The Rules – or, Step Away from the Store Cupboard

Many budget recipes have a sting in the tail. 

They start off all chick peas
and cheap cuts of meat before sneakily asking you to chuck in a spoonful of
truffle oil or ground gold dust, that somehow just happens to be lurking at the
back of your cupboard.

Live Below the Line is having none of it.

The official rules here are quite
clear that you have a total of £5 to buy all ingredients for the five days, and
the full cost must be included in the budget. So you can’t allocate the cost of
a quarter of a pack of pasta, or a single egg from the box, but have to stump
up for the whole lot.

You are allowed to use salt, pepper, herbs and spices so
long as you work out a cost per gram, and deduct it from your budget. However,
I suspect this doesn’t really apply to many of the ingredients I’ll really
miss, like oil, butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chutney and so on.

If you’re lucky enough to grow food in your garden, you can
only use it if you “account for the price of production”. This just made my
head hurt, so I reckon our scraggly mint plant and miraculously surviving basil
are safe for the week ahead. There’s no reference to foraging for food
elsewhere, but it’s unlikely I’ll be scavenging for
dandelion leaves behind the bus stop.

I still have vivid memories of a meal years ago when the host
announced that the rice was flavoured with saffron which he had “picked from
the saffron fields of Northern Iran”, and then looked a bit aggrieved when I duly
snorted said rice out of my nose. I reckon shoehorning the return air fares into
a Live Below the Line budget might be a tad tricky.

The good news for me was that ingredients can be shared
between a team, and it was a great relief when my husband volunteered to Live
Below the Line too. Relative to a fiver, all of a sudden a £10 budget seemed
enormous. Right up until I started working out what it could actually buy.

Principles are expensive

Before planning a pound-a-day shopping list, I never
realised how cheaply I would throw some principles to the wind.

Organic milk?
Left on the shelves, in preference for cheaper UHT treated long life skimmed milk., even if it makes me grimace every time I think about it.

Fresh fruit? Hard
to squeeze into the budget.

Free range eggs? Too
expensive, dazzled by the quantity available when turning a blind eye to
battery farming.

Meat from a
recognised source?
While I’ve never been on first name terms with a pig, I
have tended to look out for tractor marks, freedom food signs or free range
labelling and the like, while avoiding value range meat. For the purposes of
the challenge, I’ll be trying the mysteriously labelled “cooking” bacon,
as if every other variety of pricier bacon could be eaten raw – bacon sushi
anyone, or bacon tartare? Ever the optimist, I’m hoping the promised bacon
medley of smoked or unsmoked, rindless or rind on, streaky, middle or back
bacon will add some much needed flavour and comfort.

However, I am still attempting to stick to some of the basic
principles of my normal culinary life.

Variety: I enjoy cooking
and hate eating the same thing all the time, so boring food is the ultimate
sin. I’m sure a practical approach to Live Below the Line would be to choose a
single breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then repeat the same menu for five days.
However, I wanted to trial different recipes and foods on a limited budget.

Ready meals and
processed food:  
I cook much of my
food from scratch, and don’t use many ready meals normally. I was deeply
suspicious that both the ingredients and taste of extremely cheap prepared and
processed foods would leave a lot to be desired. Apart from the cooking bacon, I
therefore avoided such delights as 30p sweet and sour sauce, 26p curry sauce, 40p
tinned meatballs and the value sausages at 12.5p each, with only 41% pork. So looks like I’m going to be shot down in flames for both food snobbery and countenancing battery eggs.

Flavour: Still keen
to avoid boredom from blandness, I went out of my way (literally) to shoehorn items like garlic
and garam masala onto my list.

Treats: I figured
luxuries like cheap jam, and hopefully a packet of sponge mix, could help maintain

Caffeine: not
such a big one for me personally, but my husband blanched at the idea that
glamorous items like oooh tinned pineapple pieces or tinned sweetcorn might
elbow out tea bags. The caffeine kick, even via 27p value bags, was swiftly reinstated.

Where do your own culinary lines lie? What would make the
cut, or be ruthlessly sacrificed if you had to Live Below the Line? (Or would you rather sponsor us, so we’ll eat the value bacon and you don’t have to?)

Why this, why now?

I reckon I keep a pretty close eye on our food bills, but
budgeting £1 each a day for 5 days is a whole other ball game.

I’ve been trying to write about my own experiences trying to
contain the cost of feeding my family, faced with spiralling food costs and diminished
income. It makes me shrivel up with embarrassment, concerned about trivialising
the issue of real poverty and genuine hunger for so many people.

Bemoaning the swap from Ocado to Sainsburys? Gracious the
first world problem.

Banishing Shreddies in favour of supermarket own-brand “crunchy
malted wholewheat cereal”? Boo hoo for you.

Dipped a toe in the brilliant orange waters of Sainsbury’s
Basics range? How brave.

Justified buying Sainsbury’s Basics fruit and veg because I
disapprove of food waste, and support eating produce of different shapes and
sizes that supermarkets would otherwise reject? Hypocrite, I’d never have tried
it if it wasn’t cheaper.

If I’ve gone to bed hungry, it’s only ever been because of
vanity or exhaustion, and I’ve always been able to feed my children. 

I doubt
that I would have considered the Live Below The Line challenge on the basis
that 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty. The number is too big to get
my head round, the population spread too widely. But this post, “Hunger Hurts”,
by Jack Monroe, a member of the Mumsnet bloggers network, made me cry. It also made me want
to something, however trivial.

Feeding yourself for £1 a day?

Have you ever tried to feed yourself on a pound a day?

I am fortunate that I’ve never been forced to do so, but that’s the reality for more than 1.4 billion people worldwide currently living in extreme poverty.  

Closer to home, I’m shocked that more than one in four children in the UK – one of the richest countries in the world – live in poverty, and that the demand for food banks has rocketed through the roof in recent years.

To help raise awareness, I’m taking the Live Below the Line challenge, to live on £1 a day for food for 5 days. And as soon as I mentioned it, my husband said he’d do it too (I have yet to break the news that the budget won’t cover coffee).

So I’ve started this blog to try and hold us to the promise, because I certainly love food, and we won’t be eating much of it on a fiver. I’m so thankful that for us, this will only be for a limited time, rather than the grinding day in, day out reality for so many. I’ve been both humbled and inspired by the examples of women like Jack Monroe and Miss South, who blog about eating healthy, interesting food on minimal budgets. The challenge may be easy to dismiss with accusations of poverty tourism, but it seems better to do something than nothing at all.

The campaign is supposed to run from 29th April to 3rd May but due to camping, an industry awards ceremony and a golden wedding party (such is the rock and roll lifestyle we lead) we’ll be starting on Monday 13th May.

Bring it on…