Day 5: Live Below the Line

LBL5 Collage

We’re on the home straight now. Yes, the end is definitely in sight and I can practically smell the eggs and bacon in tomorrow’s English breakfast. In just a few hours the Live Below the Line challenge will be over and normally eating in the Bangers & Mash house can resume.

The challenge has grown progressively harder and harder as the week has gone on. It hasn’t just been the hunger. Some days I didn’t actually feel all that hungry, as we did fairly well at stocking on up carbohydrates. It was the boredom, the lack of choice. Eating the same thing for lunch over and over again. The no getting away from the crappy sliced bread. The dirth of fresh vegetables.

Our evening meals weren’t too bad. There was a bit of variety there. But to be honest, by the evenings just about anything would have been attractive. I really wished I’d been a bit more creative with our lunches. However when you’re working full-time and taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge, one decent meal a day is hard enough to manage.

So what did I eat on the final day?


One bowl of porridge (made with cinnamon, water and a splash of milk) with half a mashed banana and strawberry jam


Sandwiches with cream cheese and cucumber. A couple of carrots.


Pasta with tomatoes, peas and Marmite.

Breakfast cost around 10p. Lunch was 27p, while dinner was 32p. Plus a two cups of redbush tea with milk for 10p and a couple of ginger nut biscuits at 4, and my total spend for the day was 83p.

So what have I learned this week?

I’ve learned that when you don’t have much to eat, you notice so much more how much the people around you are eating. How much food is advertised and promotions for buckets of chicken and happy meals are constantly in your face. The reminder that you don’t have food feels like it is being rubbed in incessantly.

I’ve learned that it’s bloody hard work feeding a family on a £20 budget. It’s doable but only if you plan ahead, work out how to use a few ingredients in a multitude of dishes, get creative, shop around for bargains and swallow your pride to ask for freebies from your butcher. I’ve learned how easy it is for parents to do without some things (like fresh fruit in our case) to make sure their children get what they need.

We managed to live on £20 for five days but only  just. I don’t think we could have done it any longer.

And what if we didn’t have a car in order to drive a couple of extra miles to the cheapest supermarket? Or what if we didn’t have a fridge or freezer, or couldn’t afford to keep the oven on for a few hours to cook up chicken stock? What would we be eating then? How long would it take to break our middle class morals about eating only ‘good’ meat before we succumbed to the lure of cheap sausages or a value frozen lasagne?

Thank you

Another thing I’ve learned is how wonderfully supportive people can be. Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to read these posts and send such positive messages via the blog, Twitter and Facebook and also to everyone that has donated money to Save the Children in support of our efforts. We’ve beaten our target but you can still continue to donate at

live below the line logo

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!

Megadarra with roasted broccoli for Live Below the Line


Here’s my final frugal recipe offering for Save the Children and the Live Below the Line challenge, which will see thousands of people this week attempting to spend just £1 a day on food and drink – the equivalent to the extreme poverty line. My previous creations have been a Virgin Bloody Mary soup made from tinned tomatoes and red pepper, and Spicy Bean Burgers made from tinned kidney beans.

Admittedly it might not look all that appetizing, but it is tasty and cheap and filling. And at less than 40p a portion, that’s no mean feat.

Also known as mujaddara, this is a peasant dish made from lentils and rice, popular across the Arab world. It’s supposed to be made with brown or green lentils. I made mine with red lentils, which is possibly why mine went a little mushy but my family weren’t to know and ate it without complaint for lunch today. Well, except Mia the youngest, who complains about everything the first time she tries it. She got into it two after a few mouthfuls. I was lucky enough to use fresh broccoli from our vegetable patch, but you’ll see I’ve costed frozen broccoli in the recipe below as this, I’ve discovered, is the cheapest way to buy vegetables.

