Living below the line - the final day (for me at least)

Somehow we have made it through to Friday.  I am torn between excitement at what I will able to eat tomorrow (shallow me!) and a strange feeling that I could carry on doing this for ages.  I eat my porridge made with water and carefully scrape out the last of the cheap pot of natural yoghurt to go with it.  I barely notice that my morning drink is hot water rather than tea.  Then I whizz out to yoga class, both as a distraction from thoughts of food and to share experiences with my yoga teacher who is the only other person I know who is doing this.

Patty has eaten quite similarly to me but she has had chick peas as well as lentils and a small amount of nuts.  I think she has purchased these with the money I chose to spend on yoghurt, which has been my only dairy.  She had intended to make baked potato the centre of her main meals but found that potatoes are just too expensive.  It is interesting to see just how much conversation the whole challenge has produced, both in the class and online.  Quite a few people in the class have not done the week in terms of living below the line but have spent time and effort thinking about how it might be done. I think that the exercise of really trying to work out how to make it work is worthwhile in itself if only in that it opens your eyes.  Another friend and her husband haven't been able to do it this week but are intending to do it together next week.  I am quite sure you can produce more variety if you can share your money but it is still a challenge however you come at it!  The moral support of doing it together is also a great idea although Ian has been very supportive in taking over cooking for him and his dad and in giving up alcohol and cheese himself for the week so that I don't have to sit and watch him!  I think I would have found this almost impossible if I had been preparing for other people the food that I like but couldn't eat.  This way I have been able to behave almost as if the only food in the house is the food in my bag in the pantry.


On the way home I stop and forage some wild garlic from down by the river in the bottom of the valley to put in my lunchtime soup and to use in my evening curry.  You see wild garlic foaming with white flower down by the river bank at this time of year.  All parts of the plant are edible: flowers, leaves, stems and roots, and it tastes strongly of garlic, the stems and leaves more so than the thin bulbous root.  The smell is so powerful it is filling the kitchen and I might have to put it outside.

Lunch is the last of the vegetable soup with dal in it, finished off with torn leaves of wild garlic.  The impact on the soup of the green leaves is surprising.  The taste and the texture are sublime although I am now smelling very strongly of garlic.  I have got into the swing of thinking in a foraging way now and I bring in some lemon balm.  Chopped up fine, the leaves make a faintly lemony change from the inevitable hot water.  At the end of lunch I am hungry and feel a bit desperate for more food, particularly fruit.   I would kill for an orange.   I go away to spend some time on the laptop and an hour later I find I am not hungry.  I wonder how often I keep on eating when, if I allowed my food to digest a little, I might find that I don't after all need any more food.

Just as earlier in the week,  I find that at about 4 o' clock I am truly, unignorably hungry and I finish the last of the onion bhaji mixture to make some tiny bhajis as snacks.  That keeps me going.  Dinner tonight is a fragrant biriani, made with cardamon, cinnamon and star anise to flavour the rice and chopped onion, carrot and parsnip.  I actively enjoy this one and am pleased to find that there is some left for tomorrow.

So, that is it.  The last of the meals has been eaten and I am nearly done.  Here is a stock take.

What have I missed?  Eggs, cheese, fruit, bread, wine, probably in that order.

Have I been hungry?  Perhaps a little but not really, although to prevent hunger I have had to be creative with fried porridge and ground elder!

Is there anything left?


Yes, here it is.  Quite a lot of porridge oats, rice and some lentils.  All the vegetables have gone, including the celery which I bought as an evening distractor from cheese.

Would I do it again?  Yes I would.  It has made me think about food buying, cooking and waste in a new way.  I don't think we are generally wasteful or spend a huge amount on our food.  We cook everything from scratch so we don't buy ready meals and frozen puddings.  Yet even so I have been astonished to find how much I spend on my normal diet and how little I can spend and survive.

