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On world hunger, two year olds and rice crispie cakes…

As I stirred from a bizarre dream this morning, reluctant to wake, especially with all of us snuggled so cosily under the duvet, I groaned; “Monday already? Mummy has to go to work…” Ramona replied, “No, Mummy, no work.” I realised with a jolt that I was bringing up a work-shy communist.* Just kidding, but I did have an insta-worry that I am in danger of devaluing my work, seeing it as something I just do to bring home the (soy-based) bacon, and not because I am passionate about the role of campaigning in bringing about a fairer world.

I tried to recover my position. “Well, it is sad that I have to leave you, but mummy gets to go to work in order to help people who are hungry…”  I realised I was addressing quite a big issue that I hadn’t really addressed with my just-two year old before.  And I was being quite colonial in my description.

Ramona was  chewing a chocolate rice crispie cake, getting it all in the bed (gah, don’t judge me, it was her birthday party yesterday and Tim gave her some leftovers for breakfast. Judge him.) I went on, “You see, some people don’t have rice crispie cakes. And mummy, er, tries to make sure everyone can have a rice crispie cake….”

Ramona is too young, but I do want this to be part of our life’s rhetoric. That life sometimes isn’t fair for everyone, but that we can all play a part in making it better.

We can do it through our jobs, by nurturing our children’s empathy and efficacy, we can do it through our hobbies and spare time.

Some of my favourite people, the Craftivist Collective, have launched #Imapiece – crafting jigsaw bits with messages on in collaboration with Save the Children-  to challenge the horrendous truth that every single hour children are dying from hunger. Their central message is that we are all a part of the big picture, we can all join a movement, to craft a more beautiful future together.

I stitched my first piece of jigsaw in a spare hour last weekend… I went for “Prepare a feast!” – I was feeling hopeful, visionary, and imagined a massive banquet table, bending under the weight of nutritious food, enough for every single belly to be full.

 

I would love Ramona to understand this. For my hope, rather than any festering cynicism, to seep into her life and the choices she makes and the very way she see the world. I would like to give her Spectacles of Hope  and Action .

This morning she responded to my sleepy, confused explanation with a slobbery, chocolaty kiss. It is clearly too early in her life for this to all make sense to her. And it was certainly too early in the morning for me give it a bash sensibly, without the rubbish use of rice crispie cake analogies!

I need to really work on this… any tips, anyone?

PS Why not use your own crafty skills to dabble in the #imapiece movement? Read all about it here. 

*This is a bit of an in joke with myself, because when I was a young youth worker and writing alot about Fair Trade in youth publications, I got my first bit of hate mail, an aggressive letter from an ancient capitalist, suggesting I was imploring today’s generation to be “work shy communists”.  Mwhaha. That letter only steeled me in this fight against greed 🙂

Editing my daughter’s life chances (er, or her Fairy Tales at least)

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I joked once about how we have changed the words to “This Little Piggy went to market” – creating a more liberal, less Capitalist version. We did that with vegetarian tongue firmly in hippy cheek but as Ramona grows older I find myself doing it with quite a few things and intentionally too. I’ll sometimes change the gender of the leading boy characters in books, and will improvise the fate of the girl in the fairy tale (“She went on to be the President of the Free World…”)

I am fairly committed to giving Ramona a sense that she can do or be anything, be it a poet, a plumber or a Prime Minister. I feel as if there could be a way of providing a foundation of opportunity for her, even though the stats are stacked against her.

Little minds start whirring young, eh? Interpreting the world, and people, and their roles.  The next door neighbour toddler lads throwing our ball back over in disgust because it dared to have poor pink Peppa Pig on it. The boys in the playground telling Ramona she can’t kick, as she is a girl.

As if those interactions aren’t shaping her enough, I then snuggle in bed and read her yet another book with some naff sacrificial role for the lady, while the men fight for justice, but because I am a bit sleepy I can’t be bothered to ad-lib it. Tonight it was a story about a daughter being sent to marry an evil giant and she didn’t want to go.  “No Go” Ramona kept repeating, jabbing her finger at the girl, as if she could see how unfair it was. Whoah. She is totally getting this storyline. “She went because she was brave!” I began adlibbing again.

And then when she drifted off I got the paper, pens and glue out and fixed the tale right up.

