Could you live on £1 a day?

Could you live on £1 a day?  I don't mean to put a roof over your head and clothes on your back but simply could you spend no more than £1 a day to feed yourself?  That is the challenge which Unicef puts forward in its Live below the Line campaign.  

"Live Below the Line is challenging individuals and communities to see how much change you can make out of £1. By living off just £1 per day for food for 5 days, you will be bringing to life the direct experiences of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty and helping to make real change.

Think about that figure - 1.4 BILLION - that's over 20 times the population of the UK - living every day in extreme poverty."


I had never heard of this campaign until my yoga teacher mentioned it a few weeks ago.  For five days, from Monday 29th April to Friday 3rd May, she is intending to eat for no more than £1 a day.  Now my yoga teacher is a great advert for yoga.  She looks at least fifteen years younger than she is and has an extraordinary energy and flexibility, of both body and mind.  When I started to practise yoga three or four years ago I was definitely keen to "have what she was having".  So I do tend to be interested in what she is doing and why.

I came home intrigued.  I looked at the website.  I spent an hour or so working out how I could possibly do it, pricing up porridge oats and lentils.  I talked to Ian about it.  He was perfectly happy for me to do whatever I wanted but it was pretty clear that if I was to do it too I would be doing it by myself. 

I don't know quite why it struck such a chord.  I would be lying if I were to tell you that the driving force of my interest is concern for world poverty.  I do care, of course I do, but the way we cope with the terrifying spectre of poverty if we live in the developed world is not to think about it, to feel helpless if we do and to turn back to our own world where the problems with food are problems of obesity and excess.  We all stick our heads in the sand and I am no different.

So it is partly a response to that terrifying statistic about those who live in poverty, but it is also and much less nobly simple curiosity - can I do it?  It is a practical challenge - what are the logistics of feeding yourself on so little?  How would I do it?  How would it work?  It is a physical challenge - what happens if I constrain what I eat so seriously?  Would I lose weight?  Would I feel better or worse?  And coming back round to this again and again, can I do it?  So there is a lot of "I" in there as you can see.  But we arrived at today and after Friday morning yoga class I seem to have decided to have a go.  Whether I succeed or not I shall make the same donation to  Unicef and I shan't ask for any sponsorship.  It feels like a personal decision and a personal challenge.

After yoga this morning I went shopping.


So here it all is - everything I shall eat for a week.

Breakfasts: porridge made with water (oats 40p) and served with natural yoghurt.

What do I usually have?  Home made bread and a poached or boiled egg from our own hens, accompanied by two cups of weak tea.  I shall miss my breakfasts quite a bit I think but I do like porridge.  In an ideal world it comes with cream and honey but I couldn't run to either of those.  I am most worried about doing without my cups of tea.  I can drink as much water as I like and shall probably drink hot water with breakfast rather than cold but I am not sure I can really get going without my cup of tea.  We shall see.

Lunches: a bag of lentils and some of the vegetables to be made into a lentil based soup.  Lentils are my protein for the week and I have decided that I am allowed herbs from my garden and spices from my shelves since I have 38 pence remaining unspent and the quantities will be minimal.  Will a couple of bowls of soup be enough?  I usually have sandwiches or soup for lunch but I will miss the slabs of bread and butter I normally have.  After lunch I almost always have some fruit but there is no way my budget could stretch to fruit of any kind.  I wonder how I will manage without bread and fruit and whether I will cope with the fact that both bread and fruit will be in the house and that Ian and his father will be eating them, probably right in front of me!  I am not good at depriving myself.  Oh dear.  Still, looking on the bright side I do like home made soup and I am pretty sure I can produce something which will be actively enjoyable.  It just needs a banana or some chocolate to follow it up with.  Nope, not enough money.

Evening meals with be rice with some sort of curried vegetables.  This is probably where the greatest difference will be.  No meat, no fish, no potatoes.  Since Ian's father came to live with us we have tended to have a very traditional evening meal of meat and two veg.  I like rice and I like curry but I will need to work out how to ring the changes a bit or I will go nuts with the same meal every night.

So how does that differ from my normal pattern of eating?  Well I often snack at about 4.30, frequently on fruit or, if I have been working outside, on bread and cheese.    I wonder if I will be hungry?  I am not very good at being hungry.  I have never coped well with dieting.  I suppose if I get desperate I can slip in an extra bowl of porridge!  And later in the evening I often have a glass or two of wine and some cheese and biscuits.  In desperation I bought some celery (50p) in an attempt to have something which could be my evening snack.  If I am honest this time of the day is what I am most apprehensive about.  It is my comfort blanket, my evening ritual of wine and biscuits.  Perhaps I should save myself some more soup.