What have I learnt?  That feeding yourself for very little is possible but that it is repetitive and restrictive in ways which we have long forgotten in our society.  That Indian cooking seems to provide the best template for producing tasty, interesting and nutritious food from cheap ingredients, especially if like me you like strongly flavoured food.  That being unable to spend much on food means you can just about manage if you stay home but that many of the small and larger pleasures of life are closed to you: the cup of coffee in a cafe, the slice of cake with a friend, the takeaway pizza,  the evening with wine and beer in a bar or pub.  That I can do it.  I really thought I might not be able to and part of the reason I didn't ask for sponsorship (besides the fact that we are constantly being asked for sponsorship for one thing or another) was that I did not want to let people down or be overwhelmingly embarrassed when I gave the whole thing up on Wednesday, unable to resist the lure of the cheese sandwich or the cup of tea or scampi and chips and a pint in the pub.

But I can walk away now, back to my scrambled eggs and my wine and my meals full of protein, unlike the families for whom this is the only way of life.  And I expect it is the fact that I could walk away at the end of the week that has helped me do it.  I don't really think that what I have done makes any difference to anyone except me, although I will be sending to UNICEF the sum of money that I would normally have spent on food for the week.  (In the end I decided to give the money to a local foodbank.) I hope others do it and think about it.  If enough of us did the same maybe we would make a difference.  Perhaps just thinking about it might make a difference.  I really don't know and don't believe that there are any easy answers.  It really has been interesting to talk to you about it and to hear your thoughts about the whole thing.  I also know lots more about cooking like this as a result of your suggestions and ideas, so thank you for taking the time to think and write about it.

So let us finish as shallowly as we started.  Tonight I am going to stay up until midnight and drink a glass of cheap fizz to celebrate doing it, finishing it, being alive and living in a beautiful place surrounded by plenty.

I wish I didn't smell quite so strongly of garlic.


Comments

  1. Congratulations on making it through the week so positively, Elizabeth. It's made interesting reading for me and I've been wondering whether I'd be able to manage it. Maybe if I wasn't cooking for the family and as long as there wasn't any chocolate in the house! Enjoy your champagne and your eggs and cheese tomorrow!

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    1. Funnily enough Kit I was thinking earlier today that I don't think I could have done while I still had children at home. I have had to be quite focussed on it in a way which is hard when you have kids around.

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  2. Elizabeth, I am not sure I could do it if Michael was eating normally! But, then I have had to give up chocolate, gluten, caffeine~so maybe it wouldn't be as difficult as I imagine. Congrats to you for following through so graciously. gail

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    1. Sounds like you have had considerable practice at going without! I am sure you could do it.

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  3. Wow! I am so impressed Elizabeth. What a brilliant blog & project, well done you. So interestingly written, and honest, well done you, a very thought provoking week.
    CKx

    PS Love the hair colour!

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    1. Thanks so much Kate. I am glad you were interested. And thanks about the hair colour too!

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  4. Well done on completing your challenge. It has certainly made me think a lot about the nutrient deficient diet that millions are on worldwide, and how much I overeat. I am now making a conscious effort to eat much less at each meal and cut out snacks. It has even made me think about unlimited, clean drinking water on tap. Very thought provoking, and I guess if it sparks a dialogue then it has done it's job.
    Incidentally, today when I was eating lunch (scrambled eggs) I could not help thinking about you and how you are missing your eggs so much. I didn't enjoy them half as much as I normally do! Felt a bit guilty.
    Enjoy your food over the coming Bank Holiday weekend!

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    1. I think you are spot on when you say that sparking a dialogue about the whole issue of food poverty is worthwhile. As far as I am concerned it is not necessary to do the challenge to contribute. I wouldn't have wanted to spoil your eggs by the way!

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  5. Well done. Easy to say I could do that no probs. But in reality not easy at all. I imagine that food in some form or other has been on your mind all week.

    Alan has just said 'we could do that'. Hmm.

