Below The Line Day 2: Why Aren’t Our MPs Joining In?

So, it’s the end of day two, of my Live Below The Line challenge. For those just catching up, I, along with 5,000 people in the UK, am living on £5 for five days to raise money for charity. My chosen charity is Oxfam UK, as I am involved with their Enough Food If campaign, tackling four major causes of food poverty in the world.

Today’s meals:

Breakfast: two slices of white bread, toasted, with lemon curd, 6p.

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Lunch: 70g white rice with 100g mixed vegetables (frozen broccoli, carrot, cauliflower and peas), and a sauce made with water and lemon curd, 12p.

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Afternoon snack: 30g corn flakes with 100ml unsweetened soya, 8p

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Dinner: 1 bean and vegetable burger, 70g rice, 50g mixed veg: 14p

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Today, my food has cost me forty pence in total. Added to yesterday’s sixty one pence, I have consumed £1.01 of my £5.00 worth of food bought on Sunday.

I have left:

Bread: 16 slices
Lemon curd: 3/4 of a jar?
Cornflakes: 420g
Unsweetened soya drink: 750ml
Plain white rice: 760g
Mixed peppers: 150g
Chopped tomatoes: 600g
Kidney beans: 300g
Mixed vegetables (carrot, broccoli, sweetcorn): 750g
Spaghetti: 500g
1 onion
Broccoli, Courgette, carrot and green beans: 240g
Mixed herbs.

Observations from the day: Firstly, I am much hungrier than usual, and although this sounds obvious, I didn’t expect it, as I have had four meals, all heavy in carbohydrates. My usual diet would factor in far more protein than this one does, but although it looks quite protein-sparse, my nutrition calculations put me at around 30g a day. That isn’t ideal, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

I’m also a lot more dehydrated than usual, despite drinking the same amount of water as I normally would. I don’t know the science behind this – perhaps a lack of foods that have naturally occurring water, like fresh fruit, would answer that.

Finally – I’m exhausted. I know I picked a bad week for this, off the back of hours of travelling to London and Salford for BBC appearances this weekend, I wasn’t in my finest fettle to start with. But I find myself out of focus at work, and obsessive about the amount of food I am consuming. I spilled some rice on the work surface of my kitchen earlier, and laboriously picked it up grain by grain and put it back into the bag. I recognise this ‘me’, the obsession over the cost of meals, the inset panic about what I can possibly make with the ingredients that I have. I’m back and it’s July again, i’m eating slightly less to eat more often, to stave away the hunger pains.

I go to my food cupboard, the one that is out of bounds until I complete this challenge, and I look. I’ve never been so glad to see a can of chickpeas, some cumin, and a bag of value mandarin segments. I know this isn’t forever, but still it chips away.

In an interview with Agent France-Press today, I referred to allegations people had made to me that this ‘living below the line’ for five days is a spurious exercise, an insult to poverty. People have asked me how it can possibly help or change anything?

I said yes – people like Ben Affleck, will be doing this from their large and comfortable homes. You can’t expect to understand poverty as a lifestyle, the day to say degrading and erosion of your being, by living off monotonous and basic food stuff for five days.

But the feedback I have had, and the comments I read from friends taking the challenge, is that they are suddenly extremely aware of how much food costs. How much nutrition costs. How mentally draining it is to toil around a supermarket with such a limited amount of money. How the panic sets in when their child asks for more food, because that’s one less meal left in the cupboard. I remember it well. I remember having to tell Small Boy that there is no bread or jam.

Aside from raising money for charities dedicated to tackling poverty in the UK – we’re talking about it. Thinking about it. People who have never gone to bed hungry in their lives are now consumed by the thought of where their next meal is coming from.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I hope this is a movement for change. I wish every MP across the land took the Live Below The Line challenge. I wish I could say to them: “Here are my shoes: how do they fit you? Not comfortable to walk in, are they?”

To donate to Live Below The Line, a global poverty project, click here: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack

If you are taking part in this years Live Below The Line challenge and want to share your experience, get in touch at jackmonroe@live.co.uk

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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20 Comments »

  1. Such clear and simple truths – mps treat others as u wish to be treated – at least try to understand just a little – when you have never been poor or hungry – very hard to grasp – and yes I have been both and would not wish it on my worst enemy . What if your circumstances change is what I would say to every person ? Because they can and they do when u least expect it . My daughters friend is setting up a food bank box in her workplace – every small gesture will help . Listen to the detractors because it helps to hear all sides but never let them pull you down – what u r doing is cracking – it’s great – keep on !!!you are like so many an everyday hero !!

