Living below the line – One year on
By Samia Aziz, MADE in Europe Charity Supporter
‘Living Below the Line’ is an experience that never leaves you.
Discovering somebody you met recently that has also done the challenge, together you reminisce of days spent eating chick peas and rice for perhaps 80% of your meals for five days, with little flavour and never any dessert. Shared experiences of this kind are special, but also rare. The Live Below the Line Challenge is straightforward – to challenge yourself by living on just £1 a day (£5 across 5 days), and in the process to raise funds and awareness about issues of global poverty and hunger.
On the surface, living on £1 a day doesn’t sound like a huge deal. With the likes of ASDA SmartPrice and Tesco Value, you can get a loaf of bread for 50p, a gallon of milk for £1 and a tin of chick peas for approximately 35p, so you begin to think that you can fill your basket with enough food to last the week. It is certainly true that shifting from well-known brands such as Hovis and Heinz to supermarket own-brands, you can buy more products. Buying enough good food to last for five days, however, is quite a challenge. Food-related studies from the youngest of ages teaches us that each meal we consume ought to contain a mixture of food groups – bread and rice; meat and fish; milk and dairy; fruit and vegetables, and fats. However, once shopping, you quickly realise that this piece of information escapes your head and you become concerned with the level to which you can fill your tummy.
I did the challenge with a few of my friends from university, so it was great to have a network of people who were going through the same thing and could share in your concerns. It was also slightly easier as a group because we were able to pool our £5 together and do a big shop for all of us together. There were a lot of ‘firsts’ for me with the challenge. I walked around Asda carrying a calculator to work out the running total of my basket. For the first time, I used the weighing scales in the vegetable aisle, to work out the price of a single carrot, which I was determined would last me the week. I also had to think about buying food that I knew would last, so I opted for long-life milk instead of fresh milk, and tinned vegetables and beans instead of fresh ones. Doing shopping for the challenge is the first big hurdle, and it has happened before the week has even begun. During the week, your own hunger pangs and craving for chocolate or a take-out are not your only concerns.
The week taught me what a huge part of our social lives, food has become. One of my favourite places to study is a small café in town, however during the challenge I couldn’t afford a cup of tea for £1.30, so the possibility of escaping there to tackle an essay was ruled out. I had to turn down invitations to go out for dinner, and turned up to hang out with friends in the college cafeteria, carrying my own mug of coffee. I prefer to work in the night, and often find myself reaching for a handful of dried fruits or something sweet to keep me going through the masses of reading ahead. During the challenge, my meal times often left me feeling a little empty, and I had to keep busy to forget the feeling in my tummy which was expecting more. While hunger can sometimes keep you awake at night, the lack of food made me feel more tired than usual, so a few of my planned late-nights for essays didn’t actually happen.
Challenges for charity are sometimes frowned upon as doing little in the way of contributing to the fight against the real problems. The ‘Live Below the Line’ challenge does not promise to end world poverty and hunger during your five days, although the money you raise will no doubt help against the fight. The challenge provides an insight into what it feels like to live below the poverty line. For five days, you share something with the millions of people who have to go without every day. Without taking away from the hardships that are faced by millions across the world, this challenge helps us to move one step closer to understanding exactly why we need to fight against global poverty and hunger. It provides us with the space to think about our own consumer habits, and also to listen to our bodies about what we actually need.
For me, the week was a humbling reminder to return to our holy scriptures and learn from the life of our Prophet Muhammad (saw). Our Prophet (saw) taught us to live humbly; to seek moderation in all things; to be stewards on this Earth, and to treat our bodies with kindness. The week was a powerful realization of unequal access to food across the World, despite the fact that the Earth contains more than enough food for everyone to eat well. Prophet Muhammad (saw) taught us to never be more than 2/3 full while eating; that our stomach should be 1/3 water, 1/3 food, and 1/3 air. ‘Living Below the Line’ made me realise how frequently we don’t take heed of such beautiful advice, and how different things could be if we were all a little bit more responsible and giving. I would whole-heartedly recommend the challenge. Go on, challenge yourself!
Samia Aziz participated in the live below the line challenge last year and supports charity MADE in Europe.