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Rachel Hills did the Live Below the Line challenge in the UK between May and 2 and 6. As thousands of people in the US, Australia and the UK prepare to Live Below the Line in the coming weeks, here are her reflections on the experience, previously posted on her blog.
While doing Live Below The Line last week, I kept a running tally of everything I ate and how much it cost - less for myself, than because I wanted to show you that it was possible, and it's not as scary as it looks.
That's not to say it was fun. Despite the fact that I was eating three meals per day, plus snacks, I was pretty much constantly hungry, especially on the last two days. I woke up on Wednesday morning with a piercing headache, and spent most of the week in a peri-migraine state. We bought cheap, so we always had enough to eat, but it also meant the food was bland and poor quality (see, for example, the rotting carrot on day three).
And food was not so plentiful that we didn't have to negotiate what and how much we could eat. That egg I treated myself to for lunch on the last day, for instance? Was an egg The Boyfriend could not eat (but kindly gave up for me on my request).
There's been a lot of LBL-related media coverage in the UK and Australia (and I imagine the US) over the past couple of weeks, which has led to some interesting discussions of how accurately the challenge reflects the experiences of those people who really are living in extreme poverty.
Surely you can buy more with $2 in N'Djamena than you can in Sydney? (Nope, $2 is the Australian equivalent of what you'd have to spend, in N'Dajamena those living below the extreme poverty line survive on a lot less. That's what purchasing power parity is all about.) Why aren't housing and transport costs included? (Well, those really do cost a lot more in London/San Fran/Melbourne than they do in Brazzaville/Monrovia/Abuja.) Isn't this whole exercise really unhealthy? (Not if you're only doing it for five days.)
Living in extreme poverty - especially for a short, confined period of time - does not mean you are literally and continuously starving to death. In Malawi, a country where 73.9 percent of the population is living in extreme poverty, the average life expectancy is 56.5 years. Extreme poverty manifests itself in things like continuous poor nutrition, lousy health care, and high childhood and maternal mortality.
Would someone living in Malawi eat similarly to what I've outlined below? Probably not. My menu was based on the options and prices available in a London supermarket. And if 73.9 percent of people in Malawi are living below the extreme poverty line, it's fair to say that most of those people are spending a fair bit less than 90p per day on food.
But the main way in which Live Below The Line doesn't show you what it's like to live in extreme poverty? As of midnight Saturday morning, I was able to return to my normal consumption patterns. About half way through the challenge, I was reminded of the classic Pulp song,Common People. I sang it while walking home from the official London LBL dinner on Wednesday night.
But still you'll never get it right
'Cos when you're laying in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the walls
If you called your dad he could stop it all, yeah
You'll never live like common people
You'll never do whatever common people do
You'll never fail like common people
You'll never watch your life slide out of view...
As I wrote in a previous post, the thing that makes extreme poverty so unjust isn't that feeding yourself on £1/day is impossible. (I suspect that the menu below isn't all that different to what many Europeans were eating on rations during the Second World War.) It's that when you're got that little wiggle room, there's no space for anything to get wrong. You can't afford to get sick. You can't afford to send your kids to school, to get the kind of education that might lift them out of poverty.
The good news is that extreme poverty is on the decline. At the beginning of the 1980s, half the planet lived in extreme poverty. Now it's sitting at around 25 percent. And the purpose of a project like Live Below The Line is to increase awareness so that we can build a movement that gets that number to zero.
Anyway, if you're interested in giving Live Below The Line a try yourself, here's what I ate...
Monday 2 May 2011
Breakfast: Small bowl of oats with boiled water (6p) and half a banana (7p).
Morning snack: Small carrot. (2p)
Lunch: Three slices of toast (8p) with spinach spread (6p) and two mushrooms (8p), chopped and cooked. Cup of tea (3p).
Afternoon snack: Small carrot. (2p)
Dinner: Penne (2p) with red onion (4p), frozen broccoli (6p) and carrot (1p). Stock cube (1p).
Dessert: Half a banana. (7p)
Tuesday 3 May 2011
Breakfast: Small bowl of oats with boiled water and half a banana. (13p)
Lunch: Penne (2p) with red onion (4p), frozen broccoli (6p), carrot (1p) and chicken stock (1p).
Afternoon snack: Two carrots. (4p)
Afternoon snack part 2: Small apple (10p). Cup of tea (3p).
Dinner: Rice, with red onion, spinach, broccoli and carrot. (31p)
Dessert: Banana custard. (8p)
Wednesday 4 May 2011
Breakfast: Small bowl of oats with boiled water and half a banana. (13p)
Lunch: Three slices of toast (8p) with spinach spread (6p) and two mushrooms (8p), chopped and cooked.
