Despite some people coming up with more or less valid criticisms of this concept (mostly that poverty shouldn’t be some tourist-like experience privileged people feel they can dip their toes in for a few days) I am seriously considering taking part in Live Below the Line 2015, which is a challenge asking participants to spend only the amount on food that people below the poverty line in developing countries have to buy everything. In the UK the amount is £1 per day, USA $1.50, Canada $1.75 and Australia is $2. Most people are taking part between 27 April and 1 May, although some people will be going for longer (I’ve seen someone doing a month and another brave soul has been going for 60 days).
I am fortunate to live in a big city with a lot of shops competing with each other within walking distance of my home. Since this is an advantage a lot of people don’t have I am choosing to ignore the option of “buying” small portions of cooking oil, spices and seasoning already in my cupboard prior to the challenge. This means I am looking for foods that do double-duty (e.g. peanut butter as a margarine/oil sub in baking as well as a protein, pickled onions so the juice can be used in places I’d deploy vinegar/lemon juice).
Since a lot of my savoury cooking starts with frying an onion it took me a long time to let go of that idea, despite onions not being very economical on a cost vs. nutrition basis when bought in small quantities. Since the cheapest vegan oil I could find was a block of solid cooking fat at 70p I rejected the idea of that and started considering other cheap oil sources. Jars of olives in oil would be way too expensive, the most likely prospect would be to get the cheapest frozen oven chips, as there’s often quite a large amount of fat left on the baking tray once cooked. They also worked out at around the same or less cost per kilo as most of the smaller bags of fresh potatoes (I did not consider spending more than £1.20 on any one item of food).
Frozen chips are still an option, but for the sake of nutrition I’m erring towards fresh potatoes (particularly as there were 1kg packs of baking potatoes in Aldi for 39p today! I don’t know how long that offer is on for so I may have to come back to the frozen idea.
After several hours of price checking Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons as the supermarkets with their prices available for online shopping which are also within walking distance, I concluded that Tesco had the cheapest and widest choice of value items (Sainsbury’s were almost universally more pricey, e.g. the cheapest mustard was 35p as opposed to 25p at Tesco and Asda, the peanut butter was 3p more, the salt was more, the cheapest vinegar was more. The only thing they came out way cheaper on was tomato purée). Asda also had a lot of value items I was interested in but they’re not within easy walking distance. It’s no good buying from the market on this occasion as most of the quantities are over 50p, they are usually £1 a bowl for most fruit and veg. Time and again you realise that the more you can afford the more you get. It’s not just having the money to buy the 5kilo bag of chickpeas for £4.99, or the 15 kilos of onions for a fiver, you need room to store them, containers to keep them secure from vermin, etc. Anyway, I digress!
I felt the best tactic would be to buy all my store-cupboard items at Tesco:
Split peas are 53-55p per 500g across the supermarkets, and by far the cheapest pulse as the next options seem to jump to around double that price. I’m not a huge fan of split peas, and if there were an extra 46p going spare I’d definitely be tempted by these 99p beans I found in Morrisons, but I just don’t think I can justify it.
Since Aldi’s vegetables looked in pretty good shape and seemed a good deal cheaper than the other supermarkets, I’m going to try to get the fresh items I’ve chosen from there. The best balance of nutrition for the least price seems to me to be a mixture of cabbage (45p for at least 600g), carrots (49p for 1kg) and potatoes (39p for 4 baking potatoes weighing not less than 250g each). The veg comes to £1.33 which brings the total to £4.24.
After narrowing down my options, I made a spreadsheet to check how it came out in terms of calories, protein and a few vitamins and minerals. The obvious omission is omega 3, I don’t think there’s much in what I’ve chosen. I think iodine is one you can get away with missing for a little while, I normally take a supplement when I remember. If this were a budget I was forced to keep there are more than enough calories to keep going for a while, I would have to save up and spring for some iodine tablets and/or a multivitam, I think. Supplement tablets are the cheapest option in the long-run, unfortunately it’s impossible to fit them into a short-term plan like this. It was difficult to find valid-seeming or consistent information so I’ve done my best where there were discrepancies, this is just a rough guide really (just realised I made a mistake with the potatoes, basing them on a 1.5 kilo bag. I’ll maybe change it later).
The calcium shortfall isn’t too bad, I could make the B12 match the rda if I up the cornflakes to 100g (but that puts the calories up quite a bit), or I could buy a carton of fortified soya milk for 65p, which would leave me with 11p and I don’t think you can buy anything with 11p these days. Maybe a very small knob of ginger or a small loose chilli.