Living below the line: My week in food poverty

This is actually genuinely quite impressive

Cambridge cambridge charity charity Poverty unicef

I’m a first year geographer. Consequently, I found myself with some time on my hands.

“Do something productive” I hear you cry. You can call this my attempt in doing so.

The original plan was to be vegan for lent, but I backed out after: a) The realisation that going for almost 6 weeks without 3am Gardies fried chicken is a concept I’m not keen to explore and b) The high level of hostility I received from my friends, along the lines of “don’t be a twat Alice, that’s boring and inconvenient.”

I just wasn’t prepared to let this go!

After the next idea of anti-veganism was disregarded (whereby I could only eat things if they contained meat, eggs, or dairy) on the basis that it would really just be a continuation of my current diet, we settled on this: 1.2billion people live in food poverty, with £1.00 to spend each day – so for a week this is what I would do.

Day 1: Just got back from Sainsbury’s – my main shop for the week. Some of it was dubiously cheap (i.e. 8 sausages for 85p) but I feel pretty smug having spent a fiver on almost a week’s worth of food while my friend spent the same amount on 2 bottles of apple juice and 3 creme eggs.

So much of the bargain

Day 2: Had toast and jam for breakfast. Back from lectures and feel hungry but the shitty 10p a piece sausages are not calling to me. They have 51% meat content, which, as someone helpfully informed me, is the minimum legal meat content in the UK. 

Ate sausage sandwich nonetheless obvs – I was hungry.

Tasted ok.

Day 3: Buttery food looked decent – a cruel and unexpected plot twist. My torturous hour surrounded by food which hadn’t originated from a white and orange packet wasn’t entirely wasted however, as I managed to slip some sachets of brown sauce into my pocket (usually retailed at an extortionate 20p each). Am mentally labelling it as an act of resourcefulness, not of criminality.

Smooth criminal

Day 4: Was blessed with a stroke of luck – someone knocked my “sausages” out of the fridge and was so apologetic that they gave me a pack of super noodles. Not even Sainsbury’s basics. Am living the high life.

Made egg fried rice for dinner and it was nothing short of sublime. What a day.

Best meal yet

Day 5: Exhausted the entirety of my culinary motivation last night, so have eaten jam on toast for all 3 meals today. A definite low.

Satan in spread form

Day 6: Tackled the lasagna which was initially the meal I was most excited about. But as the days crept by with it still sitting in my fridge I started to connect it to a recent animal related news scandal which I can’t help but associate readily with cheap lasagnas…

It tasted enough like cow meat, but I suppose thats the point isn’t it.

Feels so cruel after watch Equus

Day 7: Last day – relief all round as the range of stuff I can cook, the amount of money I have left and my remaining patience levels have all been completely exhausted.

Ate more bread and jam, vegetable soup and the last of my 20p pack of custard creams which I bought in a moment of darkness on Wednesday.

They called out to me

So my temporary shift from the lavish lifestyle of spending an extravagant £3.20 on a distinctly average Buttery lasagna to watching every penny of what I spend on food every day for a week wasn’t what I expected in a lot of ways.

It definitely made me value food more. It was frustrating at times, but to be honest I thought I’d be forced to eat a lot less. £1 a day can get you enough food, where you end up falling down on is nutritional value, variety and obviously on quality.

Damn you Capitalism, with your fattening ways!

It turns out that healthy eating consumes a comparatively hefty amount of dollar – I bought 1 item of vegetables all week – and it took up more of the budget than anything else.

It’s also so limited – there are only so many 25p packs of noodles that I can consecutively consume, and that made me realise how unimaginably different it is for the millions for whom this is their life – not an obnoxious student’s week long challenge.

Register for the 5 day ‘Live Below the Line’ Unicef challenge in April here