Afternoon snack: Two carrots. One half rotted by this point! Still, 4p.
Dinner: Spiced lentils and rice at Live Below The Line dinner. (30p)
Dessert: Apple (10p). Cup of tea. (3p)
Thursday 5 May 2011
Breakfast: Small bowl of oats with boiled water and half a banana. (13p)
Morning snack: Carrot. (2p)
Lunch: Rice, with red onion, spinach, broccoli and carrot (31p). Apple. (10p) Cup of tea (3p).
Afternoon snack: Carrot (2p).
Dinner: Half a can of chickpeas (22p), with red onion (4p), broccoli (6p) and mushrooms (10p). Two pieces of toast (4p).
Dessert: Apple. (10p)
Friday 6 May 2011
Breakfast: Small bowl of oats with boiled water and half a banana. (13p)
Lunch: Three slices of toast (7p) with spinach spread (4p) and egg (14p).
Afternoon snack: Two carrots (4p). Banana (13p).
Dinner: Omelette with 2.5 eggs (36p), spinach (15p) and broccoli (6p). Piece of toast. (2p)
This week I spent about an hour planning my Live Below the Line shopping list – working out what groceries I could afford with just $10, and where I should shop to get the best bang for my buck next week.
I was really disappointed that because of the Queensland cyclone, bananas are now well out of my budget range. They were a big source of nutrition and flavour for me last year – and as I searched hopelessly for a cheap, tasty and nutrient rich option to replace them, I was reminded of just how little choice would be available to me if I only had the equivalent of $2 a day to live on.
I started to imagine the kind of impossible choices I would be faced with. I imagined myself as a mother – choosing between feeding my daughter and sending her to school; between collecting clean water for my family and leaving my children alone at home; between sending my child to a doctor and feeding her.
And I was reminded that thousands of mothers are forced to make choices like these every day. Because they’re trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty; working their hardest to get ahead, but stuck in broken systems without access to the basic opportunities they need - and deserve - to build a better future for themselves and their family.
I’m passionate about changing this reality – and am excited to be part of a campaign that is both increasing public awareness and raising funds for anti-poverty initiatives. I hope that the personal challenge that I and thousands of other Australians choose to take next week will help shift the way the Australian public thinks about the issue of extreme poverty - that the conversations we have and the challenges we face will highlight the fact that extreme poverty is about much more than being hungry - that it is about lacking choice and living without safety nets.
I know that we’re already having a huge impact.
The 4,800 Australians already signed up to take part are making headlines around the country, and raising crucial funds for anti-poverty projects. They’re stepping up as leaders of change in their own communities, to tackle this issue.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been particularly touched by the story of a friend of mine, which I think highlights the importance and power of this campaign. Earlier this year, I invited him to join me Below the Line next week. Initially he was hesitant, concerned about maintaining his significant work commitments and his busy lifestyle with only limited access to nutrients. But last month he emailed me to let me know he’d decided to get on board. Since then he’s signed up workmates, had his story covered in his work magazine and local newspaper, and raised over a thousand dollars to support the Global Poverty Project’s work. He, and thousands of other Australians just like him, are making ripples in our communities, planting seeds that will see others join the campaign next year, and inspiring others take action to help fight extreme poverty.
On behalf of the whole Global Poverty Project team here in Australia, I thank everyone who has signed up to take part in the campaign next week. The conversations you have and the funds you raise will have a big impact.
To all our supporters, I encourage you to get behind those who are choosing to Live Below the Line next week, by posting messages of support on our facebook page or website, or making a donation.
The funds we raise for the Global Poverty Project during Live Below the Line will help ensure our neighbours in developing communities have better access to the opportunities they deserve to make a decent wage for their work; to escape the crippling disease of polio; and realise the benefit of their endeavours. You can find out more about what we’ll be able to do thanks to your support in our Country Director’s blog Incredible Opportunities in 2011.
Thankyou to everyone for their incredible support of the Project, and this campaign – you’re helping us grow the global anti-poverty movement and are building the momentum we need to see an end to extreme poverty, within a generation.
