) May 1, 2013]. Asking for, or accepting help, is difficult.

If you still haven’t had a chance to sponsor me and wish to do so, please give to Christian Aid by clicking here.

Day 4 and 5 menus.

Day 4 – Thursday – BREAKFAST – Porridge. 100g – £0.15

Spaghetti and Vegetables

Spaghetti and Vegetables

LUNCH – Spaghetti and Vegetables – running out of options, this was literally 100g of Spaghetti with 300g of frozen vegetables, some sweetcorn and 50g of sweetcorn and some chilli flakes, hoping heat would help – £0.37.

DINNER – Dahl with rice. Like what I made on day 3 – £0.41 – The day’s total was £0.94.

Day 5 – Friday – BREAKFAST – Porridge. 100g – £0.15

LUNCH – Brown and Noodle Soup – as made on day 3 – £0.35 (note on Day 3 it was meant to be made with some sweetcorn, hence the higher price of £0.41)

DINNER – Fried Split pea, Kidney Bean and Sweetcorn cakes. After boiling and simmering the soaked Split peas (100g) I drained them and boiled sweetcorn (160g) and then mushed the sweetcorn and the kidney beans (100g) with a potato masher and mixed all these ingredients in with the last clove of garlic (crushed). Using my hands I made the mix into 4 cakes, which were very wet and sticky. Using a little oil I fried these, hoping that this would dry them and join them up. They struggled to hold together, but weren’t bad. I served it with rice (150g) and a dipping sauce made from the last of the Passata (50g) which was reduced with some black pepper, chilli flakes and Thyme. – £0.48 – The day’s total was £0.94.

Fried Split Pea, Kidney bean and Sweetcorn cakes.

Fried Split Pea, Kidney bean and Sweetcorn cakes.

The next morning’s coffee and bread with margarine was a lovely change.


Days 2 and 3 of Live #belowtheline

May 1, 2013

I’m now 60% through the challenge to live below the extreme poverty line. The process has led to some fascinating conversations. People have been reflecting back to me about how it’s made them think about how valuable food is to us, after all, we cannot do without it. I’ve been astonished by the quantities that I’ve been eating, typically 400g of vegetables each day in addition to 200g of pasta and rice and 100g of split peas and 100g of oat porridge. But that is all I eat, there is no variety when you are living like this, every meal is a variation of cooking method and seasoning.

I’ve been struck by how much we spend on things, walking past the pound store in town, the irony of an entire days budget going on a single item from a budget shop didn’t escape me. We needed loo role and if that was part of my pound a day, I’d have been without food for a day and a half. As I continue to read about food and theology, I note how Wirzba, in Food and Faith, discusses the idea of being attentive to our food, those who made it and processed it, the earth it was made from and the sun and rain that helped it to grow. Being attentive like this to our food, Wirzba argues, is a form of spiritual discipline and of recognising and glorifying the creator and sustainer, the source of all life. I like this concept, and think that being attentive like this is important if we want to really engage with our food and enjoy it, regardless of whether one believes in a creator god. Recognising that we are a part of a bigger community built around the production of the food. However, when the food is uninspiring I find this spiritual discipline more difficult to engage with. Likewise, the motivation to create meals struggles when the food being used is uninspiring. Living like this for more than a week would be extremely disheartening.

If you would like to sponsor me, please click here and give to Christian Aid, who are working around the world to lift people out of extreme poverty.

Meals since my last post:

Day 2 – I had the same thing to eat as I had on Day 1.

Day 3 – Wednesday – BREAKFAST – Porridge. 100g – £0.15 – there is plenty of porridge, but there’s nothing inspiring about it.

Dahl with Frozen Vegetables

Dahl with Frozen Vegetables

LUNCH – Dahl with rice. I made this the night before and simply boiled some rice and heated up the Dahl with a bit more water today at lunch. I’ve got more of this for tomorrow night. The Dahl was made by boiling and simmering the soaked split peas (100g) then draining and mushing them down a bit. I cooked some cumin and then ground ginger and chilli flakes and turmeric with the garlic (1 clove) in  some vegetable oil (1/2 tbsp). The split peas were then returned to the pan with some water and then the frozen vegetables (200g) were cooked.  Counting the cost of the spices and oil, the meal came to £0.41. It wasn’t bad, but the quantity of seasoning I can use still leaves the dish a bit bland.

