In 2016, 815 million people of the 7.6 billion in the world were suffering from chronic undernourishment. It’s now 2018. The problem isn’t going away any time soon. Earlier this October, alongside International Development Society (IDS), I took part in the Live Below the Line Challenge, buying and making our meals on £1 or under a day to raise money for the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART). Eating on a student budget can be difficult at times, especially when there is a constant desire to go to the new brunch spot, eat on campus or buy every combination of meal deal under the sun during exam season.
Having said that, it is important that we realise that this is nothing compared to people that genuinely live below the line. So what is living below the line? The challenge is to eat all three meals a day, for five days, on £1 or under. We sourced our ingredients from a variety of shops, including Aldi, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – looking for the cheapest ingredients we could to make three meals a day.
The image below shows the total ingredients for the whole week for one of the participants. With this limited number of ingredients, my own daily menu looked something like this:
– Breakfast: A slice of bread, porridge (made with water)
– Lunch: two slices of bread and half a tin of beans
– Dinner: one portion of rice, a sausage, an egg and frozen mixed vegetables
The most difficult part of this was the lack of any supplementary food between mealtimes, no fresh fruit or vegetables and a lack of any dairy (or dairy alternatives). It was meagre at most. As a result, our moods fluctuated accordingly, and exercise became an impossibility by the end of the week. We met on the Wednesday and shared an evening meal to line our stomachs with a bit more food, with films sent from the charity. This week I talked to IDS’ co-president, Miranda Bell-Pearson. We discussed both our memories of the week, while highlighting the importance of a nutritionally-balanced diet on a budget. In my conversation with Miranda, she highlights the purpose of the week, and the further reaching effects of our self-induced hunger outside of York.
MUSE: How did you find the week?
Miranda: The challenge we took part in really took a toll after a couple of days, with energy levels falling and hunger rising. It tested our self-control and gave us a small insight into the effects of hunger that 795 million people across the globe have to face each day.
MUSE: What did you learn from it?
MBP: The experience not only drew attention to the incredible ignorance many of us had towards living on a budget, where your diet is limited to staple grains, but also gave our committee and members an idea of how hard it is to resist food: one of the most marketed and commercialised commodities in the world.
MUSE: What was your aim in organising a week living under the line?
MBP: We organised the event to raise awareness of the problems associated with malnutrition, in accordance with our theme this term – internal displacement. As civil conflicts escalate globally, the issue of displacement is becoming increasingly prevalent, resulting in loss of life, with the longer-term effects including starvation and malnutrition in affected communities. Therefore, the challenge links in with our aim to provide an awareness into the everyday reality of displacement in war-torn zones.
MUSE: Tell me more about the charity, what does HART do?
MBP: Over the course of the week-long challenge we raised £163 for the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) which works to reduce the effects of internal displacement in areas such as the Sudan where over 500,000 people were forced to leave their homes during the 2011 conflict.
So, what can we learn from this experience? The week changed our assumptions of how we see food and drink as fuel, instead of eating for pleasure or for social experience. It also highlighted the difficulties that people with dietary requirements such as coeliac or lactose intolerance face living under the line. This experience made me appreciate the importance of a balanced diet, and how we take for granted the ability to eat a variety of food groups on a daily basis from fruit and veg, to proteins and carbohydrates. If anything, this experience has emphasised to me how lucky we all are, even as students (who are often assumed to be strapped for cash at the best of times) to be able to eat on more than £1 a day.
We hope this offers an insight into life below the poverty line, with the view to provide some time and cash-cheap recipes if you find yourself a little too deep in your overdraft, whilst also ensuring you aren’t left feeling undernourished.