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Archive for the ‘Live Below the Line’ Category

It’s Saturday morning, which in many ways has played out just as any other Saturday morning: a slow breakfast, radio, and endless tea refills as we catch up with ourselves after a busy week. Except it’s not quite as normal today as this picture implies. Fruit and yogurt – normally something I’d grab as a quick snack whenever I feel a suggestion of hunger – tasted like heaven, and buttered crumpets with jam were more buttery and fluffier than they ever have before. It’s good to notice how wonderful this small selection of choices can be, and how much enjoyment and satisfaction can be found in just a simple (but healthy and varied) meal.

This challenge got easier for me as the week progressed. I was tired, cold and unable to concentrate for the duration, but it became less noticeable, and my appetite had almost disappeared by Thursday – possibly from food boredom, or possibly due to my body getting used to the smaller quantities. It’s funny to see how quickly we adapt to new versions of normal – my fear now is that I’ll get used to having quantity and variety again too quickly, and start taking it all for granted as I always have. We are so much more privileged than I had even realised before this challenge started. I knew it would be tough to reduce the quantity and the variety of the foods that I have access to. I knew I’d feel below-par and frustrated, and that I’d struggle to battle with cravings. What I didn’t know was how important food is to my existence on a larger scale, and how it costs so much more than I had imagined to keep one healthy normal adult functioning properly. This cost was meaningless to me, but over the past five days its meaning became a bit of a burden.

Yesterday I took myself out for a 16 mile run – part of my training for the ultra in June. It’s the only ‘real’ training run I did during the challenge, and I was cautious to save up some of the week’s food allowance for Thursday and Friday, so that I’d have as much in my stores as possible beforehand, and enough to replenish with afterwards. While breakfast was as substantial as it would ever be before a long run, it wasn’t long before I felt the deficit that had been building since Monday. I was tired and found it hard to focus, and by mile 9 I had searing hunger pains which made it difficult to move forwards both in terms of morale and physical discomfort. I ate 3 custard creams while out, which didn’t really cut it, and I felt so much worse in the last 3 miles than I’d felt at any point during last week’s 20-mile run. At this stage, 16 miles usually feels like an ‘easy'(ish) day, squished between weeks of much higher mileage, but yesterday there was nothing easy about any of it, and it certainly wasn’t a relief from the training I’ve done over the past few weeks.

The main issue, however, was the return home, to a very small quantity of food. Normally I’d refuel with a large glass of milk or a protein shake right after the run, but there was none of that: I had a quick shower and then rushed back downstairs to make some lunch. A large plate of spaghetti with some leftover lentil dhal – very tasty and plenty of food to tuck in to, but hardly any protein (11g) and so not a good recovery meal at all. More importantly, the run left me with 2,500 calories (the ones I burned on the run + the ones I need anyway to function – breakfast) to get back over the course of the day, and with only 85p left in my daily meal budget this was not looking realistic. Luckily a few extra pennies from Monday and Tuesday meant that I could tuck in to a toasted bread cake topped with peanut butter without going over-budget.

While running 16 miles sits towards the more extreme end of the exercise spectrum in the society I live in, doing this much physical activity on little food is the reality for many of the people who live at the extreme poverty line: manual labour, collecting food and water, lack of access to transport – the list goes on. I made the (possibly not very sensible) decision to take myself out for a run yesterday, and more importantly I did it for fun, while actually this is nothing compared to what people have to do on a daily basis in many parts of the world just to get by. What has been equally striking to me is how the variety and quality of my diet allows me to do, and to be, so much. Being fit, healthy, academically successful at school or work, sociable: all of these things require physical and mental capacity, which is provided by the foods we eat. Over the past five days we subsisted mainly on refined carbohydrates: every day MyFitnessPal warned me that I’d ‘eaten too many carbs’, while my protein, vitamin and mineral intakes were minimal for the duration. If we live in a world where fruit and veg is so much more expensive than processed food, is it surprising that people who don’t have all that much choose not to buy these products? And, in turn, is it surprising that young people are not concentrating in school, or getting any exercise?

I’ve learned a lot from just five days of relative struggling. And I genuinely hope that this stays with me for a long time. I don’t want to stop spending my money on good quality foods, ethically-sourced or local products, unprocessed and wholesome ingredients – this is something that I value above, say, buying the latest iWhatever or going out to nice restaurants. And that’s my choice, which I realise is a privilege that many people will never have. But through recognising this I hope I will be able to enjoy it more mindfully, which perhaps in turn will lead me to do more to help others who don’t have choice or much else to keep them going.

Last night’s tea, and our last meal of this challenge, was a pile or white rice topped with lentils, beans and mixed veg. It looked gross, and upon first mouthful it tasted pretty gross too, but a few spoonfuls in it seemed like the best meal I’d had in ages: we savoured it, and scraped the pan clean afterwards. I realise that the things we enjoy are always relative to what we have at any point in time, and perhaps this means that the more we have, the harder it is to find enjoyment in things. To me, it seems obvious that constantly striving for more and more is a road to a world where pleasure is very hard to find in the simple things; the more we have, the more we need. So while I don’t intend on living on £1 of food a day for as long as I don’t need to (despite the fact that I realise that it really is possible to eat very cheaply), I hope that I’ve learned a bit more about the gap between what I have and what I need – a gap that I realise is much larger than it could be – and how to keep that in check.