Some pages needed the odd word, and others whole paragraphs. The patriarchy won’t catch me snoozing again!

I know, I know. It’s only minor. But isn’t life mostly just a collection of small stuff, layered on top of each other, gently kneading who we are and what we think and what we do? Ramona’s not going to think women are just the weak bystanders, guileless love interests, not on my watch. Not on your nelly.

How do you make sure your kids grow up with a strong sense of gender equality and justice?

PS Some cool Tweet mates have created an awesome reading list- so if you are out to buy a feminist friendly story check here first!

Landgrabs- where roots and rights count for nothing

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Ramona’s tiny Chucks pound the same streets my own small feet did. She squeals on the same squeaky swings. Chases the children of the squirrels I chased.  Somehow, despite living in  five different towns and two different continents in the 17 years since I left here, we are back at the place of my childhood and my daughter is growing up in my old neighbourhood.

It has always drawn on me, South London, always felt like the place I’d call home the most.  Despite having a nomadic and flighty upbringing, this is the land where my roots have dug the deepest.

My husband lived in the same house for most of his life. And they reckon most English people live within 5 miles of their birth place, which is baffling to me. And then there are communities who have lived and tilled the same land for generations and generations. Imagine their roots. Wily, strong and ancient.

I went to the breathtakingly beautiful country of Cambodia a few years ago with Oxfam, to hear the stories of people in communities they work with.  The people in the villages we visited were doing incredible, transformative stuff. Tapping into age-old farming techniques to protect themselves against a future littered with weather-related disasters and learning new ways to regenerate their land. Yet almost every single community were fighting a nightly battle with the tractors of corporations who would come in by stealth, move the fence posts, clear a space and claim it as their own. Every village had a team on nightwatch, patrolling the boundaries yet still they were all watching their land decrease in size knowing their chances of fighting it were slim. And they were the lucky ones- losing their land metre by metre instead of in one violent snatch.

Some of the heroic womenI met, transforming- and fighting for – their land

Even since I visited Cambodia three years ago an area half the size of Wales has been transferred from village farmers to corporations, more often than not in the form of “landgrabs” – villagers evicted without warning or compensation and with no recourse to action. It is heartwrenching imagining  some of the families I met, who were so stoically fighting a changing climate and invasive poverty now left with no land and no rights at all. Grandparents who were born there and who still worked the land, hand in hand with their grandchildren who were born there, forced off by men in hard hats and high vis jackets.

This battle for land is going on all over the world; roots and rights mean nothing in the face of The Paperwork. The almost bigger injustice is that the land once used for hunger-busting crops is often left derelict- to grow in value, or used for bio-fuels to feed the wealth of rich nations.

However, this injustice is preventable. In fact, already landgrabs campaigners have taken the New Forest Company to task on the eviction of 25,000 people in Uganda. Oxfam is harnessing it’s knowledge of the World Bank to call for a freeze on all dodgy land deals while the whole business gets sorted out.  This tiny video explains just how the “Power of We” could change things…

Can you spare two minutes to add your voice to the symphony of others, calling for justice?

I don’t know what it would be like for us to be chased out of our home, this grotty concrete paradise of Camberwell that I love. To be uprooted, even without generations of sweat poured into it, or a livelihood that depends on it. To be made homeless overnight, left with only the things we could carry.

I only know that I am on the side of the heroes who belong to their land, the ones who have built their lives around it and who use it to feed their families and provide for the future. And I want to join them to fight the big buisness villains who seek to evict them. And thankfully history tells us that together we have an excellent chance of winning this battle.

It is Blog Action Day 2012 and thousands of bloggers are writing along the topic of “The Power of We” – have a read and even join in.

Boobs are brilliant, but not news

Honestly, I LOVE breasts.

Did you know, when you are breastfeeding, MILK comes out of them?

OMG. That is like some kind of magic.

And then, as if that is not like Mind= Blown enough for you, this other incredible thing happens whereby, if your little one gets a bit crook they communicate this to your boobs and then the milk adapts to produce the right kind of antibodies to fix your sick babe right up.

Come on. You couldn’t MAKE it up.