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    1. Food has indeed been on my mind all week. As I said to Kit I don't think I could have been single minded enough to do this if I had children to look after. I have even wondered if I could have done it while doing a stressful job. Would be fascinated to know how you get on if you and Alan do it. Do let us know if you do! I would love to know how you go about it because I know you are keen cooks and like to eat really good food. I felt I was towards the end of the week before I had cracked it (to some degree) in terms of producing stuff to eat I actually liked!

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  6. I do really think you would have a wider audience for this in one of the broadsheets. What you have experienced and written about so elegantly has been a privilege to read about and has certainly made me think. Enjoy the champagne.

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    1. You are very kind to say so Fennie but I have no idea how to go about widening the audience. Don't you have to be a member of the NUJ to write something for a national paper or have I got that wrong?

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  7. Llongyfarchiadau ar lwyddo efo'r her, a diolch am wneud i ni feddwl am y mater. Mwynha'r champagne; ddim yn hir rwan..

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    1. Diolch yn fawr Wilias. Mi nesi fwynhau'r champagne yn fawr, ac wyau wedi'u sgramblo y bore yma hefyd!

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  8. Hi Elizabeth, I have just found and read through your week's experiment. Congratulations for staying the course, and getting so creative. I have found reading about it all very thought provoking. I became a vegetarian for all of two years back in my early twenties, because of food poverty and how ridiculously expensive in terms of land meat based protein is. The lure of the bacon butty made me leave that behind, and it is only the gradual reduction of income since becoming ill and then having to move on to benefits that have made me become thoughtful about food again in terms of anything other than taste. I find it intriguing that for me the easiest way to stretch the meat I buy further and still guarantee a tasty meal is to cook indian, thai or chinese food, all cuisines from countries with a lot of poverty. But reading your blog posts made me so aware that I am lucky enough to enrich my meals with lots of fresh vegetables. I cannot really imagine what it is like for each and every day to be a challenge to find enough to keep starvation at bay, or what it would be like to have to go without in order to keep my children alive. Thank you for at least raising awareness that such issues exist, and that we, in our cosy western lives, are light years away from that world.
    PS One of my favourite ways to stretch a curry and make it feel more like a treat even when it is yesterday's leftovers is to make tortiallas from flour, water and salt. I think it is a texture thing as much as anything, too much sloppy stuff gets boring very quickly. I won't be trying toasted porridge patties any time soon but you have got me thinking about bhajis!

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    1. Thanks Janet and I like the sound of the tortillas. I could have made those from the provisions I had within my budget. The comments and the discussion have been one of the most interesting things about doing this.

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  9. Well done for seeing it through, Elizabeth. I know it wasn't easy. You've made me think about how I cook and how my mother cooked when I was a child. We ate well, but without the variety I enjoy today. My mother cooked a lot of Lebanese food, which was very inexpensive and tasty. I'll have to find her recipes!

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    1. Lebanese sounds interesting! I agree about the absence of variety in the food we had when we were growing up. My mother like yours was a good cook but we definitely had to eat leftovers, usually magically transformed!

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  10. I've been following this all week and want to congratulate you on having the willpower to see it through. Like you found, it is possible to stave off hunger on very little, but the lack of variety of fruit, veg, protein etc would soon have an effect on your health. Very thought provoking, and you've made me very grateful for being able to afford to eat well.

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    1. I think the absence of fruit and the minimal protein would wear your health down as you say. It was a diet very heavy on carbohydrate (oats, rice). I am very aware of how lucky we are.

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  11. Well done ! I'm astonished you've got anything over at all , actually .
    If you were doing it for ever , you'd be on the shop's doorstep , when they opened , with plans to buy chick peas this week and split peas the week after ... But nothing would change the daily grind of squeezeing every last mouthful from your budget .... and the lack of any spontaneity at all .
    My grandmother , a good cook and canny provider , brought up nine children during the Depression on not much more . Pea soup , porridge and rice pudding figured large , my aunts remember . And just how much she loved feeding us all royally at big family gatherings in the more prosperous years after the war .