  2. I can’t do what you’re doing but I’ve drawn my readers attention to this and your sterling efforts, and that of others, on my blog: http://www.lauramarcus.com/paleo/paleo-on-a-pound/ good luck with it Jack. You’re an inspiration and I’m so glad you’re getting so much press on this. Much deserved. We need other voices. Far too much mainstream establishment noise drowning out what’s really going on out here.

  3. I’ve just discovered your blog and expect that your recipes will be a source of inspiration during the next few months (or more) as I tighten my belt and cope with a much tougher financial situation than I ever expected to find myself in. Greater awareness about how difficult it can be for far too many, and I’m not counting myself as one of them, is vital. I think you are going a long way to helping others understand a little more. And that’s so important. Keep it up and I will continue to follow your progress.

  4. Your words are certainly ringing true with me – I am definitely more aware of how much I spend on my shopping and planning meals to help with my budget. I am also setting up a food bank box in my workplace to help our local food bank – I even referred one of my customers to them yesterday after he told me he hasn’t been able to have the heating on for 6 months! This situation is more common than most people dare to think about but I’m sure with the media coverage of these 5 days it will get more of us to question what poverty actually means.

  5. Hi Jack,
    I think there’s a problem with the link here – I get an SSL error every time I click it. (I’ve already donated and wanted to see how you were doing.) It might be worth double-checking – I wouldn’t want people to miss out on donating to the cause.
    The link in yesterday’s summary is fine though if anyone wanted to donate and was holding back.
    Well done on achieving over double your target – amazing!

  6. First off I should be clear that I am not on the ‘bread line’ at the moment and so I am as guilty as any for wasteful spending. I used to have a well paid job and no commitments and so over that time I saved up alot of money. That money has allowed me to live fairly comfortably whilst I study as a mature student.

    I have to say I would be unable to complete the £5 for a week challenge as I am currently on a high-protein diet due to training and it simply isn’t possible to get down to £5 if you have a meat heavy diet. However, I have used some of your tips (especially about checking ‘offers’) and this week my basic food bill has been cut by around two thirds.

    Supermarkets own brands are a bit of a lottery – some items are just as good as other pricier brands and some are not so good. I have also this week converted the majority of my household items to non-brands – disinfectant, washing up liquid, bio-clothes cleaner, baby shampoo/lotion and been VERY pleasantly surprised at the quality of the products at literally around a fifth of the total sum i would normally spend on such items.

    The savings I made even allowed me a few luxuries in the shape of some beers (Tesco’s D’or beers – quite nice!) and some beautiful rump steak – and I am still WAY under my usual food budget.

    I certainly will not be moving back to branded items for the majority of my purchases and I now see it as a mission to eat well without paying alot! The key is to cook up meals in advance and you rapidly see the savings.

    One tip I have found on a household front is rather than paying £1 (which seems fairly cheap) for a cleaning spray for the kitchen, I have bought a 1 litre bottle of own brand Pine disinfectant for 31p – I use an old spray bottle and mix it 1 part disinfectant to 5 parts water and it does EXACTLYthe same job except it will make up around 6 bottles of strong cleaner. This in itself has saved me £5.69 which when you think how many other easy tips like this there are for me to discover the possibilities are endless.

  7. I am sure the Chancellor will be ‘shunning’ any surplus cash he doesn’t need.

    You are touching a nerve Jack because so many people assume that it’s easy to get help when there’s trouble, having contributed and donated earlier- and it’s not. In a crisis either surrender to the system and give up, or battle away to try to retain autonomy and independence until exhausted.

    Thank goodness the UK didn’t bow to the Thatcher years of pressure to change the NHS to private healthcare, at least ( so far ) the sick, pregnant and dying have some means of support.

    The definition of poverty moves, changes, with each generation. It’s not appropriate to compare the slum tenancies of previous generations with the sophisticated property management situations people live in today- until it becomes apparent that if your landlord or mortgage provider won’t help you keep a roof over your head in 2013, you might as well be in the 1930s.

  8. I look around my local CoOp and think that we have never lived in a time of such plenty as we do today, with such a wonderful array of food. I can hardly believe that there are people who can’t afford to eat basically healthy and nutritious diet and yet there are.

    I watched both episodes of “Growing Up Poor” earlier in the year. That high lighted food poverty but also accomodation poverty. One young woman in scotland just wanted a cooker in her flat so that she could cook a simple soup. One young man was keen to join the army. At least that way he’d have a roof over his head enough to eat and maybe some opportunity in life.