It’s funny, I have spent most of my life not liking my boobs, they were too big to wear vests without looking skanky, too bouncy to dance and deflected too much from my brain. I spent most of my teenage years thinking I was a bimbo because of my big ‘uns and only when my sister took me aside one day, after I had successfully navigated a team of older teens around the complicated underground of the Czech Republic and said, “Lucy, you know you are not thick, don’t you?”, did I stop allowing my boobs and blondeness to define me.

It is tough being a teenage girl and have a sense of being so much more than your image. Let alone when you are surrounded by the objectification of women in songs, television and films. Let alone being faced with it EVERYDAY in Britain’s most popular newspaper. I remember being on the bus and seeing men “reading” Page 3. I recall jumping on a train trying to ignore the paper tossed on a seat,  folded open on Page 3,  while men passed it with a quick ogle.

You know, I would constantly fold my arms over my breasts  in a subconscious attempt to disguise myself and disassociate myself from such sexualised bodies. (And you are going to think I am distinctly mad now) for I while I used to even TAPE THEM DOWN when clubbing, such a hateful relationship I had with these carnal buoys.

And now, here I am, age 30 and a mother and I love my boobs. I love that they provide food and comfort for my toddler. Having a never ending supply of nutrition on tap is one of the most liberating aspects of mothering. I will skinny dip in secret rivers and nurse on the bus and shower in the changing rooms of the pool completely in the nick.  They aren’t so buoyant, having been tugged and stretched and knelt on by a boisterous toddler. But they are a miracle.

Great as they are, miraculous even, they are not news. I could talk about them all day, press releases sent forth about their healing properties. But bare boobs with the sole purpose of titillating have no public place, least of all in a newspaper. To be gawked at in busy spaces, securing in the minds of menfolk that boobs are for the pleasure of their eyeballs.

For the sake of our teenage girls AND boys, we need to get them out of The Sun. Of course, it is the tip of an iceberg but as all tips are, it is hugely visible and hard to ignore and SURMOUNTABLE. (Are icebergs surmountable?) We can VIABLY CARVE THIS TIP RIGHT OFF. In the last week the No More Page 3 campaign has gathered momentum and signatories are piling up by the second.

Let’s do it.

I have signed the petition. Tweeted the heck out of it. Even got on the old Facebook and shared it. But I wanted to do something just a little bit more bespoke and felt a Craftivist style action would be perfect.

So during Ramona’s nap yesterday I stitched a little banner. 

Then when she woke up we cycled to News International, HQ of The Sun, 3 St Thomas More Square, and left them a little message. Hastily attached with my guilty hands.

It was a bit scary. Full of suits and security guards and we stood out like a sore thumb, Ramona pulling along her little toy dog, making an insanely conspicuous scraping noise that reverberated off the stark buildings. (Oh, cringing in memory. She just kept insisting on dragging it. I’m like “Oh, does doggy need a carry?” “Nooooo mummy.”)  And there was not a single spot to hang it in the square. So the old gate by the entrance way had to do.

So. Boobs. In the paper. What do you reckon? Have you signed, Tweeted and Facebooked? Would love to hear of any other creative actions going down…

Retro Razors – on shaving, not shaving and thrifty beauty

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Let’s talk about hair. Hairy coarse hair on women; on legs, pits and bits. I veer from being COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY AND ANGRILY ANTI shaving – why in the world would we do it? It was an invention by those hoodwinking Madmen who wanted to create a new market for razors!!! To feeling like I would quite like a frivolous smooth finish on my pins once in a while, and not have people stare at my bushy arm pits.

Not shaving

You know, I didn’t even shave for my wedding. And Tim has told me that it doesn’t interrupt his idea of sexiness. When I see other women avec hair, I love them, I respect their courage and their bold gesture towards oppressive ideals of beauty.  I want to be part of this brave mob challenging these norms. I want Ramona to know that beauty isn’t about tweaking and pulling and stripping and squeezing into some tiny grotesque mould a group of strangers built.  So. For years and years I have tried not to shave. I do say try because it is REALLY HARD to do something that literally makes people STARE AT YOU every day. Sometimes I just wish all women could do this in solidarity, so no one got stared at! (For a great insight on what it is like being hairy read this Guardian piece.)