As the GPP team prepare to Live Below the Line from the 16th - 20th, we've been seeing some inspiring stories being shared by participants around the country! As we countdown to the challenge week I wanted to share a few of my favourite Live Below the Line blogs from this month:
"...For 5 days, May 16-20 I'm going to *breathe* most likely *GASP* be. without. coffee. This is big. I'll only have a budget of AU$2 a day to spend on my food and drink, and sadly, even though I'm tempted to ditch the food and concentrate on having really strong, sugary coffees, I think it would be more nutritious and better for my family overall if coffee and I took 'a break'. It's a good thing really. We'll be able to better our relationship with one another. For one thing, I'll have more time to think. I know what Coffee brings to the concept of 'US' but I feel that maybe I haven't been as giving as I could be. I haven't always looked at coffee's side of happenings. Where Coffee is coming from. Do you? Do you know where your coffee is coming from? Do you know if the growers payment was enough to cover the cost of producing your morning brew? Do you know if there is adequate infrastructure for the community in which the coffee was grown? Wouldn't you want some good healthcare and education facilities and initiatives for the people that bring something SO important into your life? I do."
From Tegan Wakeham (proving it's always important to post about campaigns on facebook!)
"So, I heard about Live Below the Line on the radio this morning and thought it would be cool to do it and give something back, but them reassured myself it was a foolish decision, and didn't give it much thought after that. That was until I saw one of my friends post about it on his facebook seeking donations. What an inspiration! Still not quite sure how I gained so much inspiration out of that one post, buuuuuttttt 10 minutes later, I was registered!"
"Live Below The Line is a wonderful campaign that allows individuals like myself to participate and make a difference in the fight against poverty. Not only do we raise money to help millions suffering from poverty, but we are actively participating in a concept that will allow us to understand what poverty has caused to many across the globe."
"Recently, I've been reflecting on 'the why' - the reasons why I'm involved in this completely incredible campaign. Yesterday the Tasmania Live Below the Line team held their 'Dining Table Stunt' in the Elizabeth Street Mall in Hobart. We got some pollies along, some Hobart City Council Aldermen and The Mercury and Tasmanian news programs. Myself and Eva Mackinley had also spoken on ABC local radio that morning and I'd done a bit of an impromptu interview for a local radio station which had played on Saturday.
From where I was sitting, we were finally getting some exposure and I felt like I was actually doing my job, finally hitting my targets and not letting down the rest of the team. And then during the stunt, an older women walked up to me in the mall. She had tears in her eyes and told me that she had grown up living under the poverty line in Siberia. She told me that I couldn't even begin to understand what it felt like to live in poverty, to go to bed without anything, not even a slice of bread, and not crying about it, because they didn't have enough energy to cry. I didn't know what to say, I was standing there with tears in my eyes and all I could manage to say was, "thank you for sharing your story, this is why we're doing this, so eventually, no one understands what it feels like to grow up living in extreme poverty." She just smiled at me and said, "thank you". I have never witnessed extreme poverty for myself and in that one quick conversation between strangers, I was reminded of 'the why' - the reason why I spent pretty much all of Thursday and some of Friday and Monday, when I should have been writing a uni assignment, calling and e-mailing and generally harassing media about this incredible campaign."
And then check out what the Deputy PM has to say!
You can read more Live Below the Line participant blogs here.
When I was asked if I would cook for the Live Below the Line event at the House of Lords on May 4, I thought it was a good idea and said yes without any hesitation as it was an honour.
All was well until 48 hours before the event, when people wanted to know what I would cook for all those Lords and Baronesses. Well, frankly - that’s when I started getting a little nervous, realising I would have to cook for 80 people at the House of Lords, having only a budget of £32 in total – a 40p meal each!
The planning began. I went through every cookbook I own to find a recipe that would be tasty, filling and most importantly, one that would suit the tight budget. I knew it had to be a recipe with a few spices (tasty), beans (filling) and preferably rice (a cheap and safe option in case somebody would be gluten or wheat intolerant).
However, there were still so many different choices out there and I was determined to cook something with a little more effort than just using a microwave. Little did I know about the kitchen at the House of Lords…
In the end I picked out three different recipes that I knew would work well for the event and started calculating the costs and amounts of the ingredients using MySupermarket.co.uk. Although they were all within the tight budget, the one that stood out for being easy to cook (I was told the kitchen was not well equipped), and therefore chosen for the night was the Three-Bean Dal, which also happened to be the cheapest – I spent £24.09 for 80 people (30p per meal). Score!
I’ve never cooked for 80 people before so it was quite challenging to figure everything out. There was a lot of planning involved – from the logistics of shopping and getting everything to the House of Lords to the pots, plates, glasses and other utensils required to cook this meal. “Do we prepare the onions, garlic and ginger the night before and take them cooked with us?” “Where are we going to soak the yellow split peas so they won’t require as much cooking to save time?” (lucky we did this) And most importantly, “Who is doing the shopping?”