    There was also a news item some while ago about food waste. They showed a huge pile of discarded fruit and vegetables. The peppers looked so colourful against all the green vegetables and it looked as if it was mostly edible. If shops can afford to throw apparently good food away, why can’t they organise for it to be distributed to people in food poverty so that those people can have the benefit of fresh fruit and veg?

    There’s more than enough to go round, so why aren’t the people in power, who’re far cleverer than me, organising a fairer distribution of food that otherwise goes to waste?

  9. This is really good, a total eye opener.

    Don’t you worry though, that by showing it can be done it’ll give politicians amo when they argue that people can get by on very little?

  10. Jack,

    As a researcher into food behaviour, I can offer some advice on hunger. While calories are important, research on feelings of fullness (satiety) suggests that how full you feel is the consequence of the weight of the food rather than the calories in it – heavier food (either from fat/protein/carbs or from water) is more filling than light food with the same number of calories.

    I would guess that the reason you are a) hungry and b) dehydrated is because your diet used to include a lot of soup and boiled foods – heavy stuff with lots of water in it, but you are now eating bread and dried cornflakes. Up your intake of higher water-content foods and you should feel less hungry (these don’t have to be expensive fruit and veg).

    Keep up the amazing work.

    Suzanna

  11. ‘why aren’t the people in power, who’re far cleverer than me, organising a fairer distribution of food that otherwise goes to waste?’

    Clever individual managers know it’s best to discount some of their surplus and attract in customers ( who will still have to buy the rest of their basic supplies in a convenient manner ) rather than throw it away…it creates consumer loyalty and a regular shopping habit.

    I use the local supermarket here which always has something on offer and gives me regular bargains for a reason! Yes I know that they overall make a profit from me- but I still feel there’s a balance, a symbiosis. They employ people and contribute locally…and on bad months I can find enough cheap produce. And their staff know my name and are sometimes friendly…others downright obnoxious and I can’t imagine why they are working in a service industry…but that’s another story!

    Some companies have not caught on yet that in a declining capitalist economy 10 people paying 25 pence each is better than no one forking out two pounds fifty…so much for laissez-faire economics. Running a large business is all about volume: I understand that many small business owners have to retain their pricing structure to profit from their smaller customer-base.

    People who can will pay more for speciality markets though; there are times when people can afford to frequent delicatessans and coffee shops…times when they cannot. And that customer base changes all the time. That’s what running a small business is. People are often paying more for other aspects of the transaction- they know my name, we’re friends, it’s an intimate/unique experience etc.

    Maybe if big businesses were taxed for waste in the same way some people get penalised for not recycling- and it was applied equally- it would change corporate policy.

    I don’t see many politicians stepping forward to address food waste in 2013 though.

  12. Hey Jack, Thank yo for being brave enough to share all this and write so well about how it feels to feel outside of society because of poverty. Its very heartfelt.
    I have just started a new job with a Food Bank Project in Northampton which has been running a few years but has just received funding to develop capacity in response to the benefit changes and so can now employ two of us to oversee the ever growing project. I would like to ask if we can print your recipes and put them in the food parcels? We want people to develop skills to cook with the basics we provide and think you have done a great job.
    I hope you wont mind- I have a feeling you may not as it is helping others in a similar situation to where you were, but please contact me if you want to.
    Good Luck for the future and keep speaking out .

  13. Carbs make you hungry because they trigger an insulin surge in the blood. A high carb diet causes the blood sugar levels to spike and drop. The thirsty part is another symptom of eating too high a percentage of carbs. You need to balance carbs with protein and some fats. That will keep your blood sugar levels steady. The protein doesn’t have to be meat. It can be beans & corn, soy, or eggs, etc. I am diabetic and use whey protein powder to help balance my protein to carb intake.

  14. i wish i had such inspiration when i actually was living on £5 a week a few years back- i certainly never managed to get anywhere near as much food for my money!! (i managed 1-2 days food & got very ill & malnourished) Living on such a small amount is never going to give you all the benefit’s of having more fresh ingredients & more wholemeal in diet. But it is certainly is an inspiration to how we all shop!! Will definitely be checking your blog often for inspiration, thanks! 🙂

  15. I can’t even start to imagine what it must be like to live like this. The most hunger I have experienced is during Ramadan when this year the Fast was almost 21 hours without food or drink – but at the end you know you will have a healthy, nutritious meal. Thirty days of fasting gives you some empathy towards the plight of those less fortunate and it is no coincidence that it’s mandatory and that during ‘The Fast’ people partaking are most generous in their charitable donations. You have my unwavering support as does every other person who has experienced poverty, deprivation and everything that comes with them….this week I will shop with care and caution as I think of you….Thank you!

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