Megadarra with roasted broccoli

Serves 4 

250g red split lentils, rinsed and drained
East End red split lentils from ASDA £3.50 for 2kg = 43.75p

800ml vegetable stock (made from one stock cube)
ASDA Chosen By You vegetable stock cubes 12 for 78p = 6.5p

250g brown basmati rice, rinsed and drained
ASDA brown basmati rice £1.68 for 1kg = 42p

1 tsp (2g) ground cumin
ASDA 57p for 41g = 2.78p

2 tbsp vegetable oil (60ml)
ASDA sunflower oil £3 for 3 litres = 3p

1 onion (80g), finely sliced
ASDA Smartprice brown onions £1.16 for 2kg = 4.64p

2 cloves garlic, crushed
ASDA loose garlic 30p for approx. 8 cloves = 7.5p

300g frozen broccoli, defrosted
ASDA Smartprice broccoli £1 for 1kg = 30p

1 tsp (2g) mild chilli powder
ASDA mild chilli powder 80p for 44g = 3.63p

100g plain yoghurt
ASDA Smartprice low fat natural yoghurt 45p for 500g = 9p

Total cost = £1.53. Cost per serving = 38.25p

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Put the lentils and stock in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for around ten minutes before adding the rice and cumin. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes until the lentils and rice are cooked and the stock has been absorbed. You may need to add a little more liquid if it starts to dry out before they are cooked.

While the lentils and rice are cooking, you can get on with preparing the onions and the broccoli.

Fry the onions in a tablespoonful of oil over a low heat. Cook gently for around half an hour until soft and golden. Add the crushed garlic and fry for another couple of minutes before removing from the heat.

To roast the broccoli, place in an ovenproof dish and toss with a tablespoonful of oil and sprinkle with the chilli powder. Roast for around 25 minutes until just tender and darkening.

To serve, stir two-thirds of the onions into the lentils and rice, and serve in bowls with the rest of the onion and broccoli on top with some yoghurt on the side.  Dig in!


And as with all my Live Below the Line dishes, I’m entering this into April’s Credit Crunch Munch co-hosted by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla from Fab Food 4 All.


Spicy bean burgers for Live Below the Line

Spicy bean burger

This is my second dish for Save the Children and the Live Below the Line challenge.

From 29 April, thousands of people will be getting sponsored to live below the extreme poverty line for five days, with just £1 a day to spend on all their food and drink. I’m not sure I could do it. But I’m playing my part, in a very tiny way, by trying to come up with some vaguely tasty dishes that cost less than 40p a serving to prepare from scratch. My first offering was a Virgin Bloody Mary soup made from cheap tinned tomatoes and a red pepper, costing less than 34p a bowl.

I’ve managed to save an extra halfpenny (not that they exist anymore) with these spicy bean burgers. Based on cheap tinned kidney beans pimped with garlic, cumin and paprika, this recipe creates four burgers costing just 33.5p each. You could probably even allow yourself a dollop of mustard or tomato ketchup. What luxury! But no skinny fries on the side I’m afraid.

spicy bean burger

Spicy bean burgers

2 tbsp vegetable oil (30ml)
ASDA sunflower oil £3 for 3 litres = 3p

1 small onion (80g), chopped
ASDA Smartprice brown onions £1.16 for 2kg = 4.64p

1 tsp (2g) ground cumin
ASDA 57p for 41g = 2.78p

1 tsp (2g) paprika
ASDA 58p for 46g = 2.52p

4 cloves garlic, crushed
ASDA loose garlic 30p for approx. 8 cloves = 15p

1 x 400g tin kidney beans
ASDA Smartprice kidney beans 400g = 27p

Breadcrumbs made from 1 slice of white bread
ASDA Smartprice medium sliced white bread 50p for 22 slices = 2.27p

Pinch of salt (1g)
ASDA Table Salt 29p for 750g = 0.04p

Grind of pepper (1g)
ASDA Smartprice Ground Black Pepper 25g for 20p = 0.8p

1 tomato, sliced
ASDA salad tomatoes £1 for 6 = 16.66p

Lettuce leaves (40g)
Sainsbury’s Basics young lettuce leaves £1 for 75g = 13.33p

4 soft bread buns
Sainsbury’s sesame seed burger buns 70p for 6 = 46.66p

Total cost = £1.34. Cost per serving = 33.5p

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion until soft and golden. Add the cumin, paprika and garlic and fry for a couple more minutes but don’t let the garlic brown.

Remove from the heat and leave the onion, garlic and spices to cool a little before you add them to a food processor. Next add the drained kidney beans, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Blitz but not for too long – you want a fairly chunky texture. Shape by hand into four patties.

Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan and fry the burgers over a medium heat until cooked through and crispy on the outside. Turn them over gently to prevent crumbling.

