Doing the Breadline Challenge as a student
Written by Amelia, our Student Liaison Coordinator
Going from a catered student diet supplemented with cereal bars, pasta and at least four cups of coffee a day to a £2.50 daily budget and an entirely self-catered menu was always bound to be a challenge, and so far the week has been a real eye-opener.
One thing that has particularly struck me during the first three days of the challenge is just how much planning and organisation is required to live on a limited budget. It’s something I don’t usually have to think about. I’ve spent so much time worrying about whether I will have enough tinned tomatoes left by the end of the week or whether my milk will last for Sunday’s breakfast! Like Alex, I’ve had concerns about whether I’m eating too much for my budget or whether I’m eating too little or whether I will run out of food… and so it goes on. While I’m only doing this for one week, this must be a constant nagging worry for people living on a low income and struggling to eat a satisfying and nutritious diet.
Students – including me – often lament the misery of a university budget, yet living on £2.50 a day in the long term calls for much more discipline. People experiencing food poverty may not always have the time or energy to invest in such meticulous preparation for a week’s eating. When I’ve talked to friends about the challenge, they’ve come to realise that £2.50 is the amount they spent on that panini they bought for lunch or the hot chocolate they grabbed before heading to a lecture. During a normal week I am can afford the same luxury of less careful spending.
But the challenge isn’t about feeling guilty or patronising individuals facing food poverty, but rather about raising awareness of the reality that 8 million people in the UK are living with.
So far I’ve managed to eat well, but I haven’t been that inventive with breakfast, going instead for the classic porridge with banana and skimmed milk – actually the same breakfast I have on a normal day. While it might be a little boring, porridge is a filling option and I’ve added almonds or cashews on some days for extra protein and some healthy fats.
While coffee wasn’t within my budget, I’m still drinking many cups of tea a day! Knowing that I wouldn’t have much fresh fruit this week, I decided to go with a fruit tea – Sainsbury’s Strawberry, Raspberry and Cranberry tea (20 tea bags for 75p) – which I’ve been drinking with my breakfast and throughout the day.
Lunch today is quinoa ‘chilli’ with cauliflower (I decided to buy more fibrous vegetables instead of salad vegetables to keep me full!) I fried some garlic, added tinned tomatoes, kidney beans and tomato puree, and it actually turned out to be quite tasty. Plus this meal has plenty of protein from the kidney beans and the quinoa.
My dinners have been very similar to my lunches, but tonight is a jacket potato (made in the microwave since my accommodation does not have an oven) with ratatouille. If I were to plan my week again, in hindsight I would vary my menu plan a little more for greater balance! Looking at the menus of others doing the Breadline Challenge has definitely inspired me to be a bit more creative the next time round.
The afternoon slump has definitely been hitting me hard during the last few days, and while I’m used to grabbing a coffee and something sweet to help me get through an evening’s session of essay writing, snacking is something my budget did not account for properly! I can easily get through 5 or 6 portions of fruit a day, yet this week I have been eating 1 or 2, and a limited budget does not allow for those days when you feel that big hungrier. I would have to agree with Alex that the week of the Breadline Challenge is not the best time to watch professionals on MasterChef prepare spaghetti carbonara.
Another thing I’ve missed the social environment that comes with eating with friends and sitting down for meals. This week I’ve been preparing food for one and eating alone in my room. This has reminded me of just how significant the sharing of food can be to bring people and communities together in a warm and welcoming environment, something that FoodCycle emphasises so well.
The Breadline Challenge can in no way reproduce the experiences of individuals facing food poverty long-term, but it has highlighted some of the incredible difficulties that those living on low incomes experience.
Would you like to contribute to the fight against food poverty? You can donate here – even just the price of that cup of coffee can help!