Brown and spaghetti soup

Brown and spaghetti soup

DINNER – Brown and Noodle soup – I fried some Garlic (1 clove) and frozen vegetables (200g) in some oil (1/2 tbsp) before adding a 1/2 a litre of stock, using half a stock cube (£0.8) and some Thyme and ground pepper (£0.1). I added some kidney beans (50g) and once cooked took the blender to it, making a nice thick brown soup. I then added spaghetti (100g) to cook in the soup. This looks pretty unappetising, but tasted surprisingly good. Though with the pasta it became incredibly thick. Total cost of the dish was £0.41, bringing the total for the day to £0.97.

Day 1 of Live Below the Line

April 30, 2013


Sunday night I sat down to figure out what I would make for lunch, to take in. I quickly realised any such planning would require planning the whole week. So in came the spreadsheet, I can now tell you exactly what I plan to eat each day, but I won’t – that would kill the suspense. But slightly more seriously, this planning took well over an hour and I was assisted by my wife who is, in my opinion, a fantastic and rather creative cook. There are 6 dishes, 4 of which are repeated once, almost all of them have a main component of frozen vegetables.

Day 1 – Monday – BREAKFAST – Porridge. 100g of wholegrain porridge, cooked with water in the common room microwave for two minutes. I used a pinch of cinnamon and sugar at a cost of £0.02. The whole dish therefore costs £0.15, and I will have the same thing every day. It was a bit dry and I ended up pouring some water on it to make it easier to eat.

LUNCH – Spaghetti with Tomato sauce. I made 100g Spaghetti to go with the sauce I cooked the day before. The sauce was made from Frozen Vegetables (200g), Sweetcorn (30g), garlic (1 clove) and Passata (100g). I cooked it down with a bit of oil, some black pepper and chilli flakes to season. Total cost, £0.33. I’ll have this again tomorrow for dinner.

DINNER – Vegetarian Chilli with Rice – I had 180g Rice to go with my chilli sauce. The Chilli sauce was made with Kidney beans (100g), Frozen Vegetables (200g), garlic (1 clove), Passata (125g) and Yellow Split Peas (100g). Cooked in some oil and seasoned the dish cost £0.52, bringing the total cost for the day to £1 exactly.

I was struggling between lunch and dinner, mostly I think due to caffeine withdrawal. Dinner

was actually tasty and surprisingly large, hopefully I haven’t accidentally eaten something I was saving for the end of the week! It’s worth remembering the amount of planning I have put into this though. If I was actually below the extreme poverty line I couldn’t measure my food so precisely or plan it on a spreadsheet. I’m also not eating any fresh vegetables at all, and no meat.
click here to sponsor me and to Christian Aid

Shopping for Live Below the Line

April 27, 2013

So I’ve now been shopping. I ended up in ASDA which is known for cheap prices, but I was amazed how many things (e.g. 1kg of value rice or 500g of porridge or frozen vegetables) were near identical prices at all the main supermarkets I looked at. As I said before, I had budgeted 50 pence for oil, seasoning and stock so I was left with £4.50 to spend on food.

Food for 5 days on Live Below the Line

Food for 5 days on Live Below the Line

For £4.50 I got 1kg Rice (£0.40), 500g porridge (£0.65), spaghetti (£0.19), tin of sweetcorn (£0.32), tin of kidney beans (£0.27), bag of yellow split peas (£0.58), 500g Passata (£0.29), garlic (£0.30) and 2 x 1 kg bag of frozen vegetables (2 x £0.75). I have a couple of ideas about how I will use all this but as much as it is good to have ideas, until you see what’s available it’s difficult to decide. Before I picked out the second bag of frozen vegetables I had considered a number of options, a frozen pizza (£0.60) as a treat, but whichever day I ate it I would only have £0.40 for both breakfast and lunch, so I decided against it. I also considered some fish fingers (£0.60) and some chicken nuggets (£0.72) but decided these would not be nearly as nice as the idea of them and a whole kg of mixed vegetables seemed to be the better option.
I think it’s worth noting how long it takes to shop like this, looking at every shelf in case there is something one has missed, trying to think ahead as to how you might use it and constantly adding up how much I had in my basket. I briefly considered getting a massive bag of yorkshire puddings for only £0.60, but I couldn’t see them going very well with rice or spaghetti. Just looking at the quantity of food on the belt at the checkout made me feel hungry.

If you would like to sponsor me and support Christian Aid, please donate here.