I am really not at all sure I can do this.  How pathetic that sounds when the world is full of people who have no choice.  So here is to a weekend of eating what I like, followed by next week of eating with my choices so reduced it will feel like another world.

Would you do it?

Comments

  1. No I wouldn't do it, and neither should you. Why the HELL should we tighten our belts from a feeling of social guilt caused by all those greedy bastards who currently have around 20 TRILLION pounds salted away in off-shore accounts?

    Eat what you damn well please, Elizabeth, and get the people who have really caused world poverty to try to live on £1 a day. If you have anything left over, then give it to someone on the street.

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    1. Tom, I understand what you're saying and I agree with you about the greedy bastards. I just think this project is about something else... it's about being willing to walk in someone else's shoes for a while, to up our awareness of what we take for granted in life and increase our ability to empathize with those who have to live that way without the option of going back to full fried breakfasts at the end of the week. It's not about guilt, or tightening our belts in any real way. It's just an experience - a voluntary taste of a life that for others is not voluntary, so that we can have more understanding and take a little more care in the way we treat and view those less fortunate.

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    2. Yes I know, but I really don't think it is possible to put yourself in someone else's shoes unless you intend to wear them for the rest of your foreseeable life. Giving up chocolate for Lent is extremely easy.

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    3. I am glad Marcheline got here first because she has answered you far more effectively than I would have done. My only other point is that is not about guilt. Others might think it should be but it's not. I also don't for a moment think that what I do will make a jot of difference to the greed of corporates and individuals and to the inequity of life. It is mostly about curiosity. It is about cracking that carapace of comfort, just for a moment or two. No doubt I will forget quite quickly when I go back to my poached eggs and my salmon fillets. Oh, and if I could get those who really cause world poverty to live on a £1 a day I would but I can't. I don't even know who they are, if indeed they have faces. I can't do much really but I can do this and if the only person it makes a difference to is me, that's fine. I may well fall at the first evening when I can't get the glass of wine out.

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  2. Thanks for this post - and for your honesty. I wish you well.

    I'm also going to be Living Below the Line next week and, although extreme poverty is an issue I have fundraised for, and campaigned against for many years, like you there is a part of me that has accepted the challenge just to see whether I can.

    I look forward to comparing notes.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Gai. Let's hope we both manage it!

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  3. I did the conversion, Elizabeth, and 7£ is Canadian $11.02. I'll have to think about this. I don't know if I could rise to the challenge, but you've definitely got me going. I look forward to hearing how you're doing.

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    1. It is very interesting just to work out how it can be done. It would be great if you would join me but it might not combine with working away too well! I am hoping I can manage if I eat at home all week.

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  4. I think it's a valid endeavor, not because you personally are responsible for world hunger (thank you, Tom Stephenson) but because it's good to get a perspective on what some folks are forced to endure. The fact that you will do without luxuries you don't give a second thought to normally will do wonders for your awareness. As Mad-Eye Moody always said, the key is "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!!!". That is very true, and this exercise will bring you to new levels of that very important ability.

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    1. Thanks a lot for your comment here and in response to Tom. I do understand completely where he is coming from but to me that doesn't make it a worthless exercise. I will remember Constant Vigilance.

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  5. Elizabeth, I'm not sure I could do this either. I was going to suggest that you could perhaps have an egg and that keeping a chicken might be possible, but of course it would need feeding enough to have the bodily resources to be able to lay and that would eat into your budget.

    I'm filled with admiration at what you describe as 'walking in someone else's shoes'. I'm absolutely fascinated to see how you get on and I'm virtually cheering you on here.

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    1. I had wondered about eggs too Emma, especially as I love them and we have chickens so don't have to part with actual cash! In the end I thought I would be fudging the issue a bit too much as I wouldn't be accounting for any of the costs of their feeding and housing. Tricky one!

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  6. I'm not sure I could do this either, but I get why you are doing it and very good luck. I once helped out at a poverty lunch where we served a small portion of vegetable soup and a bread roll to people who made donations. So many people asked for seconds! I don't think they got it!

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    1. Great story! No, I don't think they did.

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    1. It is a real challenge for us in the West to appreciate the poverty and circumstances that many people in the world endure. Not only is it the lack of food, but also basics that we take for granted - clean water on tap, education for all, warm clean living conditions, and good health facilities.
      I am always amazed at the dignity that many of these people show within their daily lives.
      It will be interesting to learn how you get on, and how much weight you loose.
      All of this puts our moans about the long cold winter into perspective.

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    2. I suppose it is possible that I won't lose any weight at all as this diet is quite high in carbohydrates, since they are cheap! And yet to just how much we take for granted. I think living where we do and how we do has made me more aware of how easy our lives are these days and that is perhaps what sparked my interest in this. We will see!