As a result sometimes I don’t want to be hairy. I want to wear a short skirt and look at my legs and think nothing, and not have other people eye-grazing them. (Although the hair does cover up the bruises I have routinely because I am the clumsiest person in the whole world.) Sometimes I do want to attempt the appearance of traditional prettiness. There. I confessed. It is hard to completely overthrow that feeling.  Genuine question- have any of you managed to get totally get rid of that niggling, deep idea that you should look a certain way?

Shaving

So, let’s talk about getting rid of it. Once, some friends waxed my legs. IT KILLED ME! It was honestly about 50 brazillion times more painful than my tatoos! Perhaps it was to do with what I was prepared to cope with in the name of beauty = not much. I don’t even pluck my eye brows.  So, if I am feeling a smooth day coming on, or if I fancy going without deodrant (well, bicarb) for a while and require bare pits to get away with it,  I am totally indebted to my trusty double edged retro razor.

Thrifty beauty

And right there lies a beauty tip that will save you proper dosh and will give you the best shave EVER. An old double edged razor. It looks beautiful, has already last a life time and will last two more, costs around 5 p for a blade that will last for 5 shaves and hacks off ANY amount of hair.  It may seem weird for me to be like “Oh, shaving sucks BUT HERE do it with this!” – it is just I think it is so unlikely that womankind will cast off shaving, it make sense to promote the eco, thrifty option. The one that doesn’t pour money into the pockets of rich corporations.

My friend Dan Fone took this snap of some of my dad’s stuff http://www.hammerheadrabbits.com

Get started

Because they have become such a collectible they aren’t incredibly easy to come across; you will have to keep your eyes peeled. Antique shops and car boots are the best place. You want to find a Gillete – any era will d0 – chose the style you fancy in good condition. Little rust, no cracks. Then get a packet of blades from Boots and away you go.

My dad first got us into all of this. At first I kind of thought he was a tiny weeny bit mad but he has slowly convinced us all. It is truly the greenest and thriftiest way to get rid of hair, and also really celebrates the beautiful design of the last century’s different eras. My dad has a small collection now, each one sitting perfectly in it’s time, with a story behind it.

Technique

The technique is different, a different angle (a right angle) and use short strokes, washing off the hair inbetween. I use conditioner in replace of shaving foam. Take it real slow the first few times, until you pick it up. Rinse and dry the razor once finished. This site has some bits and bobs on it and quite a bit more info.
So. Are you a feminist shaver? A razor boycotter? A smooth waxer? Let’s hear it! 😀  Think you might get into this retro razor shenanigans?

Knock, knock, knocking on Number 10’s door

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It was a scorching morning, the sun bearing down on our squinting faces, as we posed for photo’s, fake knocking on the famous door of Number 10.

I was representing Oxfam, along with other activists from Concern, ONE, Action Aid, Unicef and Save the Children, delivering a huge box of names – over 600,0000 people calling for immediate action on hunger in the Sahel area. The Prime Minster is holding a summit with all the VIP’s in town on Sunday – we had to let him know that we were all watching.

We toyed with what expression to put on for the photographer – happy, because everyone looks nicer with a smile, and we were thrilled that such a HUGE number of people were behind this, or stern, because 18 million people are starving to death each year? We each opted for something different, to mix it up a little. Unfortunately I was the Furious Scowling One. With the unwashed hair and the stain on her tee shirt.

There were some press inside the gate, and we piqued their interest a bit. They bossed us about, moving us around to get a good shot. I hope they cover this, I hope they show telly watchers how many people are involved in this fairer-world movement.

After much dillydallying, we handed over the box. And posed, fake knocking a bit more.

I really had to Instagram the hell out of this to disguise my slovenly ways

Job done, and as we thought about heading home, someone mentioned we could stay a bit, watch the Prime Minister get in his car.

Er.

I wasn’t keen. I was anxious, I had had to get friends to look after my daughter, Ramona, and I was already running late for them. And, why would I want to watch a stranger I wasn’t a fan of get in their car? I have to admit, a tiny bit of me considered whether I might be able to shout something out, to get across to him how urgent this was and how passionate we were. Would I get the sack? Or gunned down? Could I call out but in a kind, friendly, I-don’t-have-a-bomb-or-custard-pie way? As I wondered, someone else approached.

They ushered us out from behind the barriers, and explained that the Prime Minister would like to say hello.

