food poverty

Live below the line – day one

I don’t intend to post one of these every day, but here’s a snapshot of how we’ve got on today. It’s our first day attempting to feed ourselves for £1, and it’s been fine so far.


  1. well done good start! are you allowed to get food out of supermarket skips? often have some treats especially so if you are trying to survive on a quid a day. good luck Annie

    1. I think that’s allowed and I’ve foraged in bins in the past, but my wife has said no! We have been to our local grocer though. We’re regular customers and he’s been quite supportive, and he put aside some bananas and carrots that were damaged, so we got some very cheap items to start us off.

      1. Sorry guys no foraging for Live Below the Line… not in the rules. It has to be the cost of any food as would be the case for people living in extreme poverty who don’t usually have the luxury of capitalising on left-over food as there rarely is any – particularly in rural communities where the majority of the extreme poor live. Sorry… (BTW I work for the Global Poverty Project and LBL)

          1. Not really and it starts to open up another kind of conversation that Stefan is alluding to around subsistence and forms of poverty – urban/rural, monetary/time and so on. Great to see it open up that kind of conversation though and that is what the campaign is all about – so really do what you want and let the conversations continue…!

  2. Wow wish I had those luxuries of drinks for my Live Below the Line but looks like a great way to get into the swing of things – nice one. For those unfamiliar to the Live Below the Line campaign you can not beg, borrow, steal, dumpster-dive, grow or be gifted food or if you do it has to be calculated at the cost of that food. I find it is almost harder to try and stop people to give you food than to do the challenge! Great advocacy for the campaign and awareness to us all how simplified we need to make life eating on less than a quid a day.

    1. It’s so much easier doing the shopping for two people. We have a lot of slack in our budget still, and room for little extras. You can’t really buy the bigger bags of things if you’re doing it with one person.

      And yes, we’ve had enough offers of free meals to last us the week, which would make it rather pointless if we said yes to them all.

  3. I know food prices are higher in the UK than over here on the continent, but still – mostly what we’d need to do for our family of 5 (three little kids, 3 to 8) to live on 5 Euro per day would be to switch from organic to standard supermarket food and from bottled mineral water to tap water (which you can do in most of Europe and other developed regions, but not in most developing countries). We already eat very little meat, and oats (€ 0.29 per 500g), rice, potatoes and flower are so cheap that they almost don’t count. Coffee drives the cost a bit – the cheapest at around € 3.5 per 500g. The 5 Euro per day even would allow for an ice cream and a bottle of supermarket wine for the weekend. Currently we spend around 15 Euro per day for food alone, 7.5 of that for school meals of the kids. I like and laud the campaign, but it nevertheless does not give a real impression. Example: A liter of Milk in the Philippines: € 1.5. In Germany: € 0.5. So when it comes to food the Euro is worth up to 3 times as much here – thanks to food subsidies. And that indispensable bottle of water costs about 60 cents per liter in the Phils., and a liter does not get you far in the tropics. There the one Euro is already gone for safe drinking water alone. Perhaps, to get a real feeling, we should try living on 30 to 50 cents… then it would become a challenge. Maybe we should try for a few days (then without coffee, ice cream or wine – and very little milk). It would also be good for the children to become more aware of the value of food.

    A side effect: it would seem to me that in general up to a certain point low cost living is healthier. Most unhealthy things are expensive – alcohol, cigarettes, sweets, everything containing saturated fat. I often think the generation of my grandparents and parents (pre and post WW II) grew older and older because they, when they were young, had to get along with sparse and simple food. My grandmother for example stayed healthy and mentally fit until her mid 80s and in midst of over abundance she lived on a diet of vegetables and potatoes with buttermilk and an occasional chicken leg or Schnitzel as a highlight. It is over-abundance that makes us sick. On many levels.

    1. I was going to write about that very thing today. The thing that has struck me most is just how cheap food is here. Living on £1 a day isn’t actually very difficult at all. The only challenging part is the will-power to not buy snacks or accept gifts.

      For our shop, Lou compared prices across the main supermarkets and bought the cheapest items from the discount ranges. We’ve even got mozzarella on the menu later this week – not something I expected at all when we first decided to do it. We start with such a huge range of advantages in the industrialised world.

  4. Fairtrade bananas 45p a kilo at Waitrose this week. Support farmers, patronise a co-operative and fill your belly with natural energy, what’s not to like?

    1. Fairtrade bananas at 45p blows me away. I pay € 1.50! Although that’s fairtrade plus organic.

  5. One of our favourite end-of-the-month meals is roast carrot risotto. Onions, butter, rice, chicken stock and roasted, roughly mashed carrots. Delicious. Dash of white wine if you have some dregs. I once priced it at 70p for the four of us.

    Speaking of chicken stock, there’s a cheap and flavourful resource. A chicken carcass, various assorted leftover root vegetables or peelings, simmer overnight, reduce and strain. Then pour it into clear plastic grip bags and freeze, and add to dishes as you like.

    I could go on…..

    1. I wonder how utility costs and transportation figure in. Traveling to markets, electricity for cooking etc.

      1. The extreme poverty line is US$1.25/day according to the World Bank in 2005 and this is to pay for EVERYTHING – housing, transport, health, education and food… The campaign is just a small insight into what it must be like for those who live in extreme poverty and just how amazingly resourceful and resilient they have to be…

        1. Yes – and yet at the same time reducing poverty to money doesn’t tell the whole story. A subsistence farmer living in a functioning traditional community can be much better off with even less than a Dollar per day than a person with considerably more money striving in the polluted slums of a third world mega-city. What opened my eyes in this respect was the work done by anthropologist Helena Norberg Hodge (Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh). For the individual money can be a solution, but by and large it is also part of the problem by setting the wrong incentives.