Serve in toasted buns with a slice or two of tomato and some lettuce leaves.

Spicy bean burger

As with my last Live Below the Line dish, I’m also entering this into April’s Credit Crunch Munch co-hosted by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla from Fab Food 4 All. If you’re looking for frugal food ideas, this is a very good place to start.


Virgin Bloody Mary soup – a recipe for Live Below the Line

virgin bloody mary soup

When Save the Children first invited me to contribute some frugal recipes for the Live Below the Line challenge, I knew immediately I had to get involved. Trying to eat good food on a budget is what I’m all about after all. But as soon as I started pulling together possible recipe ideas, it dawned on me this was going to be really rather difficult.

People taking part in Live Below the Line are getting sponsored to live below the poverty line on a measly £1 a day for five days from Monday 29 April to Friday 3 May. That’s just £1 for all their food and drink. No foraging or gifts allowed. £1 wouldn’t buy you a cup of coffee in your average cafe. It’s harsh, but it’s also the reality 1.4 billion people around the world wake up to each and every day.

Everyone taking part in Live Below the Line for Save the Children will be doing their bit to raise awareness of the plight of people facing extreme food poverty, while raising vital funds to help change the lives of vulnerable children everywhere.

Save the Children has challenged food bloggers to devise dishes that cost less than 40p to make from scratch. Every single ingredient has to be costed; every grind of salt and every splash of oil.

As I was thinking up ideas, it quickly became painfully clear just how difficult it is to eat well on such a low budget. Fresh vegetables and meat are practically out of reach, making tinned and frozen foods so much more attractive. While sliced, white bread might offer virtually no nutritional value, it does has the advantage of being cheap, and fills you up for a short time at least.

If you’re going to try to eat anything vaguely tasty or interesting while on the Live Below the Line challenge, as opposed to surviving solely on beans on toast, it pays to cook in bulk to get your money’s worth. Team up with others as it’s pretty much impossible to cook cheaply for one. And plan your meals. For instance, to get the cheapest onions you need to buy a big bag of them. So then you need to plan a whole list of meals to make sure you get your money’s worth. That’s why the three dishes I’ve come up with for Live Below the Line all revolve around onions, oil, garlic and spices to make sure I made the most of them.

Coming in at just under 34p a serving, the first of my dishes is a spicy tomato and red pepper soup, flavoured with celery, Worcester sauce and hot pepper sauce rather like a Bloody Mary, but alas without the Vodka. You really couldn’t sneak that in on this budget! I did intend to use Tabasco but found I couldn’t afford that either, so had to find a cheaper alternative. The soup is served with crispy garlic croutons, which I reckon is a pretty good use of cheap white bread, and helps bulk it out.

virgin bloody mary soup

Virgin Bloody Mary soup with garlic croutons

Serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable oil (15ml)
ASDA sunflower oil £3 for 3 litres = 1.5p

1 onion, chopped (around 100g)
ASDA Smartprice brown onions £1.16 for 2kg = 5.8p

1 celery stick, sliced (around 35g)
ASDA celery sticks £1 for 350g = 10p

1 red pepper, chopped
ASDA red pepper = 40p

1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
ASDA Smartprice chopped tomatoes 400g = 31p

500ml vegetable stock (made from one stock cube)
ASDA Chosen By You vegetable stock cubes 12 for 78p = 6.5p

Dash Worcester sauce (5ml)
ASDA Lea & Perrins £2.16 for 290ml = 3.72p

Dash hot pepper sauce (5ml)
Tesco Frank’s Red Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce Original 148ml for £1.00 = 3.37p

Salt (2g)
ASDA Table Salt 29p for 750g = 0.07p

Pepper (1g)
ASDA Smartprice Ground Black Pepper 25g for 20p = 0.8p

2 tbsp olive / vegetable oil (30ml)
ASDA olive oil £1.98 for 500ml = 11.88p

4 slices white bread, cubed
ASDA Smartprice medium sliced white bread 50p for 22 slices = 9.09p

3 cloves garlic, crushed
ASDA loose garlic 30p for approx. 8 cloves = 11.25p

Total cost = £1.35. Cost per serving = 34p.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and cook the onion, celery and red pepper until soft. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and vegetable stock. Add a dash of Worcester sauce and hot pepper sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Leave to simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes while you get on with the croutons.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil in a frying pan and gently fry the garlic until it has just turned golden. Throw in the cubed bread and stir well so all the pieces are coated in oil. Turn the bread out onto a baking tray and cook in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. When the croutons are looking crispy on the top, use a spatula to turn them over and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes depending on how just how dry and crunchy you like them.