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I have genuinely been humbled by this challenge, and while it was much harder than I thought, I do think it’s worth giving it a go. The money that we have saved on our weekly shop is being donated to relief efforts in Nepal. Find out more and donate at www.dec.org.uk.

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I woke up this morning with a headache and it was pretty much downhill from there. It’s not that there isn’t enough food, but my body is clearly having issues with the lack of protein and vitamins. I’m eating plenty, but still I feel hungry, tired, depleted, down and unable to focus pretty much constantly. I burnt my hand twice within one minute on a hot oven and was strangely unable to navigate passing pedestrians while in town earlier. It’s like being drunk, without the enjoyable prerequisite of having ingested something tasty.

I feel as if I’m constantly wishing my time away, always waiting for the next meal, and above all, for Saturday morning. I hate that. I’m also trying to navigate an increasing sense of guilt as my work falls behind and my training slumps at the wayside. After an hour of walking today, I simply couldn’t find the energy for the hill session that was planned, and fair enough too; I’m secretly hoping to find enough power to get 16 miles in on Friday (and have budgeted for extra biscuits on that day), and there’s no way that I’ll manage that with the calorie deficit that I’m currently battling. Every single kilojoule of energy counts; another lie in and an afternoon nap have helped to bolster my stores.

Strangest of all, it got to 6:30 this evening and I couldn’t face the thought of cooking and eating anything at all. Knowing that more carbs were ahead – even in the form of my favourite basmati rice – was more of a burden than a relief. As it happened, tea was pretty tasty this evening, helped along by my trusty jar of value peanut butter.

Today’s total spend: £1

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#BelowTheLine recipe of the day – Rice bowl* with chick peas and peanut butter, 44p

Serves 2

1 cup basmati rice (32p)
100g mixed veg (10p)
100g frozen broccoli (9p)
1 tin chick peas (33p)
Half tsp garam masala (2p)
2 tsp peanut butter (2p)

Warm up a large pan with the frozen veg and chick peas so that they thaw slightly. Add the rice and the garam masala, then pour in 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil, stir briefly, cover and then turn the heat right down and leave WITHOUT TOUCHING OR STIRRING for 25 minutes. After 25 mins turn off the pan and leave to sit for 5 minutes. Serve into bowls and then stir in the peanut butter.
*Known as rice bowl in our house, but generally termed pilaf 😉

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Today has been much better. I haven’t been as hungry or as thirsty (one strange aspect of yesterday that Daniel and I both noticed), but I’ve found it hard to get warm and concentration switched off outright at 2pm. I had a bit of a shuffle around with the budgeting, and am feeling a little more hopeful that I’ll be able to sustain myself well for the next three-and-a-bit days (and counting).

Two saviours: peanut butter and porridge oats. One provides taste, the other substance, and plenty of good energy to boot. Porridge is about the cheapest thing that I bought at the weekend, and a substantial 40g of oats comes in at under 4p. Paired with the remaining half banana from my breakfast this makes for an excellent mid-afternoon snack, and even gave me enough of a boost to get out for a 10k run this afternoon. I just hope I won’t regret that later.

The secret for me appears to be a really substantial breakfast – again, porridge and peanut butter is an absolute Godsend here – and a second cup of tea mid-morning, which keeps me going until lunch. Then if I eat my lunch mindfully (i.e. pay attention to the food rather than the article I’m reading or the latest amusing thing on Twitter) and slowly, I can just about make it through to a porridgey snack at 3:30. Yes, I can do this.

Today’s total spend: 92p

IMG_20150428_191514#BelowTheLine recipe of the day – Broccoli ‘Pesto’ with Spaghetti, 25p

Serves 2

200g frozen broccoli florets (18p)
1 garlic clove (2.5p)
1 tsp white wine vinegar (1p)
Homegrown basil (free)
200g frozen mixed veggies (20p)
200g spaghetti (8p)

Cook broccoli and then blend with garlic, vinegar, basil and a little bit of water from the spaghetti. Stir into spaghetti and mixed veggies. If you have room for oil in the budget this would be wonderful stirred in, too!

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Day 1 has been tough – much more so than anticipated.

The day started pretty normally, with a large bowl of porridge. Not quite the usual toppings of maple syrup and tahini with mixed berries, but it was a generous portion and I was pretty satisfied and feeling optimistic. But then 10am struck and I wanted/needed another cuppa and a snack, and by 11am I was experiencing the first proper sense of hunger in a very long time. I feel quite ashamed to admit this – it turns out that I rarely get hungry, because I rarely need to. I counted down the minutes until lunch.

The rest of the day has been spent in a daze. My appetite hasn’t been properly satiated since breakfast, despite eating a good amount of decent food. I’ve been distracted from my work – constantly thinking about the next meal – and feeling slightly off-colour, a little dizzy perhaps. I started to panic at around 3pm, when a digestive biscuit and half a banana simply did not suffice in curbing the ache in my gut. I had my final digestive biscuit for the day (which I’d intended on saving for a pre-bedtime snack), mushed up in warm milk from the remainder of my milk allowance.