There were lots of questions and issues requiring some thoughts and planning but we did get it all done in the end. Using MySupermarket.co.uk to buy and deliver the ingredients to the office (we needed 39 cans of beans and tomatoes amongst other heavy things such as 10kg of rice), and preparing the onions, garlic and ginger in the office kitchen so we didn’t have to take a knife through security, we bussed and taxied to the House of Lords. Everybody had their hands full of everything we needed to make this work, and we were also a little stressed as we were already running late.
I mentioned before that the kitchen at the House of Lords was “not well equipped”…. Well, little did I know how true that was. The kitchen has an induction hob – for which we didn’t have the required magnetic pots, two microwaves, not enough plastic/ glassware usable for microwaves, and one kettle. That’s it. Let me emphasise this to you: THAT’S IT! I had to cook a meal for 80 people using two ovens (at least I had two) and two microwaves (I could have done with more) without having enough dishes to cook in.
I basically used the microwaves to cook 8kg of rice, using two small plastic containers multiple times, and two cast-iron dishes for the ovens to “fry” the onions, garlic and ginger, add the spices and the rest of the ingredients and cook everything for an hour or so. Certainly an interesting method and it taught me to make the most out of the little I had – and a reminder of how hard it must be to survive on £1 a day without necessarily reliable electricity, fridges and all our conveniences.
The final verdict from the 80 participants gathered in the River Room of the House of Lords - well, I'll leave that Graeme Hodge from the Salvation Army, who recorded this short video blog as part of his Live Below the Line efforts:
Thanks to the leadership of Global Poverty Project Advisory Board Member, Jack McConnell, the UK's House of Lords yesterday debated extreme poverty.
You can read the full text of the debate in Hansard, and we've excerpted some highlights below:
"Next week, some members of this House will take part in an innovative campaign organised by the Global Poverty Project—an organisation on whose advisory board I am pleased to sit—called Live Below the Line. The Global Poverty Project seeks to abolish extreme poverty within a generation. It wishes to keep alive the spirit of the Make Poverty History campaign of 2005 but to deepen and widen that movement for change to involve many more people the world over in a movement that will finally eradicate extreme poverty. Live Below the Line is an awareness and fund-raising campaign. It involves a number of partners with the Global Poverty Project. It is supported by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for International Development, the shadow Secretary of State for International Development and many others."
--- Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
"We are all here in the Chamber because we care about this issue. It is the reason that the noble Lord and I will be joining thousands of others across the world who are supporters of the Global Poverty Project by participating in the challenge to “live below the line” for five days next week." ... "Live Below the Line is one way of standing up for what we think is right in the world. In addition to the soup kitchen, next week the Lord Speaker will host an event in the River Room on Wednesday evening to which you are all most welcome. We cannot offer noble Lords lavish canapés, or even a glass of wine, but please join us at that event to learn more, or over lunch on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and share with us our 33p or 40p meal."
--- Baroness Jenkin of Kennington
"I am grateful to the Government for ring-fencing the aid budget, especially in the current economic climate. This decision reflects the continuing commitment of the British people to assist the world's poorest and affirms the United Kingdom as an example within the international community. I believe that churches and other faith communities with deep convictions and roots in poorer communities around the world will continue to uphold and monitor the Government's decision on the aid budget, even as other funding pressures are faced at home. I urge the Government also to encourage other EU and G20 Governments to uphold their commitments to the world's poorest, who inevitably have been most acutely affected by the global financial crisis."
--- The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
"Yesterday in this House we spoke of the core curriculum. I was late in getting up and did not get my question in. Is there not a place for a global overview in the core curriculum? It is a small world compared to the one I was brought up in. It is a world in which there is so much poverty, but so much knowledge and so much to be learnt. I wonder if our children are learning about the great needs of this world in which we live. Is there not some way that the core curriculum could involve something such as international development or world need among its subjects? "
--- Lord Roberts of Llandudno
"On 12 April the US Government announced a cut in their aid budget roughly equivalent to the aid the United Kingdom gives from its Exchequer every year. The United States still remains the largest global cash giver but it is the smallest contributor in terms of the percentage of its GDP of any major nation. Will the Prime Minister face down President Barack Obama at the G8 about his responsibility and that of his nation to ensure that development does not take place on the back of the poor, which is precisely what this Government said they would not do with aid?"
--- Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick
"This is not a time for pessimism and cynicism. Great leaps forward have been made and more is certainly needed and possible in the battle that has to be waged against the endemic inequities which keep the people poor, excluded and powerless. Some countries have suffered serious setbacks and economic growth has been extremely unequal. The UN asserts that while the gaps in human development across the world are narrowing they remain huge. Now, however, is not the time to peddle doom and gloom about these issues, but rather to show that aid works and that effective development can and must be supported. That is why donors should focus on what they do best and should work with Governments on health, education, good governance, and support for justice and taxation systems."
--- Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead