Dining on £1 a day is full of surprises

Many celebrities will be taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge. Picture: Getty
Many celebrities will be taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge. Picture: Getty
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A staggering 1.4 billion people in the world live on less than £1 a day. Could you Live Below the Line for a week?

WHAT can £1 buy you these days? A bag of value bananas? A couple of bags of pasta? Four tins of the cheapest baked beans? Half a dozen eggs? I’ve been paying more attention than usual to my shopping basket, obsessively poring over the price, carefully planning meal options. The kind of items I would normally buy without thinking have been agonised over, weighed up against something more expensive but better quality, perhaps, or put back on the shelves as an unnecessary luxury.

A mind-blowing 1.4 billion people worldwide live on less than £1 a day. So, to raise awareness (and cash), the rest of us are being encouraged to give it a go, feeding ourselves with just £1 a day for five days. Starting on 29 April, people like Jack McConnell, Ricky Gervais, Arlene Phillips, Hugh Jackman and Melanie C will be surviving on beans on toast and porridge oats as part of the Live Below the Line challenge, while chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Gizzie Erskine and Chris and Jeff Galvin, the Michelin-starred brothers behind the Pompadour at Edinburgh’s Caledonian hotel, have created slap-up recipes that can be created on a pittance.

But that £5 is to cover everything we eat and drink: no cheeky wee snacks, no store-cupboard essentials or condiments, no visits to Starbucks. Is it even possible?

To start with, I put if off. For weeks. The prospect is just too awful to contemplate. Then, when I finally get around to doing my shopping, it becomes clear that this is going to be even harder than I first imagined. As for having a healthy diet over the next five days, I might as well forget it.

Day one: Starts well. I roast my vegetables and boil up some pasta to make lunch for the next three days, then make a bolognese with my turkey mince, which should stretch to two dinners. I have porridge (made with water) every morning for breakfast.

But then I meet a friend for coffee. She takes pity on me and offers to buy my tea and cake – which is considered cheating, but it certainly relieves the tedium of pasta for the next three days.

Day two: More porridge, pasta and bolognese. And no snacks mean I’m really hungry.

Day three: It’s my final pasta lunch, which tastes like nectar. But probably only because I know it’s downhill from here. Dinner is scrambled egg and the vilest sausages known to humankind.

Day four: I’m running out of food so make a soup out of my remaining vegetables and a stock cube. It looks horrid but tastes surprisingly OK. Scrambled eggs for dinner again. I feel like weeping.

Day five: All I have left is some more of that soup for lunch and a tin of baked beans, three sausages and some pasta for dinner. It’s not very interesting, and it leaves me hungry, but I’m just relieved it’s all over. I crack open the water to celebrate.

The verdict: Poverty is no joke. Having high-minded ideals like insisting on free-range eggs and humanely farmed chicken are meaningless to anyone on the breadline. And it’s no wonder fresh fruit and vegetables are far down the priority list for the country’s poorest.

But I encourage you to give it a try. It will surprise you, inspire you to think more creatively about what you eat, and hopefully help change the lives of those for whom this isn’t an interesting experiment or something to talk about at the water cooler; this is real life, and it sucks.

The £1 a day shopping list

12 sausages 88p

250g turkey mince £1.30

1 pack root vegetables (small turnip, carrots, small onion, leek) £1

1 tin baked beans 25p

1 tin chopped tomatoes 31p

1 bag pasta 30p

6 eggs 95p

Half pack porridge oats 35p

Total £5.34


Twitter: @Ruth_Lesley