When the soup is cooked, blend in a liquidiser until you achieve a fairly smooth consistency but not completely – it’s good to have a little texture. Serve in bowls and sprinkle a handful of garlic croutons on each. Grub’s up!

virgin bloody mary soup

As this dish is so utterly cheap and cheerful, I’m entering it into April’s Credit Crunch Munch, a wonderful blog challenge celebrating the very best in fantastically frugal food. This month it is co-hosted by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla from Fab Food 4 All.


A year of fasting

Every now and then we’ll hear a news item or read an article in the paper that succeeds in making us stop and think. It might surprise us, shock us, anger us even. But generally, give it ten minutes or so, and our life resumes as before. Despite its importance, the news report is added to our ever increasing ‘list of terrible things we can’t really do much about’.

But for Jo Beale, one newspaper article managed to strike such a chord it changed the course of her life, or at least the course of the following year.

I recently had the pleasure and the privilege to meet Jo for coffee and a chat. Jo is one of that select group of people I’ve come to meet through the power of social media. She happens to live just down the road from me in Frome. Last month I published a blog post about the launch of the ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF campaign, and as a result the lovely Abi from Save the Children, via the wonderful phenomenon that is Twitter, put me in touch with Jo, as a kindred Somerset spirit who shares a passionate concern about food poverty.

The timing of this exchange couldn’t have been better. I’d been wondering how to continue featuring the ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF campaign on the blog without coming across all worthy and boring everyone senseless. When I heard what Jo was doing for Save the Children, I knew I had to feature her on my blog.

Jo Beale, fasting one day a week throughout 2013
Jo Beale, fasting one day a week throughout 2013

Jo Beale is a fitness instructor who lives in Frome with her three-year-old son and husband Tim. Back in October, Jo read this article in the Independent, which pretty much turned her world on its head. It was the catalyst to make Jo decide to give up food one day a week for the whole of 2013 in order to get people thinking about food poverty.

Over a cup of coffee, I asked Jo to explain why…

“I know we’re all supposed to pretend that we read the papers every day and we’re all current and up-to-date and know everything about everything in the whole world but I generally don’t,” Jo admits. “I have some people who tweet about news in my Twitter feed and they generally give me my view on the world.

“However since reading that Independent article, my news feed has changed a lot in terms of what I want to know about the world.  But back when I read it I was  just getting on with life, you know? I was just hanging out, getting on with my stuff and not really bothered about anyone else’s.

“I was having my car serviced and it was taking longer than usual, so I picked up a newspaper,” recalls Jo. “I came across this article about people in India and certain African countries who have reached the point where they can’t afford food and so they schedule a food-free day every week.

“I just couldn’t shake the article from my mind; the fact that whole families are having food-free days and that this has become a ‘normal’ thing. I couldn’t imagine waking up one day a week and telling my child he couldn’t eat. It was just so far away from anything I could imagine experiencing.

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

“The worst thing was that I didn’t know. That’s what made me the most uncomfortable. It had reached this point and yet I’d had no idea it was happening. My life is so comfortable and, while we all experience hardship to some degree, you become so wrapped up in your own world you don’t realise just how difficult simply existing can be for others.

“Doing this fast has shamed me because I now realise how much I took for granted”

“Giving up an entire day of eating in order to survive is extreme. That’s 14% of your weekly food. That’s a lot. And you know what? You don’t realise how much it is until you’re not eating it any more,” Jo laughs. It’s clear that giving up a day’s worth of food each week is giving her a very different perspective on food. “The impact it has on the whole week and the way that you feel about every single mouthful you put into your body… Doing this fast has shamed me because I now realise how much I took for granted. Everything I’ve ever eaten, everything I’ve ever given my family to eat, everything we’ve thrown away.”

So what took Jo from that state of shock and horror to setting herself this ambitious, and perhaps slightly insane, challenge?

