I’m not going to lie and say I found a week living under the breadline difficult, or that I was hungry at any point or suffered any cravings that I couldn’t afford to fulfil – not that I think going a week without anything would justify craving due to malnourishment anyway. That being said, I did find that I was swapping, for example, a lot of the protein in my regular diet for cheap carbohydrates such as white bread which resulted in me becoming irritable and lethargic. In the evenings, I cooked the meals I would generally cook any other week; however this took careful planning and meant that I had to be a lot less liberal with the spice rack and the variety of ingredients in each meal, particularly rationing the selection of fresh vegetables. I would say that the majority of my weekly spend on food goes on a wide selection of fresh vegetables so this was what I was most worried about missing, although a delivery of a vegetable selection box from a local farm (approx. £5 pppw) was adequate. Additionally, I have to say that the money that I spent on food for the week came from a budget that three of us doing the challenge had put together. This allowed for much more variety than I would have been able to achieve had I been doing this alone, I can imagine for people living alone and on this kind of weekly budget it is probably not economical to cook a wide selection of meals from fresh ingredients however cheap it appears when meticulously costed. There are definitely ways to eat well cheaply, local businesses tend to be considerably cheaper than supermarkets for a start, although it is a case of seeking these out which people may often not have the time for. The main difficulty with this budget is that, though manageable, it requires a large amount of organisation and means going without the small luxuries to which one can become accustomed without even realising they are luxuries. Going a week without endless cups of tea, sitting out of a meal for a friend’s birthday and not being able to pay entry to clubs or drink in the pub at the weekend was not the most difficult thing to do. Had you asked me what I thought after a month, or even two weeks, on this budget I would probably have a very different view.
Aside from the things the £18 a week budget caused us to “go without”, my concern is not that people are going hungry, but that poor nourishment is a much greater problem as it is detrimental to both physical and mental well-being. I’m not saying that a well-balanced diet is not achievable with this budget and that everyone living on it eats badly (or that people with more money eat much better) but I can imagine it gets increasingly more difficult and requires a lot more thought, creativity and time. Particularly with obesity being a national problem this is something that should be considered.
My week ended at the FoodCycle community kitchen. I really came to look forward to it and received the three course meal with a whole new sense of appreciation. We were served a pear salad with garlic bread for the starter, a really tasty and very nutritious beany vegetable stew followed by a chocolaty banana pudding; I would like to take the opportunity here to say well done and thank you to everyone who was volunteering and managing today, I’ve definitely been filled up for the rest of the evening and it was delicious! While it is appalling to think that all this food is supposedly “waste” (and this is from just a few tiny shops in one city) its amazing that it can be put to good use. It makes you think though…. If just some of this food could be dished out to those who need it direct from the shops every week or even every day rather than going straight into the skip, just think about how that £18 a week could be spent differently. Despite all the controversy surrounding this challenge, and it must be noted that none of us believe we have truly experienced what it is like to live below the breadline after just one week, but I am really proud that as a team we have managed to raise so much to support all that FoodCycle is doing so a massive thank you to everyone who has donated.