Category Archives: Creative Juices

DAY 4: Eating on £1 per Day

On Day 4 of eating on £1 a day, I felt as if I was spending my entire life preparing and cooking.

I woke up in the morning and made porridge for breakfast and then also had to prepare some boiled white rice for lunch.  I also still had four of my five apples left and needed to come up with a way to use them (I wasn’t enjoying how tart they were so had avoided eating them earlier in the week.)

So I decided to make a simple apple tart — one for me and one for my friend who is also eating on £1 a day this week.  Pastry ingredients were quite simple: equal parts butter and white flour with slightly less equivalent of water.  Then just mix the butter and flour together and then drip on the water as you go until you get the right consistency and then thinly slice apple and lay it along the top of the pastry and sprinkle a bit of sugar on top:

Making pastry Rolling out  pastry Apple tarts ready for the oven

I was able to afford the butter, flour and sugar because I will not be using my second can of baked beans (37p) and probably the last two of my five apples (20p).  I should say though that this is technically not abiding by the rules of the campaign as I would have had to buy the entire block of butter and an entire bag of flour and  sugar (which I did not).

Put the tarts into the oven at Gas Mark 5, and in about 10 minutes or so, they were ready.  I put a bit of extra sugar on top and then caramelised it with my blowtorch (again, thank you, technology):

Caramelising the sugarApple tarts

They turned out pretty well.  I still have to deliver the second tart. I hope it goes down a treat.

Dinner was much the same as earlier in the week: boiled potatoes with chives, two dry-fried eggs and mixed vegetables although I was able to harvest some rocket leaves from my garden, which was a real treat.

Dinner Day 4

Relative Poverty

I think that most people, when they think of poverty, think in absolute terms.  In essence, this is what the £1 a day challenge is all about — determine a minimal level of physical subsistence required (i.e. £1 a day) and then anyone who falls under that line is considered poor.

In reality, poverty is much more complex a phenomenon than that.  “Relative poverty” is defined not in absolute terms but based on the average standard of living in the society where you live. Similarly, policymakers and practitioners are also debating whether additional metrics (other than income) should be factored in, such as life span, education and even “happiness”.

So far this week, I seem to have been able to give myself enough food each day, but I definitely have felt deprived in the context of others around me.  A good lesson to reflect on for the remainder of the week.

DAY 3: Eating on £1 per Day

I’m just about finished with Day Three of eating for £1 a day.  I am starting to get into the flow of how this all works.  The eating itself is actually getting easier, but two things I’ve noticed which are different than my typical routine:

  1. How much I think about food. At night I think about what my next day’s meals will be. The next morning, I have to remember to bring my Tupperware of lunch with me in the morning. At lunch and during the afternoon, I think about what I am going to make for dinner. And every once in a while, I worry that I will run out of food before the week is over — not a nice feeling.
  2. How much time I spend actually making food. Cooking two meals a day (breakfast and dinner) takes a lot more time than I remembered.  Having gotten out of the habit of cooking so often during the week, I find myself consciously rearranging plans to make sure I can be home in time to eat.  I even skipped an after-work lecture tonight because of it.

As for meals, I had a good breakfast of porridge and a frozen banana which I’d stuck in the freezer on Sunday because they were already getting too ripe (You could buy twice as many ripe bananas for the same price). And for lunch, I had more leftovers of my lentil and rice concoction.

Dinner was, again, surprisingly good.  I ended up straining the last bits of lentil stew along with my remaining half tin of baked beans in order to separate the beans from the liquids. Once the liquid was separated, I took leftover boiled potatoes from Tuesday’s dinner and mashed all of the solids up together into two vegetarian patties.

Straining lentils and beansSolids and liquids separated

I dry-fried the bean patties and warmed up the sauce and some frozen mixed vegetables.  It was actually really good and cost less than 50p to make.

Bean patties with mixed vegetables

Role of Technology

My broader reflection for today is on the role of technology in helping us eat well.  I used my freezer to keep my bananas from spoiling, I used my refrigerator to store my leftover lentils, I transported my lunch in plastic Tupperware (which was reheated in a microwave) , and I crisped up my bean patties on a non-stick pan (to avoid the cost of expensive cooking oil).

We forget how much of a role technology plays in our food storage, transport and preparation.  For many farmers in the developing world, this is not their reality.  While we waste about a third of our food (yes, a third) as consumer waste, farmers in developing countries lose between 5 -30% due to poor or non-existing storage and transport in what is called “post-harvest losses“.  In other words, they bag up their maize (or whatever other crop they’ve grown) after harvest, but it gets attacked by pests and diseases like rats or molds before it can get eaten.  Or there’s no good road to transport the crops to markets so it spoils before it can be sold.  In my view, this is one of the most important and challenging problems that the agricultural world should address (perhaps second only to increasing agricultural productivity).

Thank you, Tupperware, non-stick pan, refrigerator and freezer and, yes, even the microwave.