We gathered by the door and a second later his chummy, pleasant face appeared. Not wanting to let a moment slip, in my Very Best, Most Articulate and Confidently Loud voice announced, like some kind of Head Girl speech, “We trust you are going to do every thing you can to create a world free from hunger” He pledged to. “We are passionate about a just world and hundreds of thousands of others are too.” He understood and chatted a bit more. Mo Farah was coming! They were gonna set up a race track! But he seemed positive that his hunger summit would be worth it.

As he left, we celebrated, we hugged and high fived. Delivering a petition turned into something that bit more. Not because we were stunned by the (very) rich and famous but because we hoped that the Prime Minister picked up our energy, that our faces, a little gang of global citizens, might be in his mind as he heads up Sunday’s meeting of leaders. Maybe he captured our hope and maybe we helped fortify him, to make the decisions he must. We can only wait and see.

And now I can say I didn’t even wash my hair for the PM. THAT is how much I don’t care for his Toryism and THAT is how much of a hippy I am.

Be a Good Un, find out more and continue to take action on Sahel here.

Streets filled with peace (not tanks, thanks)

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There have been a fair few surreal moments in my 5 years history as a campaigner with Oxfam.

I have taught Richard Branson how to do the running man.*

I have trundled around the streets of Tunbridge Wells dressed as a big cuddley polar bear.*

I have wheeled a GIANT Santa in front of the US embassy and sung carols.*

I have bantered with Esther Rantzen in front of an audience of hundreds.*

I have mimicked those New York builders sitting on the girder eating lunch- whilst pregnant nonetheless.*

And then today I ‘as bin gallivanting around the streets of London with a big fat genuine TANK. *

Come with me for a tick, back a couple of years, to another amazing and surreal experience with Oxfam. It involved spending time in rural Cambodia, seeing the work Oxfam does in poor villages out there, arriving home just days before my daughter Ramona was conceived.  (In fact, we joked for most of my pregnancy about how a little Cambodian baby might surprise us, bahahahaha, ooh, teehee.)

As a result of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot years Cambodia had a huge share of weapons within its borders.  When the armed struggles began to fizzle out soldiers from all sides went back to their homes and took their guns with them. Some estimates suggest there were close to one million unregistered weapons in that small country. As you can imagine, the presence of guns in almost every home was having a dire effect on families, in much the same way the presence of guns has an effect in my own neighbourhood of Peckham.

Fortunately for Cambodia, back in 2003, some passionate peeps decided to tackle this injustice by launching the Control Arms campaign- fighting for a UN treaty on the arms trade.   Mobs  of people from across the world joined in with the One Million Faces campaign – I added my freckly grin, as did thousands of Cambodians- even those based out in local, rural villages joined this struggle for justice in the arms trade.

Such a global force couldn’t be overlooked and  just a few months after the  this creative petition was presented to the UN work began on a historic, legally-binding international Arms Trade Treaty. (Campaigning works, it really truly DOES!)

As we know these things take time but whilst in Cambodia I was gobsmacked to see that even just TALK of an Arms Treaty was making an impact. The momentum of the global campaign had fortified national efforts to stop the arms trade, developed the campaigning consciousness of Cambodians AND lead to the handing in and burning of thousands of weapons during Gun Destruction week.  (Campaigning WORKS! Yes! It blooming WORKS!)

Now, two years on from my visit to Cambodia we have entered the final stages of an Arms Trade Treaty, and I have a little tot. Once you have children, your hopes for a more peaceful and just world become just that bit more crisp. The chance for a strong Arms Treaty that could make the lives of other children untold times more peaceful is moving nearer.

Which brings us to today and our tank. We (some activists and some policy wonks) were delivering letters and reports (read it if you like that kinda thing) to 5 key embassies, countries that have a key role to play at one of the final negotiating conferences beginning on Monday in New York. On that day too, a  global petition is once again being handed over, asking them to ensure this Treaty is effective and strong. You have just FOUR days to add your voice.

I want to see a world free from mindless violence, communities restored from the damage of guns. I want to see the young people my husband works with as a youth worker in Peckham and the young people I met in those villages of Cambodia knowing the sense of tangible peace. I want to see kids playing in streets free from tanks. I want Ramona and her generation to  inherit a more reconciled world . An Arms Treaty is one step along the way.