Even a short run today has been difficult, as I set off with growls in my stomach and didn’t have anything to come back to until teatime a couple of hours later. This is my shortest running day of the week, so I’m going to need a back-up plan. I’m also too low on my daily calories, so to the question isn’t only how am I going to run, but also should I train at all this week – perhaps it’s not a good idea. I’m also lacking quite substantially in protein, though no surprise that I’ve had plenty of carbs today – at least that’s something I don’t have to worry about. I’ve also just about managed five portions of fruit and veg, which is a relief!
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Today’s total spend: 92p

#BelowTheLine recipe of the day – Broccoli and Peanut Soup, 21.5p

150g frozen broccoli (13.5p)
Half an onion (3.5p)
Pinch of chilli flakes (2.5p)
10g peanut butter (2p!!*)

Boil broccoli and onion in water for 5-7 minutes until soft, then add chilli flakes. Blend, then stir in peanut butter.
Served with a homemade bread cake (8p).

*I got some Morrisons Savers PB which is only 62p for 340g! And it’s tasty and crunchy, too 🙂

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Food is one of my greatest pleasures in life, and I genuinely enjoy crafting our weekly menu, filling our shopping basket with a plentiful bounty of colourful and exciting ingredients. Creating new meals and trying out different foods and combinations is one of the things that I enjoy most, and so when it comes to our food shop we don’t hold back too much: it’s the one aspect of my outgoings that could be considered as an indulgence, and so long as no food goes to waste, I don’t ever feel guilty about spending more then I really need to on my weekly nourishment.

We prioritise buying food that is ethically sustainable, as unprocessed as possible, and wherever possible we buy from our local wholefoods grocery store. This sort of thing doesn’t come in cheap, of course, but once we started being able to afford to choose, it was an obvious move for us to spend a little more on the food we wanted to buy, as oppose to going out for meals more often or buying more clothes. But choice is a privilege that isn’t available to everyone, and having access to a wider range of products comes with a responsibility to make good and sustainable choices wherever possible.

For the past couple of years I’ve had the liberty of eating what I want when I want it. Often I eat when I’m not hungry, just because something is available, or just because I can. When I think of it like this, I feel quite ashamed: I’ve never gone hungry in my life, so I’ve never really valued what is always available to me, and never considered what it might be like to go without. Our fridge is always full, there is always a snack to be had or a cup of tea to return home to. We eat between 8 and 15 portions of veggies/fruit a day, get plenty of protein and vitamins, enjoy wholegrains and lots of healthy fats to keep us greased and gleaming. We sit on the sofa every evening with a mug of rather luxurious herbal tea and a square of posh chocolate, and at weekends I often make homemade breads and treats using a range of exotic flours and seeds. I really value the food choices I make. But I’m not so sure I value the fact that I have food.

Our fridge after the usual weekly shop

Our fridge after the usual weekly shop

So where is this taking me? Well, I heard about the Live Below the Line Challenge through Jack Monroe, who has done all sorts of awesome things to address food poverty both globally and locally. At first I didn’t even stop to consider taking part, since I love food and I want to eat as much of it as I can. But then I saw the challenge come up again on my Twitter feed, and this time I questioned my response: perhaps I’m just the sort of person who should be doing something like this? So I told Daniel I was going to try it out, and he agreed to join in. Five days, living on £1 of food and drink per day. Let’s see just how much we value the food on our plates, shall we?

This week's refrigerated produce.

This week’s refrigerated produce (non-dairy milk not included).

The menu is planned, and I have 12 delicious looking 8p-a-go bread cakes sitting on my worktop waiting for the challenge to begin. I did a shop yesterday and spent £10 on five days worth of food for two people: this is more than £50 less than what we’d spend in an average week! I don’t think we’ll be going hungry by any means, but there will be a few challenges:

  • Running. Will I have the energy to get all of my training done, with such limited access to snacks? Plan: I’ve bought lots of cheap biscuits – custard cremes will surely see me through!
  • Dairy/wheat. Daniel is wheat intolerant and I find dairy pretty hard to handle, but it’s rather costly to avoid both of these things, especially when wheat-free foods come into it. So we’re going to face our respective digestive irritants for five days: beware.
  • Milk. Normally we only buy organic dairy products. Organic is too expensive (see above about the privilege of choice) so we won’t be sticking to our usual happy cows on this one. Luckily we have some local happy hens who provide our eggs for an absolute bargain, so will be sticking with those.
  • Veg. I eat so many vegetables. Perhaps too many. But it’s going to be difficult squeezing in our five-a-day, never mind 12-a-day – veggies are actually quite expensive. It will be interesting to see whether this has any effect on me, and maybe it will be a good thing?!

I’ll be posting meal updates on my Instagram page and hopefully also writing a bit about it on here too. I definitely need to be kept accountable, and I’m sure this will help.

Bread cakes at the ready!

Bread cakes at the ready!

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