For a while the piece “just kind of lurked” in her mind, niggling away. “I’m not naturally an activist; I’m very much an I’ll retweet that and that’ll save the world type! So, it just kind of bothered me for a bit,” Jo says. She started reading around the subjects of food poverty and food scarcity, including a book called Full Planet, Empty Plates by Lester R Brown and a report by Save the Children called A High Price to Pay, both cited in the original Independent article.

“It wasn’t going to make a difference simply me knowing it”

“I thrive on statistics and facts and figures,” Jo tells me. “I’d be reading this stuff in bed and my husband would be there reading his book and I’d be like ‘Oh my God! You’ve have to hear this!’ And he’d be like ‘Yes, I know. Yes, you’ve made your point!’ It just felt like it didn’t matter how much reading I did or how much understanding I had, it wasn’t going to make a difference simply me knowing it.”

So for a while Jo was aware she had to do something, but she just didn’t know what.

“I woke up one morning after a few too many the night before. I was in that haze knowing I was going to waste the morning feeling like crap, and knowing I’d go on to waste many more mornings feeling like crap. But I was still thinking about that article and I felt, ‘You know what, I really want other people to have that moment I had when I read it.'”

Jo went through a whole list of possibilities from running marathons to gorging on a record number of hot dogs in an hour – “but I thought that was probably in bad taste” – to doing a 24-hour famine. But none of these were quite right. They just weren’t big enough to do the issue justice.

“I kept coming back to the fact that one day a week people don’t eat. And that happens again, and again, and again. I thought, if I’m going to do something to really make people see how terrible this is and expect them to sponsor me to do it, it has to be something people can relate to as being hard. So that’s how I decided to not eat one day a week all through 2013 starting in January.”

Jo launched her blog, A Fast Year, and her Just Giving page in November, once she’d told the first person. “I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband what I was planning for ages. Once I told someone, I knew there was no turning back.”

The first person Jo told was Gina who runs the fitness studio in Frome where she works. “I knew out of all the people I know she was the most likely to disapprove; that’s why she had to be first so I could gauge the worst possible reaction! But she’s has been 300% supportive. I’m really grateful for that.”

Surprisingly, not one person tried to put Jo off. “There hasn’t been anyone out-and-out disapproving. A couple of people said ‘Oh that can’t be healthy’ or ‘I think you’re mental’ but every single one of those people has sponsored me. But I needed those reactions. Because if everybody was like ‘Oh yeah, you’ll get it done, don’t you worry!’ then I’d have to ask, why I’m going through all of this if it’s really going to be such a doddle?”

January came around very quickly and Jo was amazed at how quickly the campaign gathered its own momentum. By late December, Jo had already raised more than £1,000 – before her year of fasting had even started. But despite all the support and build-up, nothing could really prepare Jo for her first whole day, a whole Friday, without food. This blog post sums up how she was feeling. It’s short and not-so-sweet because as Jo explains, when you don’t eat you have no energy to concentrate on anything, let alone write a cohesive blog post.

“My body literally went into shock when I had food”

“The first ‘next’ day after fasting was hard,” Jo remembers. “My body literally went into shock when I had food again. But it hasn’t happened since. I think as somebody who has never not eaten for a day, ever, I think my body presumed it was never going to eat again! So it was a massive shock. After that, Saturday has been the easiest day of the week so far. I get the Wednesday/Thursday twitch, where psychologically something snaps and I realise it’s coming and I will eat anything. It’s like terror. It feels like actual fear.”

Jo tries to manage what she eats on a Wednesday and Thursday to help her cope on a food-free Friday. One of her friends who is a nutritionist has given her pointers on what to eat to manage her hunger and how to return to normal on a Saturday.

“It’s definitely in my interest to stock up on as much protein as possible,” explains Jo, “but my mind seems to be geared more towards carbohydrates. I don’t think I’ve quite got to the point yet where I’m eating as well as I could on Wednesdays and Thursdays. And that’s simply because of the fear. But hey, I’ve got another 46 weeks to sort it out. I’m sure I’ll get it sorted by the end!”

Jo's made the front page of our local paper in Frome
Jo’s made the front page of our local paper in Frome

When I meet with Jo she’s already managed seven days without food over the past seven weeks. That’s quite an achievement but she’s still got a bloody long way to go. I get Jo to talk me through a typical fast-day.

