I've been reading with interest, and in some cases amusement, many of the stories this last week of those participating in the Live Below The Line Challenge. It's all in aid of a good cause, so please don't think when I say 'amusement' that I have in any way been laughing in a condescending way at their attempts to exist on £5's worth of food for five days, because I haven't. For many of those taking part it has been extremely tough and I think it has seriously opened a few eyes. Sometimes I wished I could just say to someone 'No, no, you're doing it all wrong. Look, just put all that food you bought aside and start again, and I'll show you how it's done'. But of course I couldn't, because firstly, I don't know these people, and well, that would rather defeat the object in the first place.
It was made harder, I think, by the fact it was only a five day challenge. £5 for five days is much more limiting than say £7 for seven days or £10 for ten days. Five measly pounds doesn't give you much variety. It
will should have been a little easier for those taking part as a couple, or a family as they will have had more money to play with in the first place. It will still have been an unpleasant five days for many though.
£1 a day for food doesn't seem very much does it? There has been quite a bit in the media recently about how much is needed for food in order to survive, and depending on which newspaper you read the amount can vary quite wildly. The BBC says £12 a week is enough to provide a healthy diet. Damn right it is! That's the maximum I spend to feed two of us. If we had that each we'd be eating like kings :) Upon reading the article however, I find the terms 'with careful planning' and 'theoretically it is possible' and the chart they give as an example is based on a £15 spend not a £12 spend. As it is, I usually spend between £10 and £12 a week actually on food. The supermarket receipt reads slightly more than that, but by the time you've taken off things like loo rolls, tooth paste and shampoo, the food itself comes in at less than £12. For two of us. Less than £6 each. That's is less than the £1 a day that even the Daily Mail says you can 'survive' on.
Now don't you go worrying about the state of my diet, because I'm here to tell you I eat just fine. Last night we enjoyed a lovely chicken salad made with chicken breast. Later I made biscuits on a 'whim' to surprise my husband who had dozed off in front of the TV. This morning I had a banana before I went out for my run and egg on toast when I got back. For lunch I had homemade chicken liver pate with crackers and salad, and for tea tonight we'll be having a sausage casserole. I browned off a few Aldi frozen sausages this morning and popped them into the slow cooker with a stock cube, sliced onions, two tins of chopped tomatoes, the ends of a few bags of frozen veg that I wanted to clear out and a rather rubbery looking carrot I found hiding in the back of the fridge (nothing gets wasted here). I'll probably serve it with hubby's favourite, mashed potato, which means there will be more than enough for either tomorrow, or to go in the freezer. I may even add a tin of sweetcorn to it. Does that sound like an impoverished diet to you?
I'm not going to pretend that it is easy, because it is not. It has taken a long time of trial and error to get to this stage. There are times when I walk around the supermarket fighting back tears, and times too when I am unable to fight them back and I'm stood in the dairy isle sobbing, with other customers and staff doing their best to pretend not to notice (for which I am eternally grateful! If ever you see me, I will not think you harsh or callous if you don't ask if I'm OK, I'll just be relieved I don't have to talk). There have been times when I have fed my husband and gone without, pretending to him I feel sick so he doesn't question why I'm only nibbling on dry cream crackers. There have been times when I have made three days food last a week; when I've picked mould off the bread and toasted it in the hope it would taste OK that way; when I've cut squishy bits off vegetables to save the little bit that was OK; when I've lived off bread and jam; when I thought I'd never taste fresh fruit again...
It is thoroughly depressing, and demoralising, when you see only day after day after day of that kind of existence, especially when only a short time before you were a two income household spending as much in one week on food as you now spend in a month. It is easy to allow it to drag you down, to get into a spiral of depression, but you have to fight that, you have to keep on keeping on. You have to get up bright and early each morning with a smile on your face, even if you don't feel like smiling, and you have to find a way to get by. You have to hope that there is an end to all this even if there isn't one in sight, because it will destroy you if you don't.
You learn to take pleasure in simple things. You find cheaper ways of doing or making the things you used to take for granted. You scrimp and scrimp, because you can't possibly save, and you get by. You find recipes, or invent them. You discover the wonders of cooking bacon and lemon curd and you forget you ever heard of such a thing as free range eggs. You sacrifice your green principles to make your grey world a little brighter, and you thank your lucky stars that you haven't yet resorted to taking the advice the Duke of Norfolk once suggested to ease the suffering of the starving masses during the Irish Potato Famine and added curry powder to hot water in place of food.