Living below the line

Yesterday, while sorting through a pile of receipts and unpaid bills on the kitchen bench, I found this:

It’s a receipt from a quick post-work, pre-pick-up trip to the supermarket made by the Boy Wonder last week. There are five items listed – bacon, a baguette, some beans, a green capsicum and a bag of salad leaves – because he felt like a bacon salad for dinner and “I didn’t think we had anything to eat”. Five items for $25 (that’s about US$20, GBP12 or AU$19) is not exorbitant, unless you compare it with what millions of people have to spend on food.

This week VSA is challenging people like me and you, the lucky ones who don’t have to worry too much about what they spend at the supermarket, to think about those who Live Below The Line. That means spending NZ$2.25 per person on food – about $50 for a family of four – for five days. As this story shows, it’s  not easy (even when you know there’s an end in sight). There’s a great comment on this blog post, which sums it up: “I could keep that up for a while but then I’d have to go and get a latte”.

When I was a child we heard about the poor children in Africa who didn’t have anything to eat. Now those ‘poor children’ are much closer to home, with food poverty a very real problem for thousands of New Zealand families. It’s probably much the same where you are. So what do we do about it?

In New Zealand you can get involved with this organisation, which helps provide meals and clothing for kids who would otherwise go to school without breakfast or lunch, or a raincoat. You can probably also drop something into the Food Bank trolley at your supermarket. When I do this I think of my mum, who always said she liked to put ‘something nice’ into the trolley instead of a packet of rolled oats.

Doing something tangible, however small, makes the problem seem less insurmountable. But surely, as a collective of people who care about food and the sharing of it, there is something else we can do?

What do you think?



  1. September 24, 2012 / 5:51 pm

    Since I started volunteering for Supergrans I've become acutely aware of what it takes to feed people on a budget. It's a worry for sure as much of what lower income families end up feeding themselves is not nutritious nor tasty to eat. But it's quick, easy and available. It's also mostly not really food as I would know it but a manufactured synthetic version – believe me low income families are not clammering in the grains,pulses and veg aisle. It does my head in to think of ideas to help. I think challenges such as this are a great way to raise consciousness but do painfully little to have much impact where it really counts in the homes and communities were poor nutrition is a public health disaster unfurling.

  2. September 24, 2012 / 7:36 pm

    I think the recession is bringing us all back to basics. What we used to throw away, we are now trying to reuse and save. As far as that's concerned, it's a good thing…we were far too wasteful. I think spending a bit of time helping others in any way we can will do good. Churches, charities, volunteer work…it all helps.

  3. September 25, 2012 / 4:41 am

    I'm doing the LBTL challenge this week. Are you? Feeling hungry too soon after each meal. It's for a great cause though and if anything, at least it makes me grateful for what I have.

  4. September 25, 2012 / 4:47 am

    thank you for the links; i shall check them out. i think i live simply – or, at least not extravagantly. but i am lucky enough to be able to afford to buy 'something nice' every now and then without breaking the bank. and even if i eat simply, at least i can eat three meals a day. it's good to have some perspective and to think about the situation of others. it makes you appreciate your food and every meal (so don't squander an opportunity to eat well, if you can!).
    i agree with domestive executive's commnets above, too.

  5. September 25, 2012 / 8:01 am

    Hello, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree, Julie, that cooking well on a tight budget requires skills and knowledge that many people just don't have any more – and if you're already feeling ground down by life, soaking chickpeas (which will probably be rejected by your children any way) isn't likely to be high on your list of priorities.
    I think being grateful for what we have and sharing what we can is the best plan of action.

  6. September 25, 2012 / 4:36 pm

    Great initiative, which I whole heartedly embrace. When I first moved to Edinburgh I made myself survive on a "food budget" of £20 for a week … that was just for one person mind and I ended up eating a lot of pasta or jam sandwiches!

  7. September 30, 2012 / 1:13 pm

    My best advice – vote carefully!

    In the more immediate term, donate or volunteer with organisations like Oxfam if you can.

    Great post by the way!

  8. October 2, 2012 / 2:06 pm

    An excellent post … some thoughts –

    1) Volunteering at local food pantries and soup kitchens is a great start; it's there that you can begin to donate more healthy food items and make healthy dishes to offer the wide variety of people who are using those local resources.

    2) Advocating for a change in our advertising and working toward educating working poor on how to use whole foods and cheaper cuts of meats to make healthy meals (think legumes, beans, full-fiber grains, and root veg)is also an excellent strategy. There is a Canadian blogger who is running classes through her local nursing outreach group that does just that.

    3) Vote the issue … asking public officials just what their plans are for addressing this 'unfurling public health dilemma' is crucial.

    4) Advocate for more public garden allotment space and urban gardens – schools are a great place to start such initiatives … read Alice Waters and do something about it … in your little corner of the world.

    Sorry to go on … this is a great post !

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