“My son goes to nursery on a Friday, which was a big reason for choosing Friday. My husband Tim takes the dog out in the morning so I deal with Josh before he goes to nursery, including getting him breakfast. That can be tough.

“Around 2 o’clock every Friday, my brain shuts down”

“I find the morning is much easier than the end of the day. In the morning I still have plenty of energy, plenty of focus and concentration. I can be fairly normally up until about 10 or 11 o’clock. That’s when the real hunger hits. Then I have another three hours or so of fully functioning brain power. I try to focus on admin tasks on Fridays because physically moving around just brings that ‘wall’ forward.

“Around 2 o’clock every Friday, my brain just shuts down. Completely shuts down. I can’t think straight; I can’t add up, some days I can’t even speak properly, the words come out all wrong. So I try and get everything done before 2 o’clock and then whatever’s left has to be the really mindless stuff. I try and avoid supermarkets because of the smells. I’d be fine going and doing food shopping, but it’s the smell that I can’t deal with. That’s really hard. Then I pick the guys up around five, bring them back and put my son to bed. Thankfully he eats dinner at nursery, so phew!

“I generally have a pretty early night on a Friday. I usually go up between eight and nine and in the interim I’m capable of nothing but Angry Birds! I can’t watch TV or anything – it’s not enough stimulation to stop me stressing out. I need to engage in something. I can’t even write my blog because all I can do is complain – simply getting across how I feel in that state is really difficult. That’s the part of the day that I just have to get through. I know that once I’ve got to bed it’s OK because then it’s breakfast time. But Friday evening is so hard to manage because it’s got to be filled, but I can’t do anything.”

Bizarrely, something that Jo founds she likes to do on her food-free days is talk about food. Last Friday she even admitted to browsing through this here blog! “It’s like a kind of fantasy situation,” Jo laughs. “I thought talk of food would be a complete no-no. But it’s the thing I talk about the most! I spend the whole day planning what I’m going to eat the next day. The thing is I won’t eat it. It’s just in that moment it’s like eating it mentally.”

Jo’s overall attitude to food has altered significantly as a result of her fasting.

“Now I see every mouthful as precious”

I never realised before how much food we waste; now I see every mouthful as precious. I’ve also started thinking about the cost of meals. I never used to do that before. It just was a case of buy food, eat the food, throw it away if it doesn’t get eaten. There’s a real value to it that I never saw before and attached to that is its nutritional content. One thing might cost more than another, but if the other thing that costs less doesn’t contain any real nutrition then it isn’t ‘real food’. I’m coming around to the realisation that food is a fuel over and above anything else.

But does Jo think it’s right only to see food as a fuel? Surely food can still be something for us to get passionate and excited about?

“Food plays such a big role in our lives and I think that, certainly in our society, maybe that role has expanded beyond our ancestors’ understanding of food. Of course food is celebratory; you take food to somebody when they’re sick, you comfort them with food. It plays a massive social function. But its role has gone beyond that now. We’re not just eating it for these social reasons. We’re just eating it. The process of consumption now doesn’t have any meaning. So I’m not saying we should only eat food as fuel. But we need to think about those meanings a little more. So yes – birthday cake. But not – Tuesday cake! The tradition of ‘feasting’ has somehow leached into daily life. Rather than special foods being for special occasions, we’ve reached a point where special is the norm. And that’s just weird when you take a step back and look at it.”

“I’d rather my lasagne contained horsemeat than beef blastings”

Jo thinks that the horsemeat scandal is a symptom of our expectation of being able to eat what we want all the time without it costing much. “Meat should be seen as a luxury. What surprised me the most about that whole issue was that people were surprised. I don’t understand how people really seem to believe that a £1 lasagne contained steak. I’d rather my lasagne contained horsemeat than beef blastings, you know? So yeah, in this desire to have everything, maybe people are coming round to the realisation they need to have a little less. I don’t think horsemeat is the worst thing that people are eating right now.”

This new-found perspective has had major impact on what Jo and her family are eating the rest of the week.