          1. Stefan I totally agree and will have a look at your reference resource – thanks. I think you are opening up another kind of conversation around subsistence and forms of poverty – urban/rural, monetary/time and so on. Great to see it open up that kind of conversation though and that is what the campaign is all about – let the conversations continue…!

    2. That’s a good’un. Carrots are very cheap, and I was going to do some roasted roots at some point this week. There’s even some white wine left over from last week, but I think that may be cheating.

  6. I’m sure you’ve thought of these issues, but it’s worth considering that the 1.4 billion, mainly rural poor, are unlikely to have access to “value” goods in supermarkets sold at or below cost price. They probably have to travel on foot to markets (using up valuable energy), to choose from a poor selection of locally produced food. They will be intensely vulnerable to small changes in food prices resulting from food speculation in the West. They are likely to be deficient in many vitamins and minerals from an early age, thus more susceptible to illness. They are also unlikely to have a regular £1 a day, so some days will earn nothing at all (and eat the same). Parents will starve themselves to feed their children (or vice-versa).

    I spent some time working as a teacher in Africa and earned a local wage. I used the village market and spent more evenings than I care to remember eating rice flavoured with a stock cube garnished with a few tomatoes and onion, cooked on a paraffin stove. Some days I made chapatis with flour and water. Mind you, I shamelessly admit to occasionally cheating and using my emergency credit card to eat slap up meals in 5 star hotels (just so you don’t think I’m entirely virtuous!)

    My point is that money is not the only issue. There is enough food in the world to feed us all. The supply chain, and ownership of all elements of that chain by multinationals, are causing many problems. It is clear that something must be done to empower people and help them own the means of production. How useful must a goat be to a truly poor family (source of milk, cheese etc)? How useful a patch of fertile land with a well dug for them. Much better than sacks and sacks of corn or rice from the Food Aid programmes.

    1. The value of this action is, in my eyes, that awareness is increased – largely by stirring just the kind of discussion we see here. I also notice something different: some countries cope better with poverty than others. In Sri Lanka, for example, education and basic medical care are free. Also in Cuba or Bhutan nobody is starving, while other countries – despite much higher per capita GDPs – leave much of their population behind. I am by no means a communist, but ultimately I think that for the largest part of the population it is better to live in Cuba than in the Philippines. In general the economy should be organized so that the majority benefits most. Why should it be the main goal to allow fabulous concentrations of wealth and power in the hands of a few, paid for by the vast majority? We currently have a discussion here in Germany about large investment funds speculating in foodstuffs, which dramatically drives the prices up. A purely artificial game where “supply and demand” of virtual derivatives define the costs of real goods. At the end of that chain we find real hunger and very real suffering caused by hedging and option leverages.

      1. Yes, financial speculation on food is an entirely predatory activity and needs to be controlled. Unfortunately it is big business here in London, so I suspect the British government will find itself standing in the way of progress (again).

        The success of a society can be measured, in part at least, by the number of people it leaves behind. What’s the point of a booming economy if the wealth isn’t shared with the majority of people? That’s exactly what happened in Egypt, where even the government had to admit that 90% of people didn’t benefit from the enormous growth of the last decade – and surely a factor in the revolution.

    2. Much of that is in today’s post, looking at how cheap and convenient food is in a developed country! I’ll be posting later today.

    3. Joe a fantastic post and so much rings true for me when I have been a teacher in many developing countries. Would be keen to take a conversation off-line around the youth and schools program I initiated for the Global Poverty Project. Great points and realities of extreme poverty but hard to obtain without experiencing them so thats why I believe Live Below the Line is a great entry point for lots of people to ‘get it’. Cheers. my blog for my 5 weeks of LBL.

      1. Thanks Lunny, and great blog. I enjoyed reading and wonder how you can expend so much energy whilst taking so little in… Well done for doing it two years running (and cycling – excuse the pun).

        I agree LBTL is a useful entry point and also think it’s important to raise awareness of such issues which this will potentially do. I think Jeremy’s latest post on the cheapness of food expands on some of the issues I raised.

        Thinking more about this, I guess inequality is the natural state of things and we will never all have the same, no matter how hard we try. What we must surely all agree to try is balance the distribution of wealth (money, materials, resources, food) as much as possible, to raise those at the lowest end out of extreme poverty so people don’t starve to death or lack the basics for a happy life. If the highest end drops slightly (or even a lot) as a result, then that’s just tough! We have the means to do it, which frustrates me.

        I’m also reminded of something else. When I got back from Africa I couldn’t go near a tap (faucet) for a few days. It struck me as somehow obscene that we could access so much water on demand when I had to use a well with a manual winch for drinking, bathing, cooking and washing clothes etc for so long. There is such a stark difference between life in the West and life for the world’s poor that, as good as campaigns like this are, we need instrumental change in policy to make a difference. It’s also why we shouldn’t allow the UK Government to go back on their GDP-linked pledge for aid which should be the minimum we do to support others. See:

        1. Thanks for the comment / compliments Joe. Again I can relate to a lot of what you are writing. For me it also raises an important though that we need to advocate for simplicity in developed countries as much as ending extreme poverty in developing countries. This is where I really appreciate the work of Jeremy, Post Growth Institute, Voluntary Simplicity, etc… I hope we can meet somewhere in the middle where we can all have the best of both worlds – enough but not excess… tough dream but worth living towards.

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