This week, I’ve joined a few colleagues participating in the Breadline Challenge, living off no more than £2.50 per day for all my food and drink.
According to a recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report, 13.5 million people in the UK living in poverty. As I’ve experienced this week, this can often mean having to make difficult choices between where, when and what and you can afford to eat.
One of the first things I noticed, was the huge amount of time I had to spend planning, buying and preparing food this week! There was the shopping, which took me 1.5 hours in Vauxhall Lidl sourcing the best deals, and lugging 2 huge carrier bags of groceries home precariously on my bike. People living in poverty often don’t live near the cheapest supermarkets, and don’t have their own transport to get to them, so some research on the Poverty Premium suggests they end up spending more of the little budget they have.
To live on such a tight budget involved a couple of hours on Sunday night meticulously recipe planning and costing. And yet more hours over the week were spent cooking from scratch all my meals for the day, and planning ahead work lunches. The convenience of a M&S ready meal, or spontaneously picking up a Boots Meal Deal is not an option for people living on the breadline. I wasn’t surprised that research shows that dealing with poverty overloads cognitive capacity, and is linked to stress, low level anxiety and depression.
Another sad reality is how hard it is to be healthy living on a low income. The cheap foods I’ve relied on this week have been carbs such as bread, pasta and rice, possibly explaining why I’ve been lacking energy most of the week. When I noticed over the weekend I was coming down with a cold, my normal response would be to swiftly stock up on foods high in Vitamin C: berocca tablets, oranges, green leafy veg, and my fail-safe cure: fresh lemon and ginger tea, manuka honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper. However there was no way I was going to be able to afford all that this week! Over time, I can see how living in poverty could lead to more poor health, and time off work or school.
It’s been a challenging but eye-opening week, and I’ve seen that it is possible to survive on the breadline! I’ve gained an appreciation for the vast complexity faced by people whom living below the breadline is the norm - not just a five-day challenge. How they have much less choice over what they eat. How they lose hours planning, shopping around, seeking out deals or travelling further to cheaper supermarkets. How they must do without a costly impulse takeaway chai latte when they’re having a bad day.
Thanks to Food Cycle for inspiring us all to do such an important challenge, and for the work they do to try to end food poverty.