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  8. Well done you for having a go! I am having enough difficulty just dieting for myself. I have considered trying this as I feel that I am one of life's fortunate and should understand how it is for others not so lucky but next week is going to be impossible - Rotary Dinner, Bridge Tea etc. I may pick another week. Let us know how you get on.

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    1. I think picking another week is totally fine rosie. I do have an appointment I can't change but intend to get by on a cup of tea!

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  9. Yes, will look forward to the result. But this isn't really an answer. When I was in Cuba I met a man who complained a lot about Cuban government (he was probably a spy wanting me to say something incriminating). I asked him seriously how he would like to live somewhere where it rained everyday and the skies were overcast and where you rarely heard street music. He had to think about that for a long time.

    Do you know you can feed a family of four for a year on an acre plot if you all live on beans? That would be on nothing a day.

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    1. But seriously, can four people live on nothing but beans for a year? I suppose if the alternative is death.

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  10. I take off my hat to you, good luck with the plan.
    I'm impressed with how much you managed to buy with 5 pounds, which depresses me in a way, as South Africa used to be so much cheaper to buy food in than the UK and now it looks like we are more expensive, even with a generous exchange rate. I worked out roughly how much that would cost us in my local supermarket in SA and came to R96 which is about 7.50 pounds. When you think how little the average person in SA earns, it makes me wonder how any of them manage to eat even this basically. OK rant over!
    One suggestion to replace your cup of tea - if you are allowing yourself herbs from the garden, try making rosemary tea (very clean and refreshing) or lemon thyme tea (great for coughs and colds), fennel tea (good for digestion, lavender tea (relaxing). It might add just enough flavour to keep you from taste deprivation.
    Good luck and let us know how it goes.

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    1. On second thoughts,I guess part of the comparison to SA is problematic because oats and tinned tomatoes aren't staples here and are relatively expensive, so perhaps if it had been mielie meal, (corn meal) it would have come out cheaper. Plus dairy is expensive too.

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    2. I found dairy so expensive that I have foregone milk for yoghurt which keeps and will be a treat with porridge. thanks for the suggestions for herbal teas. I have rosemary. Fennel is not yet growing strongly enough but I have the beginnings of lemon balm. I will give them all a try.

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  11. Staggering how little you get for a pound these days. I'll be really interested to know if you do it without cracking....no harsh judgement if you do! I don't think I could do it unless I had to. I have type 1 diabetes so I'd be a bit stuffed in a hypo situation. I guess in a country with no medical facilities I would have just died rather than been diagnosed. Scary thought. We don't know how lucky we are.

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    1. I might well crack and am trying to take the view that having a go is the thing!

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  12. What a fascinating experiment! I lived one summer in rural Kenya, buying provisions at the local market, and it's worth remembering that basic food grown locally would cost less than what you'd been paying in the UK. Also people would (if they could) grow things like potatoes and yams. So much what we are paying for is packaging, transport and advertisement. Still, rice and beans are the staple of many and that feeling of hunger would be true to life too. I've backpacked for a month in the USA and lived off similar provisions and it gave me a new appreciation for fresh veg and fruit. I'm curious to hear how you fared at week's end. I admire your empathy.

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    1. I have had a serious dither about whether it is ok to eat things from the garden. There is not much at the moment but we still have some broccoli so I may use that. I think foraging is fine so I might find some wild garlic for soup!

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  13. I will give it a try. Your ideas have inspired me.
    Good luck to us both.
    Dianne - Hereford

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    1. That is great! Will be good to have company. x

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  14. This is fascinating and scary all at the same time. I think the shopping alone is a graphic representation of what its like to try to cope in absolute poverty, you almost don't need to go any further. I work in a voluntary sector advice agency where we are seeing the worse effects of Welfare Reform in the UK and the awful reality is that people facing life on tiny incomes often don't have the resources or the resourcefulness to buy the type of food you have chosen to make your money go further - we are meeting people who are refusing food parcels from the food banks because they don't have gas or electric on at home to cook, rendering raw ingredients useless, and others that may have fuel but don't know how to cook simple basic food - soups, jacket potatoes. It will be great to hear how you get on - I don't think I could manage this.

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    1. It is so sad to think that people don't know how to cook. For me it is a basic life skill and would have been fundamental knowledge fifty years ago. How do we bring it back?

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    2. Im not sure - theres something odd in the vox pops culture of the UK. People are disengaged from the asic life skills they need but glued to celebrity chefs in TV. Not true of all by by means, but it is far from unusual. At work we are looking at pulling together a local cookery book with really easy accessible recipes in it.

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  15. Did you read the article on the BBC web site about this? The interpretation of what could be bought for £1 a day is a bit different from yours.

