Food Editor Adele Franghiadi interviews third year Alex Fergusson who has just completed his week of “Living Below the Line” to raise money for Tearfund

Food and Drink Editor, MA Global Popular Musics Student, quite enjoys cooking
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Images by Tearfund , Adele Franghiadi , Alex Fergusson

Adele: Could you start by telling me a little about Tearfund?

Alex: Tearfund is a Christian charity that was set up to do aid work around the world with the aim of helping communities to help themselves.  They go into communities – only those which actually ask for Tearfund’s help – and show people new skills, maybe to help them get into their desired line of work, which helps improve their quality of life.  So it’s not just handing out aid packages, it’s actually helping them to build and improve their community in a way that’s sustainable and long-lasting.

For those of us fortunate enough to have sufficient funds for food, it can be hard to imagine surviving off just £1 a day, as you’ve challenged yourself to do.  So what made you want to do the challenge specifically, as compared to just donating money?

A lot of it was to raise awareness of the level of global poverty.  It’s reckoned there’s 1.2 billion people who live on less than £1 a day, and it’s easy to think “oh, they’re people far away from here”, but really these are people in cities like Birmingham.  For some, it might not be as little as £1 a day, but it’s certainly not much, and it’s evidently an issue around the world, and even in developed countries.

And obviously it’s quite misunderstood.

Yeah, definitely!  And quite hidden, because no country wants to show it has poverty in it.  So rather than just donating my money, I limited myself to £1 a day to raise awareness of poverty, and engage other people into thinking about the privileges they have.

It’s reckoned there’s 1.2 billion people who live on less than £1 a day, and it’s easy to think “oh, they’re people far away from here”, but really these are people in cities like Birmingham.

Now, onto the food itself.  Did you prepare yourself at all for the challenge?  Maybe decreasing your appetite or food budget in the weeks leading up, or did you just go cold turkey?

Actually, this is kind of guilty – I did the opposite.  I had an enormous curry the night before the challenge.  So no, I didn’t prepare in my eating habits, but I did prepare in my shopping, by researching how far my budget of £7 would go for a week’s worth of food. Lots of rice, spaghetti, beans – plain carbs, plain protein, nothing with flavour.  That’s been the main feature this week, everything I’ve eaten has had no flavour to it.

Leading on, apart from tempting yourself with a massive curry, what has been the hardest part for you?

I guess there’s two ways to answer this.  Physically, the hardest thing has been the mornings.  I usually have a good breakfast, but as I couldn’t afford milk, I’ve been having watery porridge which hasn’t been particularly nice.  It’s been hard hitting noon each day and feeling empty and sluggish – it’s impacted my lifestyle in some ways, as I’ve felt tired whilst trying to study.  But more striking is just the realisation of how real this is for so many people – they can have very little, and it’s hard to imagine having to do this every day of my life.

On the flipside, have there been any surprising personal positives, aside from being able to help those in this situation?

Yeah, there’s certainly a sense of thankfulness for what I’ve been given.  Even though I’ve limited myself to a £1 a day, at least I have £1 a day, so it’s definitely made me more grateful that I’ve been blessed with a lot.

And have you learned anything about cooking or food preparation as a result of your food limitations?

Yes!  Why do we peel carrots?!  Apparently we throw away a third of all food that’s produced, without even using it, including carrot skins.  This week, I haven’t wanted to peel and throw away the skins, because I had limited carrots.  So I’ve washed them instead and thought “why don’t we do this more?” because it doesn’t make a difference to the taste.  I think I’ve definitely learned to be more resourceful to make things go further.  Weighing out ingredients also really helped – it’s easy to just chuck pasta in a pan and end up with too much, but it helps to weigh out exactly what you want to have.

Even though I’ve limited myself to a £1 a day, at least I have £1 a day, so it’s definitely made me more grateful that I’ve been blessed with a lot.

Have you prepared any meals in advance, or done any bulk cooking?

I shopped for bulk cooking, so for evening meals I’ve made two for the week – tinned tomatoes, carrots, peas, and some sort of protein. I managed to have some tuna which was genuinely such a treat because I’d had no meat or fish.  But even that was added to something bulk made, which I had over three days.

Alex Fergusson on the final day of his challenge.

And what’s been your favourite meal?  If you can really have a favourite!

Definitely the tuna, with spaghetti, tinned tomatoes, carrots, and peas.  And not because it was a particularly special meal – if I had this outside of the challenge, it would not taste as amazing as I thought it did!

Having almost completed the challenge, would you honestly recommend doing the challenge to anyone else, and why?

Absolutely! I’ve managed to raise £700, which I thought would be optimistic, and the support has been amazing!  It’s definitely a challenge, but one that is worthwhile to make you think, and help other people engage with poverty issues.

But for those of us too scared to take the challenge, how else can we get involved to help those in poverty?

There’s loads of food banks in Birmingham, which you can donate to, especially as applications to food banks have gone up significantly.  You can also give financially to various charities who work towards similar goals.

Or donate to your fundraiser!

That too!

If you’d like to donate to Alex’s fundraiser, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/al-below-the-line.

Alex’s breakdown of costs beyond food alone.

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