I spoke at a Hunger Banquet for work the other week. You know those events where you turn up for a meal and just eat rice? Well, this was at a restaurant and it kind of threw us all. When the waiting staff came over we asked what was on the menu. Then we marched on with a million other questions. “What does it come with?” “What kind of beans?” What sort of sauce?” Without a word of a lie it was the most questions I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant. We ordered, she left, we were satisfied.
Then the food arrived. Mounds of plain, white rice.
WHAT THE HELL? We looked at each other in confusion. The organiser squinted at us with a “Are you serious?!” look and exclaimed ” This is a HUNGER BANQUET, people!”
We had conveniently forgotten and spent the rest of the evening shovelling rice in to our mouths with great misery.
Some of you know that I spent last week living on a £1 a day food budget. I would NOT have gone to that Hunger Banquet if I had realised quite how much Value rice I’d have to eat as part of my Live Below the Line challenge. Gah.
I learnt lots of thrifty food things:
Free fruit and veg at the end of market day is not too rotten- and free, did I mention that?
We are going to cut down our organic box order and raid the bins on a regular basis. That kind of waste can’t be justified.
A squeeze of lemon or orange juice can make a nice sauce – with a spoon of vegemite thrown in.
Value food is a lot, ALOT, cheaper than what we usually buy.
Organic really is a massive luxury and just not affordable on a budget.
Garlic should be chopped and thrown in last minute instead of cooked right at the beginning. Same with Soy Sauce.
Your body really does adjust to not eaten snacks all day.
We waste a lot of food. Well, Ramona does. We need to put her half eaten biccies in tupperware so we can re-use them easily.
Other things I learnt (the things I suspect I was meant to learn)
£1 a day is a tiny, tiny, TINY amount of money.
The insecurity of being unsure of having enough food is really frightening – particularly when you have children to feed.
I feel very removed from really poor people in my day to day life.
This exercise made me feel connected, by the end of the week my sense of “global citizenship” was hugely enhanced.
I do genuinely believe with all my being that a future where everyone has enough to eat is possible.
I want to be a part of a movement that makes this happen.
That is a LOT of learning for 5 days of having Hungry Eyes. (I literally sang that song to myself all week as I stared at people’s tea and cake.)
At the end of the Hunger Banquet I mentioned earlier, the chef who did the cooking came up. She dumped the leftover rice on our table and said something along the lines of “Ridiculous middle class English people trying to empathise with the poor but actually just mocking them”. We were shocked, particularly as we were all feeling very worthy right at that moment.
There is potential for Live Below the Line to appear that way- a sort of posturing that raises some money (£350,000 to be exact) but fails to actually address the root causes of poverty and primarily serves our “saviour complex”.
However it is forgiven this by being such a powerful exercise in solidarity. There is no way of imagining life as the poorest without trying to embody it in some miniscule way. Of course, it doesn’t compare in the least- we still for the most part had warm homes, gas to cook with, water to drink, jobs to go to, social networks that build in resilience.
But it bought me back to the reality of millions of people with a stonking big thud. I am convinced that if we all felt a little bit more connected to our global brothers and sisters things would INSTANTLY improve. I am sure that a sense of global citizenship for everyone is the essential first step towards a more just and equal future. Live Below the Line definitely achieves this.
I do have a worry that I sound like I’m trying to be Gandhi, writing this post. And I guess it’s a worry people often feel when they try to make a difference. That people will just think them self righteous do-gooders but I think this is a fear we need to get over.
Perhaps one way of getting over it is using the thing you LOVE to do to join the movement of change makers. Combining a passion for justice and equality with your appreciation of knitting (someone, somehow is doing this, trust me) blows stereotypes of interfering do-gooders out of the window. It re-sets people’s tired old brains – jogging their minds to remember that another world IS possible. It is like, totally, the bomb. Oof, this craft-changey-knit-movement subject is SO a whole freaking post. Watch this space, peeps, watch this space.
PS – I am ten measely quid short of my target – go on, be a global citizen and give some to the Salvation Army’s poverty fighting work.
*This is an in-joke about the time I wanted to be called Eric. You can read about it if you want.