As we know (I may have mentioned it once or twice already) campaigning WORKS – let’s make it happen this time.  

 

*We were promoting Oxfam as the primary charity partner for the London Marathon.

*We were enticing people along to see the fantastic film, the Age of Stupid.

*We were singing climate carols and asking them to stop blocking progress at the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.

*I was basically trying to mass invite the audience to come along to the Put People First rally and she saw straight through me.

*We were raising awareness of how risky childbirth is in poor countries.

*We are giving a final push to get people to sign up for a robust Arms Trade Treaty. Please join us!

Solidarity stitching and a jar full of hope

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 An inner-city meadow, a three piece band, jam sandwiches, a strawberry patch,  fifty stitchers, a barn of animals and my little toddler rampaging around.  It was a weird wee scene; both very local (I’m sorry, but East London is crazy. Everyone wears such silly clothes but I KNOW they are clothes that we will all be wearing in two years time. *gah* Those hipsters) and hugely global.

We were crafting up lids to fit on to jam jars, jars that would eventually be filled with a scrumptious tomato jam – based on a recipe from a Kenyan farmer, Christine.

In a way Christine is your typical farmer – but what makes her typical is pretty surprising. She is a woman, for starters (women are responsible for most of the world’s food production). And she also doesn’t have quite enough food to eat (small scale farmers like Christine make up 50% of the undernourished and women make up 80% of the world’s poorest.)

 But Christine’s jam oozes with bold, sticky hope.

A few years ago Christine was destitute, her husband had died of Aids and with no rights or access to power, Christine and her two kids were reliant on the kindness of strangers. Now, however, she chairs a small female cooperative group who grow tomatoes (one of those mega crops that is resilient to livelihood upheavaling drought) and they make this jam to sell at the market. The jam is BEYOND delectable and is a right old hit with the customers.

That is quite a story for one little jar to contain, don’t you reckon?

A jar of hope

I guess it was in an act of solidarity that we came together in one of London’s city farms to eat said jam on sandwiches, and to let our creative juices pour out over needle and thread.  We talked about hunger, the parts of our global food system that are utterly broken, the ways people can do something, who we were going to give our jar of jam to.

Stitching my first jam lid. I had to unpick it as it was properly ugly

We have masses of tomato plants in the garden and I can’t wait for the glut to hit *probably announced a bit to hopefully* –  I am going to fill my little jar up, pop my stitched up lid on and give it to my MP, Harriet Harman.  I will ask her to stand up on behalf of small-scale farmers like Christine, to fight the powerful tentacles of huge food corporations, and to promote local food systems in our urban village of Camberwell.

Freedom from hunger. (Bit rubbish eh, but you can understand how bad my first one was if I kept this one!)

Needless to say, Sunday was probably my ideal kind of day. Dreaming together of a future where everyone has enough to eat, crafting up world changey messages and letting Ramona frolick with the farm beasts (check out this little video of her encountering a rooster) combined all the things I love.

And I think it is here,  taking what you love and doing it for a more beautiful world, where change lies.  Hope doesn’t thrive when limited to certain behaviours,  and activists fizzle out after the one millionth petition signature. But if people can marry the thing that gives them energy – be it sewing, blogging, gardening, writing poetry, being a hipster-  with their passion for justice and fairness, change will come.

Solidarity Jam:

 Makes 6 jars

 Ingredients:

● 5 cups peeled and quartered tomatoes.

● Strips of the tomato skin

● 5 cups of sugar

● 1 lemon, sliced thinly and seeded

● 2 tablespoons butter

Method

Put tomatoes, sugar and sliced lemon in large, heavy pot and bring to slow boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. When foam rises to surface, add butter and continue stirring and simmering until preserves thicken, about 45 minutes. (To test, stick a fork in. When preserves cling to tines of fork, it should be thick enough to can). Pour preserves into sterilized jars, seal and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes.

This is your world. Shape it, or someone else will! 

Read about Oxfam’s GROW campaign and join the movement of people who share a vision of EVERYONE thriving and NOT A SOUL going hungry

It isn’t too late to join in. Perhaps you want to host your own lid stich-in and get solidarity jam making in autumn?

To get the full low-down on this beautiful project have a peep at Craftivist Collective founder (and the wonderful person I job share with here at Oxfam) Sarah, explain it in this AMAZE vid:

Have you found a way to do the thing you love for good?

