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.