Living below the line

live below the line logo

Next week my family and I will be joining thousands of people across the country and internationally to take part in the Live Below the Line challenge.

For five days from Monday 28 April to Friday 2 May, each of us will spend £1 a day on our food and drink. When you say it like that it doesn’t sound all that bad. But think about it. Think about what you consume in a day and tot it up. You could easily blow a pound on a frothy coffee on the way into work. This is going to be a tough challenge.

So why are we doing it? The aim is to raise awareness and change the way people in the West think about extreme poverty. The £1 a day figure is the UK equivalent of the international extreme poverty line. It’s a hideous fact that 1.2 billion people across the world struggle to meet their daily needs on less than a pound.

Save the Children
One year old Shamsia is being treated for severe acute malnutrition at an inpatient stabilisation centre funded by Save the Children in Niger. Photo: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children

You might perhaps think that £1 a day is likely to go much further overseas but that’s not the case. For the five days, we might only get to spend £1 a day on food and drink, yet for people really living on the poverty line this would have to stretch so much further, also covering lodging, healthcare, travel and education. While for us the challenge is going to be hard, it will undoubtedly reveal just how lucky my family and I are.

Initially I was going to do the challenge on my own. Last year I got involved in a very little way by publishing a few recipes on the blog for others taking part in Live Below the Line; things like megadarra with roasted broccoli, spicy bean burgers and a virgin bloody Mary soup using value tinned tomatoes. Coming up with the odd cheap dish is one thing but this year I wanted to do more.

At first, I thought it would be unfair to make my family do it with me but it seemed to me that for families genuinely living in poverty, there’s no choice about these things and it’s only five days after all. It’ll be a good learning experience for my kids, won’t it? And we’ll be able to make £4 a day between four of us go further than £1 a day just for me.

My husband really isn’t keen. When I officially signed us up yesterday, he looked horrified.

“But we talked about this last week,” I said.

“I remember talking about it, but I don’t remember actually agreeing to anything,” came  his reply.

Funny how we all remember things differently.

Jessie, my nine year old, seems quite up for it but I wonder what she’ll think when the reality kicks in she can’t reach for a snack whenever she fancies one. Mia, the six year old, isn’t really sure what it’s all about but didn’t look impressed when she heard she’s unlikely to be seeing any meat or chocolate next week.

As a food blogger and a foodie family, food is important to us on so many levels. As well as a source of fuel and nourishment, it’s also a huge source of pleasure and conversation. What have we let ourselves in for?

Sponsor us and support Save the Children

Everyone taking part in Live Below the Line is fundraising for their charity of choice. We’ve chosen to support Save the Children. If you would like to sponsor our efforts, you can do so online here. Every penny will help Save the Children in their life-saving work with children and their families around the world.

What will we eat?

I’ll be putting my meal plan together and shopping for our family’s £20 worth of ingredients on Sunday. I think I might give Aldi a go, as everyone tells me their prices are the cheapest around. I’ve never shopped there before as I generally do grocery shopping online but I want to go in person as I’m hoping to pick up a few specials from the bargain aisle.

I suspect there will be quite a lot of rice, beans, pulses and frozen vegetables on our shopping list. Thankfully there are heaps of recipe resources on the Live Below the Line website and I reckon I might get an idea or two from A Girl Called Jack.

If you have any suggestions for cheap and cheerful dishes, I’d love to hear from you. Oh and my local butcher has promised me a free chicken carcass or two, so if you have any ideas for what to do with the chicken stock let me know.

We’ll keep you posted on how things are working out. Wish us luck!

17 thoughts on “Living below the line

  1. Oh, well done you for giving it a go. I’m not sure I’d get that past my husband either. Risottos spring to mind with the chicken stock, maybe spring vegetable risotto? Jack makes all her rice dishes with long grain rice, I believe, as it’s cheaper than risotto rice. Veg curries? Pulses come in handy here. Are you allowed to use what’s already in your pantry or do you have to cost each dish exactly? I look forward to hearing more …

    1. Hi Linda – thanks for all the ideas. Yes, I’m sure long grain rice will make a cheaper alternative to a risotto, which is a big favourite in our house and a good way to use that free chicken stock. I have to cost out each dish exactly, so with things like herbs and spices I’ll need to work out the cost per gram or teaspoonful. Otherwise I’d end up throwing chilli and paprika into absolutely everything!

    1. Thanks Louisa. Went to Aldi today to pick up supplies for next week and was really impressed at how far my budget stretched there. That Chicken Brodo recipe looks great – I’ve added it to meal plan for Tuesday’s night dinner – thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Good for you, a tough challenge indeed but a cause that demands support. It makes me so angry that we live in such an unequal society, both at home in the UK and across the globe. Good luck with the challenge, I look forward to seeing what recipes you come up with – that nettle soup must be a good start!

    1. Thanks so much for your support. Yes the inequality in our world makes me angry too. I think there might well be a fair bit of foraging going on next week 😉

    1. Thanks Helen. Now that it’s getting closer, I’m really not so sure I’ll be able to manage it. The reality of what a pound gets you is beginning to dawn on me. Definitely feeding ourselves up this weekend!

  3. Well done from me too. I am not doing it because I’ll be in Antigua(!) which might or might not be an easy option but which would definitely be a cop-out

  4. I have however, posted a guest blog from one of the organisers on London-Unattached…good luck to you!!!

  5. I think its fantastic you’re taking on this challenge as a family. Will be so interested to see what you come up with to feed 4. As you know I did the challenge a few weeks back (as I was creating a whole foods recipe pack for live below the live) and found cooking for 1 so restrictive in terms of food variety. I also made use of the chicken carcasses – in soups, a curry, to cook rice, and I stripped the meat off for a solitary burger. Perhaps all 4 of you could fight for it? Best of luck – I will be following!!

  6. A BIG well done Vanesther! It is hard, well I thought it was hard when I did it, but I enjoyed the process, if that makes sense. I lived below the line in 2012, and I may have a go at the whole week again next year! I will follow your week with interest and once again, GOOD LUCK! Karen

  7. What a good thing to do Vanesther, especially with ALL the family. Good Luck. We used to have a “cheap food day” every week which was voted in by us kids and we had beans on toast instead of a regular meal (which I guess wasn’t too much of a hardship really) and we sent all the money off to charity at the end of term – we raised masses doing this.

    As a student I lived up lentils and brown rice – didn’t put me off though, I still love this.

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