“We’ve started buying much more raw ingredients,” she tells me. “I don’t just mean fresh produce because, do you know what, fresh produce isn’t cheap. Anybody who thinks it is, is rich and deluded. Things like beans and pulses are remarkably cheap and ridiculously filling, and with the right seasoning, are tasty. A mung bean is not tasty on its own,” Jo laughs, “but with a bit of tomato and spice, they are pretty good. Did you know you can buy noodles made out of mung bean? Now, I don’t mean to go on about mung beans too much but I’d never eaten them before and now I’ve got a cupboard full of all kinds of different mung bean products.  And chickpeas! Oh my god – they are amazing! I love a chickpea. So we’re experimenting much more with things that are cheap substitutions for the things we presumed were the cheapest things we could buy. Don’t get me wrong. I also eat a lot of crap! I try not to and I feel bad about it and then I go a bit overboard with the mung beans!”

“You’ve got to keep poking and shouting and doing everything you can because it’s all about hope isn’t it?”

It was the ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF campaign, plus our separate involvements with the charity Save the Children, that led to Jo and I crossing paths.

“IF is an amazing campaign,” says Jo excitedly. “For that many charities and organisations to be working on the same thing…  It just goes to show the level of concern and that the reality behind the problem is so huge, that it can be channelled, into a seemingly small remit, those four ‘ifs’. Because it really is very simple, it does come down to those four factors. The problem is that with all the will in the world they are so difficult to achieve. Sometimes all it takes is one catalyst. That’s why you’ve just got to keep poking. You’ve got to keep poking and shouting and doing everything you can because it’s all about hope isn’t it? You’ve just got to keep trying.”

It’s also helpful that the IF campaign dovetails neatly with what Jo is trying to achieve with her year of fasting. Having raised greater awareness of food poverty issues, she can point people to IF for some practical ways people can make their own noise to tackle global hunger.

“Even if people don’t agree with what I’m doing or the way I’m doing it, or perhaps because they don’t want to support Save the Children directly, then through the IF campaign they can still align themselves with the same issues I care so passionately about.”

I’m publishing this post on a Friday. As you read these words please think of Jo who will be fasting today and send her some positive vibes.

Even better, visit her blog or Facebook page and send her a message of support. Or better still, pop along to Jo’s Just Giving page and sponsor her efforts and achievements.

And once you’ve done all that, do take a look at the IF campaign website for some more ways to make a noise to draw the attention of our world leaders to the scandal that is food poverty.


Enough food for everyone IF…

It is an outrageous and downright disgusting fact that the world today has enough food for everyone, yet not everyone has enough food.

Why – when there is enough food to go around – is hunger one of the world’s most shocking problems?

Hunger kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. One in eight people on our planet lives with the pain of hunger. Two million children die each year because of malnutrition. It’s sickening isn’t it, when it simply doesn’t need to be like this? It’s not just an overseas problem either. Right here, in the UK, many hardworking people struggle to put food on the table each day for their families.

It’s unfair, it’s unjust and it’s totally preventable.

This is why today, Wednesday 23 January 2013, is a momentous day. Today sees the launch of the IF campaign, the biggest ever campaign to tackle global hunger.

More than 100 charities and campaigning organisations, including Save the Children, Oxfam, Christian Aid and UNICEF, are joining forces to make one helluva lot of noise to draw everyone’s attention to the issue of food poverty – in particular those G8 leaders who are meeting in the UK for their summit in June 2013.

Will you lend your voice to the cause too? We all need to shout about THE FOUR BIG IFS…

Enough food for everyone IF… we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and we grow crops to feed people not fuel cars.

Enough food for everyone IF… governments and big companies are honest and open about some of the things that stop people getting enough food.

Enough food for everyone IF… we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families get enough food.

Enough food for everyone IF… we stop big companies dodging taxes in poor countries.

If we all shout together, we’ll be too loud for our governments to ignore. As a food blogger, I think it’s important I add my voice to the IF campaign. Will you? The success of the campaign depends upon millions of people, people like you and me, coming together and taking action to demand an end to hunger. We have the power to make politicians sit up and listen.

This short animation sums up the IF campaign in a nutshell. It’s only two minutes long. Please watch it.

Sign up to the campaign and find out other ways you can play your part at the Enough food for everyone IF website.

Save the Children’s Recipe Challenge eBook

Back in March, along with many other food bloggers, I entered my recipe for Roast Vegetable Lasagne into the Save the Children Recipe Challenge organised by Ruth Clemens at The Pink Whisk.

