£10, 2 people, 5 days – last Sunday my husband and I headed to Asda with £1 to spend on our food & drink each day for the week. Yes, it was the Live Below The Line challenge this week organised by the Global Poverty Project (www.livebelowtheline.com/uk) and I have learnt far more from it than I expected to.
It’s easy for us to forget the basic facts about hunger. I’m not a nutrition expert but this week has reminded me that hunger hurts.
I repeat – hunger hurts and it doesn’t go away. It makes you less productive, it’s hard to concentrate and you get ill quicker. It’s socially awkward if others around you are wealthier, it makes you more irritable and it’s hard to sleep.
And there are other observations – salt is an incredible invention, music is a good distraction, rewards – no matter how small – are important and there is a trade off between feeling full and monotony. Social capital is vital (although I couldn’t accept gifts of food or drink, encouragement of course was free!) and planning and cooking skills are key. Of course, going supermarket shopping, particularly in the UK, surrounded by many things you can’t afford to buy is difficult and can feel humiliating. And when your basic and sole aim is to achieve feeling full, fruit and vegetables (and of course meat) are a luxury. And to make sure I am not at any risk of making light of hunger, let’s not forget that for both children and adults hunger can ultimately be fatal.
What is the human response to hunger? You become resourceful, you become creative, you dig deep and you put on a brave face. I have no concept of what it is really like to be living below the poverty line. My work with communities in poor urban and rural areas around the world, and at Foodbank here in the UK, give me only a very small insight. I hear the same thing, even though thousands of miles separate the people that describe it – they don’t want to be in this situation, they are desperately working to escape hunger, they’re doing whatever they can, they want it to be different for their children.
The Below the Line challenge is about awareness-raising and fundraising. Why is awareness-raising so important? Because when you really look hunger in the face, when you brush up against people living on very low incomes and struggling to survive, hunger becomes completely and utterly unacceptable. Hunger is complex to tackle but it’s not impossible. Many NGOs, governments and communities around the world are working in innovative and progressive ways to reduce hunger and poverty cycles. There is a consensus that more has to be done on global hunger, which is why the ‘Enough Food If…’ campaign has been organised this year by UK international development NGOs and why many people will be waiting as David Cameron holds his Hunger Summit before the G8 meeting next month. Words are not enough and only action literally puts food on the table. Mr Cameron, the world is watching you.
As I go home this weekend to eat and drink with friends, and quite possibly spend in a day or even half a day what we’ve just lived on for a week, I will not only be enjoying food but I will be going to bed full. And that is a double luxury I won’t be forgetting for a while.
Anna-Joy Rickard is Early Years Campaign Lead for LCID