5 Mar 2013

Living on a pound a day: global poverty challenge

Could you live on just a pound a day? 1.4 billion people subsist below the poverty line around the world. Now leading chefs are joining a global challenge to raise awareness – and cash.

top chefs support living below the line

It can’t be often that Kevin Tew chops up some economy sausages: after all, he is head chef at the award-winning Galvin restaurant group. Yet here, in the sumptuous dining room at the Bistrot de Luxe, he is creating a recipe for a meal costing just 33 pence.

Kevin’s pork and apple slice has been carefully priced for a reason. He is joining some of Britain’s best-known chefs in supporting a global initiative asking people to spend five days living below the official poverty line, which works out at just a pound a day.

Making a balanced, and nutritious meal for just over 33 pence is a struggle. “It really makes you think about waste,” says Tew as he deftly rolls out a panel of pastry. “You have to make things as simple as possible, while making sure you get the right balance.”

Gordon Ramsey is another chef who has signed up, urging people to take part in the five-day challenge: “It is important to change the way we think about poverty,” he said.

Living Below the Line is now in its third year. Last year it raised more than £2m around the world and this year ambitions are even higher. Live Below the Line has gathered some 33 charities who will all benefit from the cash – but this is a campaign designed to make people engage with the issues on a far deeper level.

It is important to change the way we think about poverty. Gordon Ramsey

Australian Richard Fleming came up with the idea in 2009, after spending two years working in Bangladesh. He challenged himself to spend 30 days living on a pound a day, and found an overwhelming response when he shared his experiences in a blog.

Soon, he said, it became an organic campaign, expanding “to include thousands of people around the world who have taken the conversation about extreme poverty into their kitchens and their dining rooms”.

Five-day challenge

30 days was rather extreme: Living Below the Line wants people to join in for just five days, between 29 April and 3 May. There is a Facebook page to upload tips and share ideas, and the first online recipe app of its kind.

That is where the chefs come in, with the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Fabulous Baker Brothers, Bill Granger and Jean-Christophe Novelli providing recipe ideas which evolve that 33 p meal way beyond the realms of Marmite on toast.

£1 bag of food

We are shown a bag containing the kind of food you might be able to buy for £5. It does not look much, for five days: some porridge oats, some cheap rice, tins of beans, tomatoes, a small amount of veg.

There is no tea or coffee, for a start – something which many of those taking part might find the biggest struggle. Last year, lentils seemed to be the go-to protein of choice. Kevin Tew’s sausage pie aside, there is not much spare cash for meat below the line.

Waste not, want not

But the Global Poverty Project team are as excited about the engagement as they are about the fundraising. Most people who take part, they say, end up changing something about their lives as a result, whether it is spending less or simply wasting less.

The House of Lords will be setting up a soup kitchen, and there are resources for schools, with some laying on 33p lunches across the week.

Managing for five days on limited resources clearly is not anything like the terrible, grinding struggle of those millions across the developed world, who are faced with horrendous choices between food, clean water, or medicines just to stay alive.

And there are some ethical questions over spending your fiver on supermarket bargain ranges, which have been blamed for driving down the price of food below sustainable levels, forcing suppliers to cut corners and compromise quality.

But as an exercise in empathy, this is a unique intiative – one which hopes to raise more than £3m this year. And with the G8 focusing on food issues, Living Below the Line hopes it will become a gateway to those wider, global issues: making poverty history, one day at a time.