The challenge of living below the line

Julia Stanyard 9 May 2015

For five days last week, I took part in the annual Live Below The Line challenge. Living Below the Line is a global campaign that encourages people to engage with the issue of extreme poverty on a more personal level, by spending just £1 on their food each day. Around one in seven people throughout the world are thought to be living on this meagre amount, to provide not only all their food, but all the costs for their housing, transport, energy, schooling, medication and so on. And it was certainly an incredibly eye-opening and humbling experience. My week looked a little something like this…

Monday: FOOD. FOOD. Food was all I could think about, not because I was starving all the time but logistically, working out what I could have for the next meal and whether I'd have enough to last the week was constantly playing at the back of my mind. It struck me that if this literally was all I had to live on, if I didn't have a casual bank account for back up, then so much of my time, energy and worry would be taken up by the simple task of fuelling myself for the day.

Tuesday: Chilling… For some reason I thought I could get used to this. I had a fairly large bowl of porridge made with skimmed UHT milk for breakfast, beans on toast for lunch and spaghetti with sweetcorn for dinner. I was enjoying the challenge of limiting my food intake because I knew why we were doing it.

Wednesday: FLAVOUR. Mid-way through the week I really began to have flavour cravings. Food was no longer an enjoyment and, without wanting to sound too melodramatic, life became dull. My energy levels were really low, and it took more effort to do the things that I would normally enjoy.

Thursday: (I actually missed this day out because I 'had' to attend a meal which I'd already booked in, so made up for it on the Saturday. I was so grateful that I was able to adapt my plans, when so many people have no choice – it just shows the luxury and flexibility we are so used to here).

Friday: Resentment. After having a lovely meal out the night before it was really hard to get back into the swing of flavourless and carb-heavy meals. Embarrassingly I began to pity myself over the lack of choice that I had, and the small things like fruit and cups of tea that I couldn't enjoy.

Saturday: Just keep waiting, just keep waiting. The thing that got me through Saturday was the knowledge that in an ever decreasing number of hours I would be able to revert back to my old eating habits, to eat what I liked when I liked. It hit home that this is a hope of which many people today just don't have the luxury.

The challenge is called Live Below The Line, but in reality my experience was not even close to the situations that millions face everyday in our world. I didn't experience poverty and I can't say I've really identified with the levels of hunger, stress, and uncertainty that the poorest in this world live with all the time. But the five days did force me to step outside of our everyday culture. It forced me to recognise the sheer amount of wealth and choice that we have at our fingertips, and the fact that, despite being a 'poor student', I spend an incredible amount of money just on a whim – grabbing a coffee with a friend or on a quick trip to Sainsbury's on the way back to college.

The Challenge is over, but the reality of extreme poverty continues. The challenge of breaking out of the comfort of our own ordinary lives thus goes on. It has been apparent to me that we should strive not to be complacent; not to be so well adjusted to our surroundings and routines that we fit into them without even thinking. Rather, we should endeavour to stand up to the injustices we see in the world, even if it begins from simply giving up a week of our year to eat on £1 a day!

If you would like to find out more about the Live Below the Line campaign, click here