It’s Sunday morning and I’ve just completed my Live Below the Line week. It’s been tricky, but not entirely for the reasons I expected! Yes, the food’s not that exciting, and I’ve been looking forward to the next meal just as something to fill me up, rather than as a culinary experience, but more difficult has been the sheer organisation required… For anyone who’s curious, or participants who want a few hints as to what not to do, here is my week in food:
Monday morning I discovered that on £1 a day burning your toast isn’t just a temporary hitch, it’s one less piece of bread for later in the week. Similarly the prospect of forgetting my lunchbox (something I manage fairly frequently in the normal running of things) turns from a quick trip over to Costa for a replacement, to a day without food. Luckily I didn’t forget my lunch, but the fear of doing so kept me uncharacteristically organised for most of the week.
Monday breakfast: slightly burnt toast with cheese
Lunch: half a can of beans on two slices of toast
Supper: Sausage and fried apple sandwich. This was actually pretty awesome, and I’ll be trying it with decent sausages at some point in the future! However, I did discover why cheap sausages are cheap. They taste pretty dubious in a mostly-fat-and-grease kind of way, and they behave quite unnaturally. My two sausages split in the pan, and (chest-burster-like) sausage meat leapt out, forming another two sausage-ish growths alongside the real sausage. All in all, I ended up with four sausages worth in size. Next time I’ll get lentils.
I saved one of the sausages and made myself a sausage and cheese half-sandwich for the Tuesday lunch and packed it away with a yogurt and a slice of bread for breakfast. The following morning I failed to add anything to this little collection before heading to work, and had quite a hungry day. I drank lots of water, hoping that’d fool my stomach until supper.
Tuesday evening I was headed to the cinema to see Avengers. Normally I’d spend half an hour at a coffee shop with a pricey toastie and large latte before wandering down to the showing. Not an option this time… I could, possibly, have waited and eaten at 11.30pm when I got home afterwards, but as I’d only had half a sandwich and a yogurt since 8am I thought I might disturb the whole cinema with my stomach gurgling. So I dashed from work to the bus in record time and started cooking as soon as I got home: a good batch of spaghetti with canned tomatoes, handfuls of the frozen veg, a dusting of mixed herbs and cheese to finish it off. I hastily popped half in a container for another time before eating the rest and zooming back into town, just in time to find seats in the crowded cinema.
Popcorn has never smelt so tempting.
Breakfast: an apple and a slice of toast
Snack: Half a sandwich stuffed with the spaghetti mix. Yes, it looked odd. Yes, it was much better than chewing through plain toast without butter.
Lunch: More of the spaghetti mix. Did I really cook this much? Darn you, handy spaghetti portion measure. You lied.
Supper: Half a can of beans on two slices of toast, with two of the sausages grilled (reconfirming their tasteless nature), and a baked apple afterwards as a treat. A mug of boiling water flavoured with mint leaves we found growing rogue in the garden.
Running a bit late (sluggish to wake up, and little energy this morning, can’t imagine why…) so hastily ate a yogurt, packed a lunch and dashed out the door to work.
I’d saved a third grilled sausage from Wednesday night to make a sandwich for work today. This was a mistake. I took one bite, then hastily chopped up my apple and stuffed in the sandwich as well to try and mask the taste. I then managed to chew through three quarters of it before giving up and just eating the apple and bread- it really did taste that horrible: cold and congealed inside a butterless wedge of cheap brown bread. Another yogurt got me through the day ‘til supper.
Knowing that I couldn’t face another of those sausages, I decided to cook up a large handful of the spaghetti and make a pasta mix for the remaining three main meals. Repetition was far preferable to the alternative. Once I’d decided on that, I figured I might as well go to town with my remaining ingredients. Generous heaps of the frozen vegetable mix, spaghetti, chopped onion and a whole can of tomatoes, flavoured with herbs, dished out into one Tupperware container for lunch and supper on Friday, and one bowl, covered with a mountain of cheese for tonight. The onion made all the difference, added flavour, and it actually tasted really nice.
Bread, apple and yogurt for breakfast, the spaghetti mix for lunch and reheated for supper, and I was done. With plenty to spare! Part of the problem was that I was cooking for one, and the packs simply don’t come small enough to allow for variety within the space of a week. My leftovers are as follows:
3 sausages (and good riddance)
A small lump of cheese
Half a loaf of bread
Another portion of spaghetti
Half a bag of frozen veg
Most of the vegetable oil and herbs
Almost enough for the next half a week as well? Not likely, thanks…
Apart from the hungry Tuesday, and the unappetising sausages, it went ok. I learned a lot about the reality of how it feels to live on what £1 a day can buy you, even if the experience was still far short of what people living in extreme poverty have to endure. Living on £1 a day means repetition, a lack of choice (no snacks on a whim!) and no interesting flavours. It means you have to plan meticulously, whereas normally any slight hunger can be cured at any number of shops, ordering online, or popping around the corner to a vending machine. I think we forget just how accessible food is here. If I had to live on £1 a day all the time food really would become a chore and lose its enjoyment, it would be difficult to get a good balance of food groups, and any mistakes could cost you a meal and leave you hungry.
I’ve also picked up a lot of tips and have decided I’d go about it quite differently next time: staying clear of the cheap meats, and perhaps making a good batch of something I don’t mind eating several days in a row. I can see why my parents’ generation used to keep a pot over the stove, reheating and adding in different ingredients over the course of a week. Hopefully the mint plant we found will have spread a little by next year, so I can nab more than one teacup’s worth of leaves for a hot drink! I’d buy more vegetables, and hopefully fruit, and avoid the quantities of filling-yet-bland carbohydrates which constituted most of my meals. Whether I remember all these good intentions next year is another matter!
It’s been a great experience, and puts things in perspective. When you think you’re hungry, are you really hungry or do you just feel like eating something? I’d definitely like to take part next year, and would recommend anyone to give it a go! Good luck to Rotaracters and friends taking part this week, and everyone else who has yet to try it!