The world is my oyster… no, I’m the world’s oyster. I mean rice.

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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.

Ramona needs this! teacollection.com

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.

Celine Elliot’s Global Citizen illustration – thinkactvote.org

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.

Love,

Girl Gandhi*

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.

Food, inglorious food – Live Below the Line Week’s Menu

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No wonder they call it the Live Below the Line Bleeding Challenge – this is SO TOUGH!!!!!

We have been hugely reliant on the rotten fruit and veg I scavenged, I simply don’t know how we would have managed without it.   As Fiona said in her awesome comment on my Vlog post (have a look- such a good wee story)  – it is just about survival!

The harvest festival haul from bins at Walworth Road

It is true but it did make me laugh as it reminded me of a story from when Tim and his brothers and pa went camping in the wilds and things got a little hairy and someone (remaining anonymous) burst out with “IT’S ABOUT BLOODY SURVIVAL!” and now it has kind of become a bit of a catchphrase. Whenever anything ever so slightly weird/random/desperate/non-desperate happens we put on a very stern voice and shout “IT’S ABOUT BLOODY SURVIVAL!” It is normally in an Australian accent too, although no Australians were involved in the making of the catchphrase.

So, with no further nonsense ado, here is what we have been eating:

Monday

Tea

Espresso

Fried egg on toast with butter (home made bread)

Yeah, we totally peak by 9:30am, it’s all downhill from here!

Brocoli (whole stalk) and  Onion Soup – boiled then zhugged/whizzed with the zhuzzer/whizzer thing and a slice of toast. Lots of salt needed in this!

Value pasta twirls with fried aubergines/tomatoes/grated carrots/ a spoonful of vegemite for taste

This was all delish but just not nearly enough!

Tuesday

Tea

Espresso

Pancakes with one-egg batter and a squeeze of lemon (we got three crispy ones each. If they were done too thick they turned to glue in mouth and were totally RANK)

Tomato on toast (my favourite lunch ever, ever, ever)

Value rice and curry made with onion, brocoli, tomatoes, carrots and spoon of onion powder and garlic thrown in last minute

Equally delish but we normally would have thrown in lots of extra biscuits, tea, cereal and toast! = hungry.

Alresco Rice and Veg

Wednesday

Tea

Espresso

Toast with half banana mashed (YUM!)

Rice cake fritters made with the rice from the other night, a spoonful of the curry mixture,  left over pancake patter and extra flour, and another spoon of curry powder and lots of salt. These were mindblowingly good! Frying in butter was the ticket!

Chow Mein for tea- value spaghetti with fried veg. Splash of soy sauce and minced garlic right at the end, half teaspoon of Chanese Fhaaaave Spaiiice (Chinese 5 spice said in the Michael Macintyre way! *chuckles to oneself remembering it*)

This was a GOOD DAY!!! Felt pretty normal, only a little bit hungry. Those fritters were the BOMBDIGGIDY.

Thursday (here are the plans)

Tea

Espresso

Banana on Toast

Plain spaghetti with butter and salt

Rice and beans with can tomoto, few veg and curry powder

Friday

Tea

Espresso

Egg on Toast

Nettle soup with toast

Value Pasta with veg and garlic and butter

VOILA.

Thrifty Food Lessons

In terms of thrifty eating, the bulb of garlic for 26p was the best thing we bought. Rather than cooking it through I am chucking in one little segment, finely crushed, right at the end of the cooking, just enough to spread the goodness/ take the zap out of it. This means we get full garlic flavour but with only a tiny amount of garlic.

Also, frying the spices in butter means we can use a very small amount, and using the odd half spoon of vegemite (pennies) instead of stock has added lots of flavour. A splash of soy sauce, instead of cooking with half a bottle like I usually do it, for the chow mein was a winner.

I am in two minds about the butter. It has added a tastiness to everything that has been wonderful. But there have been the odd hungry pang moments where I desperately wished we had spent that £1.50 on something bulky.

Well over half way. Lots and lots of enlightening moments and reflective moments onhunger, food, injustice, poverty. I need some space to sort my thoughts out and will post once it is all over I think.

Thanks ever so much for your incredible support. If you haven’t sponsored and would like to, you can do that here.