DAY 2: Eating on £1 per Day

Day Two of eating on only £1 per day went quite well.  I felt full and satisfied, if only a little bored or constrained by the lack of options.

For lunch, I had the leftover lentil stew and rice concoction that I had made for dinner the previous night.

Lentil stew with rice_£1 a day

Not great surprises in the recipe — lentils, water, salt/pepper and the frozen mixed vegetables for the stew and steamed rice — except for the fact that I could turn to my herb garden for a bunch of fresh rosemary and then also fresh chives for mixing in with the rice and over the top at the end.

Gardening at home

Having a herb garden has made a big difference already, and coincidentally home gardens are also one of the best ways to improve the nutrition of the rural poor. At an event held in Parliament by the UK Hunger Alliance on Monday Night, they launched a report which recommended home gardens as one solution fighting malnutrition (Did you know that among children under age five globally, 26 percent of them are stunted in their growth and 16 percent are underweight?). The home gardens supply them with a broader range of nutritious foods such as  leafy vegetables, eggs or poultry meat for their families but also — if there is extra food leftover — they can sell the surplus food to make some extra money.


As I sat at the pub with a glass of water in my hand, my friend Emily graciously tried to convince me that her buying me a pint would be the equivalent of a friend or family member helping someone out if they were short on cash one week.  What awesome friends I have, as it wasn’t the first such offer (and a great reminder of the importance of informal “safety nets” for the poor).  But I declined the offer and made my way home to cook dinner.

At a stretch,this recipe is like breakfast for dinner. I boiled some potatoes and mixed them with half a can of baked beans and then dry-fried an egg which went on top along with some more of my fresh chives. It was actually quite good.

Egg baked beans potato_ £1 a day

Thanks for all the nice emails so far.  Feel free to leave comments below as well!

DAY 1: Eating on £1 per Day

For five days this week, I am eating on only £1 per day as part of the “Live Below the Line” campaign.  

The campaign challenges those of us living in the developed world to buy, source, cook and eat food as if we were living at the poverty line – in order to help us understand poverty better and (perhaps) motivate us to do something about it.

Preparing for the week:

Over the weekend, I met up with a friend of mine also doing the challenge to do our shopping.  We figured that we would have a better chance of getting good bulk deals if we shopped together.  At the store, we immediately realised how scant our options were: no meat, no dairy, no juices, no alcohol, no cooking oils, few fruits and vegetables, no brand names. We mainly bought simple sources of carbohydrates and protein (rice, lentils, beans, oats, potatoes) and some fruit and vegetables to mix in with them.

£1 per day shopping

Getting our purchases home, we then realised that even the amount of food we had purchased would take us over our £1-per-day limit so we allocated out the food and calculated the costs:

  • 3 bananas @ 14p = 42p
  • 5 apples @10p = 50p
  • 2 tins of beans @37p = 74p
  • 3 eggs @ 10p = 30p
  • 1kg potatoes = 64p
  • 500g red lentils = 50p
  • 500g rice = 50p
  • 500g oats = 50p
  • 450g frozen mixed vegetables = 50p
  • Salt/pepper = 5p
  • Home-grown vegetables and herbs (cost of seeds) = 35p

£1 per day food allocation

So far today, the cultural aspects of food are already looking to be the most difficult for me to deal with.  For instance, last night, my flatmate baked a large chocolate cake, which I know I won’t be able to sample this week.  Also, this morning, my colleague made me a cup of coffee that I do not have budget to drink.  And later this afternoon, I am going to a drinks reception where I won’t be able to hold a glass of wine in my hand as I meet the others who have attended.  Not an insurmountable hurdle by any means, but it does go to show how much of our social interaction revolves around sharing food and drinks with each other.

My lunch consisted of five small boiled potatoes which I supplemented with fresh chives and rosemary from my herb garden.  It wasn’t actually half bad — a bit dry and plain but the herbs really helped.

£1 day lunch day 1

I’ll need to get cooking tonight.  I plan to make red lentil soup with rice and some mixed vegetables — should be delicious.

My Favorite Photograph

“As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal,” Susan Sontag wrote, “they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure.”  I look back now on the five or six years when I traveled and photographed extensively as an extended effort to find my place in the world.  Many of the photos now have come to represent the trips themselves; experiences not captured by my camera often need to be refreshed to me through friends that I met along the way.

At other times, elements of the pornographic — which Sontag talks about so much in her own thinking on photography — come to mind.  The photographer striving to capture, or even to own, the experience he has just had or the person he has just met.  In some ways, just like sex, this pursuit ends not in elation or an essential discovery but in the death of the very nature of the experience itself.

I took this photo about three years ago, and it still hangs in my flat as my favorite photograph.  I took it out of a car window when driving through the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia/Chile.  It is so abstract that I often don’t register it as a photo.  The small road in the left middle ground reminds me of the fact that man has been there, yet remains pretty trivial compared to the landscape itself (just like the small boats, temples, or people hiding in corners of Chinese watercolour landscapes).