The aim of the challenge was to raise awareness of Save the Children’s Race Against Hunger campaign. It is a shocking fact that we live in a world with enough food for everyone, yet hunger is still able to kill 7,000 children every day.  Save the Children is calling on governments to put an end to this hidden hunger.

All the recipes gathered have been collated and published in a beautiful Save the Children Recipe Challenge e-book, which is available online for an optional donation of £2 to raise awareness and funds for the campaign. I am absolutely thrilled to have a recipe included in this wonderful collection.

Please, please, please visit the Save the Children website to download a copy, and make a small donation if you can. The book features mouthwatering mains, such as Easy Braised Lamb Shank, Guacamole Bean Salad and Easy Baked Chicken Biryani, plus lots of tempting cakes and puds like Raspberry and Almond Mini Macaroons and Fresh Orange Cake with Citrus Buttercream.

Over the next two years Save the Children aim to help at least two million children get the kind of healthy food they need to grow up strong and healthy. The kind of food we’d all expect for our own kids.

But they can’t do it alone. Add your voice to the Race Against Hunger campaign and with your help they will:

  • persuade governments to invest in getting help to the children and families who need it
  • encourage companies to make sure millions more children get food fortified with the right vitamins – just like our breakfast cereals
  • give poor mothers vouchers or money so they can buy the food they need before things get desperate – a form of aid that stimulates local markets so they can keep on supplying local communities for the long term.

Together we can give children a life free from hunger.

Tipping point

This post represents two firsts for me. The first first is that has nothing to do with food. And the second is that I didn’t write it, despite what it says above.

Bloggers the world over are putting their weight behind a call on world leaders to urgently put in place a resolution to protect children in response to the hideous atrocities that have taken place in Syria. Children there have been brutally murdered. As a mother, as a member of humanity, I’ve been wondering all day what I can say on this blog to add my voice to this call.

And then I read an amazingly powerful piece by Chris Mosler on her blog Thinly Spread. Anything I try to write now would simply be an attempt to say the same thing but far less eloquently. And so Chris has kindly given me permission to reblog her post here. Please take a few minutes to read this and sign your name on the Save The Children and Avaaz petitions. Thank you.

Tipping Point – by Chris Mosler

This post is written as part of today’s coming together of the parent blogging community to share our outrage at the atrocities in Syria.

I wrote last year about the power of one voice when it reaches out and touches others, about how that voice can snowball. Sometimes it can seem hopeless, but you have no idea who it might reach and what effect it might have. I for one cannot sit here and say nothing having read Wednesday’s gruesome article in The Times.

Children have been massacred in Syria. They were not just by-standing victims caught in the cross fire. They have been put to death. They have been executed.

49 children.

I cannot imagine the fear which went through their little heads. I cannot imagine how the remnants of their families must be feeling.

This all started a year ago with Syrian people rising up, as their neighbours had done across the Middle East, in a peaceful protest calling for freedom and democracy. The uprising was crushed by Assad and his regime. The world stood back. Now the conflict is armed and has escalated to a point where men are killing children.

We stood back and allowed Rwanda and Srebrenica to happen. This time we have a network with the potential to make an enormous amount of noise and force a response. Kofi Anaan has said that Syria has reached a ‘Tipping Point’, balanced precariously on the edge of sectarian violence and further horror. This is the time to shout.

Please use your voice, those children and their families deserve it. The least we can do is make sure their deaths do not slip quietly into history and to shout loudly that this mustn’t be allowed to happen again.

Much of the world is outraged and there are lots of political shenanigans going on. In the meantime I am joining with Save the Children and signing their petition ‘ calling on world leaders to put in place an immediate and legally binding “Resolution to Protect Children” that carries the full force of international law on those attacking children and other civilians.’

While I’m at it, I’m signing this one too.

Please Make Some Noise.

What you can do

Please tweet this post out using the hashtags #Syria #StopTheKilling and #TippingPoint.

Retweet any posts you see from the parent blogger community using the above hashtags.

Share this post and others on Facebook.

Sign the two petitions I mention above.

Write your own post.

This is my first ever image free post because there is no image I could use here.

Thanks again to Chris Mosler for letting me feature her post here.