This week, I have eaten next-to-nothing for a campaign called Live Below The Line.
Part of the Global Poverty Project, it challenges communities across the world to eat and drink on one pound a day, to try and understand the experiences of 1.2 billion people who live below the poverty line. I decided to try it. In part, to raise money for Save the Children, but also to see if I could survive on below the bare minimum.
For the challenge, I decided to give myself a food budget of £1 a day, for a five-day period.
With this money, I bought a selection of basic, value items at my local supermarket (Tesco). My shopping list consisted of split peas, some oil, two potatoes, three eggs (six originally, but I shared three), a loaf of bread, two onions, two carrots, three bananas, porridge oats, a tin of baked beans and a tin of chopped tomatoes, which came to a total of £4.45.
It's surprising how little you can buy, and everything has to be portioned to the last gram – which is headache-inducing before the week has even begun.
My plan was to create my version of a dhal which I hoped would see me though five days. But after forgetting to cook the meal the night before, I spent the first day eating porridge and dry toast. First lesson learnt: You cannot survive on one pound a day without careful planning.
On the evening of day one, I dutifully put all the ingredients for dhal in a pan and set them to heat. Now here, I must add, I cannot cook. I cannot cook in the same way that animals cannot drive cars. I have limbs and all the necessary equipment, but the process will rarely be a smooth transition from A to B. Fires, scalds and tantrums are rife.
The instructions said to cook the peas for 40 minutes. Easy. But, being tired and hungry, I took a two-hour angry nap and overcooked them into an unpalatable goo. It isn't possible to buy new ingredients, so I had the gruelling (pun intended) concoction for two days, before giving in to stomach cramps from all the fibre.
Day three and four were porridge days. Mid-week, I found, is where the mood swings kick in. I was hungry and miserable, with the overwhelming feeling that I might expire if I stand up too quickly. It is difficult to feel satisfied with porridge made with water – which quickly hardens to a consistency which would be useful for wall-plastering - and dry toast. Hanger (a deadly combination of hunger-induced anger) begins to set in, and I feel tired and constantly furious. My head hurts and I find it hard to concentrate. A simple council tax bill rendered me so incapacitated with fury that I was required to take another angry nap.
The best decision this week, however, was to splash out on a packet of 'value' ginger nut biscuits. At 30p a pack they took a considerable amount of my budget, but have been a saviour. On day four, I dropped one of my biscuits outside - next to a pile of cigarette ash and congealed chewing gum - and I am unashamed to say I picked it up and ate it. Ten second rule.
Day five. The last, but arguably worst day. All gruel supplies are low, my bread went mouldy and I am saving my two remaining ginger nuts for a bit of excitement later on. I will be spending the next week scraping fossilised porridge off my desk and kitchen, and I felt hungrier after my final bowl of lunch gruel than I was before it.
But with just a few hours left of the campaign, I have begun to realise how important this cause this is. The World Bank describes poverty as living on less than one pound a day, and while I can go back to eating and drinking normally after five days, this isn't an option for millions of people around the world. Many have to feed their families on considerably less.
So far, my group has raised over £700 pounds, thanks to the kind donations of friends and family who have leant a sympathetic ear to our moaning. Every pound will go towards a global effort to reduce global poverty and I will be taking part in Live Below the Line every year to help. And to anyone willing to try the challenge, I furvently recommend eggs and ginger nuts.
Please send any donations to: Livebelowtheline.com/team/egg-sandwiches.