    Could you add some foraged leaves... Nettles, willow herb, bitter cress?

    I'm not sure I could resist eating eggs from our hens or asparagus! but it is an interesting exercise.

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    1. I have read the article and I sort of think he is cheating! If everything you eat has to have been funded by the £1 a day you can't accumulate the number of ingredients which he has used. I reckon he would need to have spent about £30 to buy them all in the first place so it would work perhaps over a large number of weeks or done as a co-operative but it looks a bit dodgy to me!
      I may give in about eggs...

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    2. Somebody else made the point to me that possibly the £1 a day needs to be adjusted for UK prices - do you know which economy the £1 figure is calculated for - or is the £1 the adjusted amount (i can see that it might be....)

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    3. I think the £1 a day is meant to be for the UK, so the adjusted figure I suppose!

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  16. Uncomfortable reading. I couldn't do it, although I wish you well - anything that makes us more aware of the gulf between the desperately poor and even the modestly well-off has to be a Good Thing.

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  17. Mmn, a tricky one and I can see where Tom Stephenson is coming from. There have been times in my life when I've had very little to live on and we still have to live very frugally now, but I have clean water to drink, hot water to wash in and a safe roof over my head so I consider myself very fortunate.

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    1. We normally live pretty frugally too Chris so it will be a challenge to cut it back so strictly.

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  18. Definitely not! In answer to the £1 a day question.
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

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    1. Well I shall let you know how I get on maggie!

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  19. Good luck with this Elizabeth, I would really struggle with it. I will eat less next week though, so I will be with you in spirit.

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    1. I think eating less is a good contribution. I wonder if I might find myself just eating less and am worried about how exposed I feel having blogged about my intention. It might help me to keep to it (as was the hope) or it might just make me feel very stupid.

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  20. I've been contemplating doing this too, but NAH isn't keen. I did find a really good website whilst thinking about it which wasn't specifically for this challenge but more to help people who live like this permanently.

    It had a 4 week menu planner where you chose either vegetarian with lots of fruit included or meat based. Porridge loomed large on the breakfast front and home made bread every day was part of the plan too. It was surprisingly varied and tempting, plus it was nutritionally balanced.

    Can I find it again? No :(

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    1. Ian wasn't keen either but is quite supportive of my having a go. In fact he has just suggested he might give the wine and cheese a miss for the week too which is quite a significant gesture.

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  21. Found it - it was on the Live Below the Line Facebook page :)

    http://cheap-family-recipes.org.uk/

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    1. thank you. Have a had a look. Some interesting things and very much worth knowing about. The range of ingredients might be a challenge, even though they are all cheap if you see what I mean.

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  22. Les and I have been talking about doing this too. I saw a young mother interviewed on TV who lives on £14 a week to feed her and her young son. The expert said she was perfectly healthy and just needed a bit of fish to improve the nutritional balance of her diet. So it can be done. Good luck Elizabeth hope you last, but a great cause. Like you I think we will be living on porridge, lentils, vegetables and pasta.

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    1. Oh, glad to have company Paulene! Might have to ring you for a bit of moral support. Other than the fact I have rice not pasta, yes, that's my diet too!

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  23. Oh dear, it's the coffee. Major addiction, cannot cope without it. Is being grateful every day any good? No, I thought not.

    Hooray for you for raising this. All of it mattering so much, and likely to matter more. Auguri, as they say here.

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    1. I used to be addicted to coffee but gave it up a few years ago when I was very ill and somehow never went back to it. I shall let you know what my difficulties are. Bread and wine I suspect!

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  24. I read the BBC version of this and questioned it, as the meal costs were based on food bought from at least 4 supermarkets, which to me is pointless spending all that money on fuel which was not taken into account. Seemed like a bit of a publicity stunt. You, however, have bought everything at the start and it seems to be a one stop shop. It doesn't look like much, I hope you don't go hungry, and that you feel lighter at the end! In the west, we do over eat, and we also eat too many treats and junk food.
    I questioned Tesco over the nutritional value of their Value range, and they said it was no less nutritional than their other ranges, just that the packaging was not as posh and might affect the shelf life, so Value has a short shelf life. I don't know if anyone else has any information on that.
    Things you grow/produce at home aren't included? That seems a shame.
    I will look forward to the rest of this week!

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  25. Looking at the quantities you've bought , you haven't got enough calories for a week , let alone protein , calcium or fat . Still , whatever you'd bought , you couldn't for only 7 Pounds a week and that is , of course , the whole point .
    Don't forget to put salt in the porridge ...

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  26. Thanks very much for your large information .And knowledge full description . I think it is Sus a topic that many kinds of people face many problems. thanks for this.
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