Last week, Medsin St Andrews hosted the Live Below the Line Challenge. The goal was to live on five pounds for five days from 30 March to 3 April. The purpose was to raise funds and promote issues of global poverty through the publicizing of one’s own participation in the challenge. The challenge raised £460 for anti-hunger charities with around 15 students participating. What was it really like for them during the week? The Saint asked participants Rachel Wood, Michael Omiwole, Anne-Sophie Donnet, Rachel Povey and Gabi Mabon about their experiences.
It was essentially doing what millions of people do every single day without the choice. As a three-square-meals-a-day-with-hourly-snacking kinda girl I anticipated hunger pangs, irritability, food envy and the like. What I didn’t anticipate was the debate in the supermarket as to which staple food I genuinely valued more for its versatility when the budget didn’t allow for both options. Or how tricky it would be to try to purchase a nutritionally balanced set of foods for five days that didn’t result in depleted calorie consumption. Or the feeling of shame and guilt that adding up every item that could potentially make its way into my basket brought with it. But it also made me extremely grateful for everything I’m lucky enough to consume each day.
Is it really possible to live on £1 a day? In St. Andrews for a week, yes, but out there indefinitely, no. However 1.2 billion people on this planet get by on just that. It’s remarkable. I certainly underestimated how tough it would be. It was a banana, some yoghurt, 2 eggs, toast and a little penne for the day, every day. There was nothing luxurious about the week. Eating was all about sustenance and flavour was an afterthought. Hunger was constant and quickly turned into “Hanger”. I totally get those snickers adverts now. I lost a little weight and my mood was as variable as the Scottish weather. I’m truly thankful for the encouragement throughout. When you add medication, shelter, transport, clothing into the equation, living below the live is unimaginably difficult. No one deserves to live like this. This experience truly made all those facts and figures tangible.
The challenge caught my attention immediately. When I realised it involved food, I could not resist. Being French and having spent half of my life not sleeping but eating, I was convinced that this was for me: £5 for 5 days? At first I honestly thought it would be unachievable, but that’s why I tried. I am writing on my last day waiting patiently for midnight as I have no food left apart from 2 potatoes and 2 carrots that I am going to roast for dinner. Overall, the week has been tough (especially with two 7 hours shifts at work), but with a spark of imagination and self-control, it was definitely not impossible. I wanted to raise awareness that living below the line is not just a 5 day challenge for a large portion of the population, it’s a day-by-day struggle.
I went into this challenge with a very naïve mind set. I definitely thought it would be a lot easier than it has been. My game plan was to just buy cheap but versatile food that I could use for each of my meals throughout the day, but I quickly realised just how expensive these foods were. So I ended up with cheap basics that didn’t give me the right nutrients and I started feeling tired all the time and stressed because I wasn’t able to eat well and give my body what it needed. However, I’m thankful for the challenge as it’s taught me to be much more creative with what I eat and the way I eat it. I’ve learnt that if you plan well and search hard you can get some good food on a very tight budget. But, most importantly, it has opened my eyes to the struggle that so many of the 7 billion people in the world face daily and how unequal our global society is. Whilst we eat like kings our neighbours struggle to survive – this is not the way the world should be. So, thank you Medsin for spreading the word and making us realise that we have to help make the world a better more equal place!
I am writing this with hunger burning my tummy. Today is the last day of the challenge and I am counting the minutes to the finish-line. I started this week smugly, knowing I normally only spend £8 a week on my groceries. However, I didn’t take into consideration that the rice and pasta I have in my cupboards would be out of bounds. I bought all my food on the first day; 15 eggs, 1.5kg of root vegetables, a loaf of brown bread, and apples. This was a big mistake: 4 pieces of bread a day only gets you so far. My rash food decisions left me hungry even after eating and I lost 1.5kg in 4 days. It’s been difficult to stay strong mentally, especially seeing friends eat sugary and fatty foods around me that I so strongly crave. The experience has shown me the effects of bad nutrition on my body and mind and has really humbled me to the difficulties those in extreme poverty face.