In May this year, I’m going to spend 5 days eating only what I can buy for £1 (one pound per day)—the equivalent of the global extreme poverty line.
I’ll be participating in the Live Below the Line challenge here in the United Kingdom for a week. The purpose of the campaign is to bring to life the experiences of 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day—and who have to make £1 cover a lot more than food and drink.
Last year I took the challenge and found it a brilliant way to raise the issues of extreme poverty with people. As we head towards this year’s challenge, I thought it a good time to share some of the experiences I had while “Living Below the Line.”
Rewind to eleven months ago:
Five weeks in advance.
I announce that I am going to take the Live Below the Line challenge for a week, mainly to raise awareness of extreme poverty and the people who live this every day.
I also decide I can raise money for the great charity that created the challenge—the Global Poverty Project. After one week, I am sponsored for £2000. I can’t believe it. People are just so intrigued by the challenge, and offer lots of advice about what I should eat: bananas, rice and beans, cauliflower, cheese, pasta, mars bars. By the end of the challenge, I’ve raised £5465 in the UK and $2430 in the U.S..
Four weeks to go.
I start planning how I’m going to eat on £1 a day. The eating tips say I'd get withdrawal symptoms from caffeine, so I give up tea and coffee a month early.
I think I’ll try to eat reasonably healthily, and not just max out on calories. The eating tips say frozen vegetables have the same vitamins and minerals as fresh, and are cheaper. So I put frozen peas on the menu. The tips also say that sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious vegetables—which I’d also seen from my work at the Gates Foundation.
In the end I decide on:
- Breakfast of two unbranded weetabix with milk
- Lunch of rice and dal
- Dinner of pasta with tomato sauce
- A fair-trade banana and an apple a day
In total, I calculated this would give me about 1300 calories a day, or 2/3rds of the recommended intake for an adult male.
Two weeks to go, and interest is exploding.
Celebrities including Emma Freud, Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry, Charlize Theron and Sarah Brown start tweeting about #BelowTheLine to their millions of followers, and my own twitter following goes from 100 to 500 in about a day.
Most of my new followers are fascinated with the challenge, and especially the rules. Even Spanish government officials in Madrid. This week I am in Madrid for work, meeting with them to discuss global poverty. It turns out that the campaign is an amazing new way to get them engaged.
Three days to go, and I go to the supermarket to spend my fiver.
It is the first time I need to weigh onions to make sure I can afford them. The cheapest apples are so big I can only afford 3. I am going to have to ration myself to only half an apple a day. The on-the-spot budgeting required is an emotional roller coaster.
Luckily I have a fridge to keep the second half fresh for the next day—unlike most of the 1.4 billion people who always live below the line. This is what my shopping looks like in the end:
My week of Living Below the Line begins.
At first, the eating seems much easier than the planning and shopping. Trying to maximize nutrition on my budget means the full fat milk on my breakfast cereals makes the fake weetabix a treat! And my first lunch is not bad actually:
But then the boredom and the starch begin to take their toll.
I don’t feel hungry on day 2—just heavy with carbohydrates. On day 3, painful stomach cramps wake me at 3am. My body is craving more variety or something. I start trying to add some variety by switching the rice and pasta sauces. It doesn’t really work. By day 4, I am hungry at the end of the day but so bored of the same dinner that I am not even looking forward to it. By day 5, I realize that what I miss most is “crunchiness.” A lesson learned for this year.
I start the week 13st 10lbs (192lbs, 87kg). I lose 2lbs a day for the first three days, and on the last day my weight stabilises at 13st 4lbs. And that’s where it’s stayed.
At the end of the week, I tweet five lessons learned:
- I’ll plan meals v differently next year. Less carb, more crunch. After 2 days, same meals v boring
- Hardest thing wasn't eating less, it was the energy and time it takes to manage money. Read: Portfolios of the Poor for a fascinating account of how hard poor people work to manage their cash
- Surviving on £1/day is unhealthy. 2/3 calories=lost 4% of body weight in 7 days. Good for me, but I'd be in trouble in 3 mnths
- Surviving on £1/day is unhealthy. Had stomach pains & lacked vitamins. For kids <2 yrs, this can ruin the rest of their life. See: http://www.gainhealth.org/about-malnutrition
- Most obviously, it’s possible to SURVIVE on £1/day. 1.4 billion people do EVERY week. But people shouldn’t have to. Let’s END this. We know how.
Have I convinced you to take the plunge this year? Join me and thousands of others, and “Live Below the Line” for 5 days in May. (Follow the discussion on twitter: #BelowtheLine.) Taking this challenge will teach you something unexpected, and it will help spread awareness of the experiences of the 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, worldwide.