Planning shopping

April 26, 2013

I have tried to do a bit of planning of what I will eat next week when I’m doing the Live Below the Line challenge. Live Below the Line has lots of suggestions and links. One of their big recommendations (which I’ve ignored) is not to do it alone. This is because while seasonings (salt, oil, herbs) can be costed based on how much you use, food, like vegetables and eggs and so on, must be purchased within the £5 for the week. While you could say this is unfair, it is probably pretty representative as you can’t benefit from bulk buying. When value porridge comes in a 500g bag, you have to accept you’ll eat 500g or waste some of the £5. I had thought it would be quite nice to make chapati, but using 1.5 kg of flour in a week seems a bit crazy, so I plan to use rice as my main staple throughout the week, fortunately I like rice and it is relatively easy to cook.

While it would be good to use the recipes Live Below the Line suggests, the actual prices may not be quite the same and I would like to take into account my preferences and give myself the opportunity to be a bit creative.

So I’m assuming I’ll use 10p on seasoning, 8p on oil and .32p on stock cubes, that leaves £4.50 to spend on food. I will be flexible, but I am thinking of the following: I’ll spend £1.35 on porridge, rice and noodles. Then eggs and a tin of kidney beans should be about £1.21. Finally some frozen vegetables, tinned tomatoes, onions and some sweetcorn for 1.94.  Put like that it doesn’t sound like much, even if the recipes on the website look pretty good. I’ll post once I’ve been shopping with a photo of all the food I’ll have for the week.

Thank you to all those who have donated already, if you haven’t please help Christian aid by donating here.

Just over a week until the Live Below the Line Challenge

April 19, 2013

So I’ve decided to do the Live Below the Line Challenge. Over 5 days (29 April to the 3 May) I will eat only £1 ($C 1.27 or €1.17) worth of food and drink each day. This is equivalent to the $1.25 US Extreme Poverty Line set by the World Bank in 2005 based on a Purchasing power parity calculation (i.e. this is the equivalent for the USA, in a country where the cost of living is less, the value decreases, details of Live Below the Line’s calculation can be found here). 1.4 billion people currently live below this line everyday and have no choice about it (that’s more than 1/7th of the population of the planet).

My hope by doing this is two fold – First, awareness, my own and more publicly. Given the level of over-consumption and food wasted in the West, awareness and attentiveness to the food we buy and eat has the potential to make a significant difference to the way food is shared. The issues are more complex than simply consuming and wasting less food, but greater awareness of what we eat and of the nature of extreme poverty is an important step. Having realised my own tendency to graze and having spent Lent not eating meat or sweets, I have realised that my own relationship to food can benefit from being attentive to what I eat. Eating is recognised as an act of fellowship between those with whom we eat food but I think it also ties us in to the whole of creation, to all those who grow food, transport it, process it and sell it and those who don’t have it. I would suggest that our own participation in the food chain without recognising the poverty of those who grow our food and of those who don’t have enough food undermines our own ability to fully engage with and thus enjoy the food we eat. Enough Food If is campaigning for political leaders to deliver in the 4 key areas of Aid, Tax, Land and Transparency.

– Second, Christian Aid. They work globally for profound change that eradicates the causes of poverty, striving to achieve equality, dignity and freedom for all, regardless of faith or nationality. Providing urgent, practical and effective assistance where need is great and tackling the effects of poverty as well as its root causes, Christian Aid has a vision to put an end to poverty. The Live Below the Line challenge leads into Christian Aid’s annual ‘Christian Aid Week’ (12-18 May) when they will be collecting money door to door towards their work to end hunger. I have a modest target for my fund raising of £200, but would like to do much better than this to support the work of Christian Aid. Please donate here.

I must admit, as the 29 April approaches, I feel some trepidation at the idea of suddenly reducing how much I eat, not to mention going cold turkey on coffee. I hope to make some brief posts on how I’m finding things and on what I’m eating.

72 hours of sourdough starter

March 2, 2013

Now that’s an exciting title.

A few hours after feeding the starter yesterday I discovered that it was expanding quickly towards the lid, so I opened it, so that if it continued to grow there wouldn’t be any risk of it deflating. Shortly after that it deflated again and, this morning there was some separation, so I’m going to avoid sealing it, but leave the lid slightly ajar as I think sealing and unsealing may not be helping things.

That said, it is developing the sort of sour vinegar type smell which the River Cottage bread book advised I should expect. I removed half and added another 2/3 cup of water and of flour and whisked it in. I’ve also put it in our larder, a cupboard in the corner of the dining room where we keep plates and booze, which has a large vent to outside. This will hopefully meet the ‘cool room temperature’ requirement the people at River Cottage recommend.