Sunday, 10 May 2015

Live Below The Line: Reflections

Food for five days. Not pictured: 10 green tea bags.
When I sat down to work out my Live Below The Line menu, I was feeling pretty smug. Five portions of fruit and veg? Easy. Two portions of protein? Not a problem. Bit of dairy? Boom 
And then I began...

rice, peaches, yoghurt
pasta, kidney beans, tinned tomatoes
rice, 2 eggs, frozen vegetables
"I can totally do this. I'm so organised with my measured out portions and I'm not even hungry. What if I find it easy? Is that cheating? Ooh, someone sponsored me!"
Pretty tasty actually. The only thing I wasn't bored of by day 5.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
pasta, kidney beans, tinned tomatoes
rice, frozen vegetables, half a tin of chilli 
"My head hurts a bit and I'm desperate for some salt. Time to crack out the chilli. Urgh it looks like cat food.... Dear lord this is the best thing I've ever eaten."
Filling, but really dull.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
rice, 2 eggs, frozen vegetables
pasta, tinned tomatoes, very small apple
"Ugh, nightmares. Ugh, I have to buy cakes and fruit for a training course I'm running and not eat any of them. Ugh, egg fried rice for lunch, which I'm not able to finish because I feel a bit sick and dizzy. Desperate for something fresh tasting... I'll cash a tin of kidney beans in for an apple from the corner shop on the way home."
Rice with eggs and vegetables is as boring as you'd imagine, even if it is quite healthy.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
pasta, tinned tomatoes
rice, half a tin of chilli, frozen vegetables
"The only thing getting me through this bowl of pasta and the mild nausea it's causing is knowing that I have chilli to look forward to, and realising that I've hit my fundraising target."
55p a tin chilli - finally some salt and fat - marvellous.
rice, peaches, yoghurt
rice, 2 eggs, tinned tomatoes
"Ooh, I've somehow managed to under measure my peach rations and now I have loads left. Hooray! Ooh, I'm working from home, I'll make something more interesting for lunch. Oh. That means I only have plain pasta for dinner. Really didn't think this through..."
Baked eggs in tomato rice. Despite a lack of herbs or spices - pretty good.
Saving the worst until last...
What I learnt doing Live Below The Line:
- If you're looking for Asda smart price products on their website, you have to put in "smart price pasta" otherwise it won't come up. I tweeted them to ask why, and they said it's categorised differently. Found myself getting really cross about this - not exactly easy to find the products if they're hidden from a generic search, which I suspect is the point...
- One green tea bag will make 3 cups, if you use a tea pot. 
- Ready meals are cheaper than vegetables and beans. My disgusting chilli was 55p - cheaper than half a tin of tomatoes with half a tin of kidney beans. 
- I didn't crave the things I expected. I spent the first two days thinking about mackerel, and the final three obsessing over fruit.
- You can lose weight if your diet is 70% carbs. I did - I lost 3.5lbs in 5 days, because I physically couldn't ram in enough calories. I felt awful for it though, and put it all back on the week after.
- Food becomes fuel. I didn't look forward to eating, it was just something I had to do. I felt queasy during most of the week, which meant that forcing myself to finish a bowl of rice was really difficult.
- I listened to my body more the week after I finished the challenge. Instead of eating biscuits absentmindedly without enjoying them, I snacked on yoghurts and fruit - and I felt better for it.
- You can buy considerably more if you pool your £5 with a friend. I found myself debating whether I could do it for 10 days next year, and I suspect it'd be marginally easier because of the variety.
- Ultimately, the only reason I was able to eat "well" doing the challenge was because I had a full kitchen - I had a fridge to keep yoghurt in, a freezer to keep my veg in, and a hob to cook on. A colleague told me about a homeless hostel she worked in, where the only cooking facilities available were a kettle and a microwave. It's hardly surprising that people have poor health and nutrition in those circumstances.
- The thing that got me through? Support from my friends and colleagues. Every time someone sponsored me, offered to bring me a mug of hot water, or texted to ask what my dinner was, I was grateful. If I really was living in extreme poverty, that wouldn't be a reality.

I've raised £280 for Unicef, which I'm pretty staggered by. If you sponsored me, thank you so much. If you can chip in a couple of quid, the link's here


  1. Oof, well done! Back in the late 90s, my then-boyfriend and I lived on £5 per week between us - £5 went further then but it was still a miserable diet of baked potatoes and baked beans and Super Noodles and I don't ever want to go back to that.

    1. Thank you!
      Actually - you've made a good point about the cost of food. About 10 years ago when I was a student I ate off very little and didn't struggle too much, but I noticed that the cost of a tin of tomatoes has gone up about 6p in the last year, dried penne pasta has gone up 5p - if you're watching pennies tightly, it adds up.

  2. Well done for getting through it! Would you do it again next year? Interesting comment about the £10 going further between two - I might see if I can rope Thomas into it (although the vegan thing complicates matters, because he'd not be able to have most of his normal sources of protein such as tofu, and obviously couldn't eat eggs or tinned chilli)

    1. Yes I would, and I think I might do it for a fortnight, so 14 days for £14. I've already had a think about how I could make so much more with that, purely on an economy of scale basis, as I ended up the week with 300g of rice leftover, half a tin of peaches and 200g of frozen veg.
      The protein was the bit I struggled with - while chickpeas and lentils are very cheap in bulk, unless you have £1.50 to spend on a bag, you have to compromise on something else, hence the chilli (something I struggled with as an 80% pescetarian) and the eggs. The lack of spices was the other main thing, if I were doing it with a friend, a smartprice herb mix would be affordable - and very necessary as a vegan!

  3. It was really eye opening watching this. A friend of mine who is a nurse and therefore on her feet a lot did this last year and the year before and really struggled. I cannot imagine what this would be like. Again as a student I sometimes lived on about £3.50 a week but I could get a loaf of bread for 20p and I had a freezer so could do a lot of frozen veg based meals.

    1. I can't imagine what it'd be like doing this while on your feet all day - I struggled with finding energy to run a training session for four hours, let alone concentrate for a week as something like a nurse.

      I was trying to work out how much I spent on food as a student ten years ago, and I vaguely remember it being about £25 a month - but for that I'd get quite a bit, as I lived near a market which sold huge bowls of nearly past it vegetables for £1. Bulk pasta sauce was the way to go! I read a statistic this morning which said food has risen in price by 22% since 2007 which is really scary.