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    1. I think that is exactly it - the daily grind and the need to make every last penny work for you. It was ok for a week but if you lived like that all the time you would be very worn down by it. I can imagine your grandmother's joy at the times of greater prosperity!

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  12. Well done Elizabeth for seeing it through but also writing about it so perceptively.

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  13. Well done on getting through the week and writing so well about it on the way. I'm reading a book on 'Dig for Victory' at the moment and I'm struck by the similarities re making do with what's available, the lack of waste and the monotony of the diet. However, in WWII you would have been allowed your eggs seeing you keep hens!

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    1. If I had been able to have eggs last week that would have transformed my diet. I love eggs anyway. It was hard to see them coming in from the henhouse every day and not to be able to have them.

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  14. PS Thanks for your comment over at mine - I was looking at your wild garlic with envy whilst also thinking that my recipe would blow your £1 a day budget!

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  15. Kudos Elizabeth; what a huge inspiration you have been! Like the others here, I too, would like to chip in my appreciation for this reflective post. Thank you for taking us along this contemplative path.

    PS. Regarding Indian food, just shoot me a mail if you need any quick, inexpensive and tasty recipes. :-)

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    1. I would have been totally lost without Indian food. I shall take you up on the offer of more recipes, thank you!

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  16. I think you deserved that glass of champagne. I've enjoyed what's been a thought-provoking series of posts.

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  17. I've really enjoyed reading about your challenge this week. Well done for completing it. I do shudder when I hear news reports about how much food we waste as a nation when we throw masses of unwanted produce away. It doesn't feel right to be careless with food, and a challenge like yours is a good reminder about how fortunate most of us are to have access to so much of it.

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    1. I agree. I am horrified by how much we throw away. I do try hard not to but this will make me focus even more.

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  18. Well done for making it to the end! You were brave to go foraging. Not sure my plant identification skills would be up to it!

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    1. It was easy foraging - just ground elder and wild garlic. Might not have trusted myself for much more!

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  19. Elizabeth, let me join the queue of comments praising you for your excellent reporting of your experiences during the past days. You've done an excellent job of letting the rest of us in on what it was like for you do manage meals on a very thrifty budget. I am sure that you will greatly enjoy tomorrow's breakfast (it's still Saturday over here as I type.)

    It's interesting to contemplate what it's like in many parts of our shared globe in which generations of people pass along cooking traditions that centuries have created. There is much wisdom being passed along in kitchen areas that have no cookbooks. Those of us lucky enough to make many food choices might benefit from also regularly keeping an eye on wise nutritional ideas that glossy media don't have any incentive to tell us.

    Bravo Elizabeth! xo

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    1. You are so right Frances. A lot of the food information we get comes from people with products to sell us.

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  20. Congratulations on getting through it and, actually, for doing it at all. We take our lives so much for granted and you're a person than I for daring to do it!

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    1. I hope it will help me not to take my good luck for granted Em. It is so easy to fall back into complacency and comfort.

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  21. catching up in one fell swoop. I once tried something like this, but the cheese, oh the cheese. I think I lasted 2 days. I drink my tea strong. A few hours without tea, gives me a withdrawal headache. I do admire your committed perseverance.

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    1. I wonder if the headache I had on Wednesday was to do with the withdrawal of tea. I drink mine weak which probably helped.

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  22. Congratulations! Well done. If you handle garlic or onions or anything like that, just run cold water on your hands and rub them over the chrome neck of your kitchen faucet (if you have a chrome faucet). If you don't, they sell smooth chrome rubstones at most kitchen places and definitely online... something about the chemical reaction between the chrome and the garlic/onion oil takes away the stink. Here's a link to one they're selling on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Amco-318402-Rub-Away-Bar/dp/B000F8JUJY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368201881&sr=8-1&keywords=garlic+smell+remover

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    1. I never knew that about garlic! You are a mine of information!

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