In the Spring of 2014 Kate Jarvis, the Chef Writer of Costwold Life Magazine, took the Live Below the Line challenge for Send a Cow. As we gear up for this year's campaign we revisit her experiences.

I’ve realised the irony of the fact that I’ve started my £1-a-day life after a massive and delicious meal at a friend’s house last night. I’ve also realised the thank-you card I’ve just bought, along with the stamp, cost me £2.59. More than two-and-a-half days’ eating. My gosh. It suddenly looks delicious.

I feel a bit at sea, so I pop into my fab regular butcher, Country Quality Meat in Nailsworth, to ask owner Mike Riggs’s advice. He looks aghast. “You couldn’t survive off £1!”
He weighs a few things out for me as examples (I can’t commit to buying) – 28p for a chipolata; 40p for a slice of bacon. Hunger stares me in the face. A better bet are the large pork meatballs (50p each) or even the pound of ox liver I could get for 50p.

But hang on a mo! What about the free bones I pick up for the dogs? I could make stock! “We’d happily give you bones, whether you shopped here or not,” Mike says. “Or you could get some free chicken carcases off us. You’d still need to add veg to make proper stock, though.”

In the end, for my first day of penury I settle for two weak coffees without milk. And that’s all I have until 5.30pm, when I tuck into my two free-range eggs, with a couple of mushrooms and a handful of spinach. Will try harder tomorrow. Hungry. Very hungry.




I don’t have the money to buy a whole packet of porridge - though I could ‘afford’ the value of a small bowlful. I decide to semi-cheat and have one for breakfast (while taking the relative money out of my allowance). The problem is, if I don’t eat, I can’t work. And I’m only seven stone – how on earth would a grown man survive?

Time to explore tactics. I ask the manager of a local supermarket what happens to out-of-date food. He tells me old stock is thrown out, full stop – “We’d be in trouble if people became ill”. Is there a good time to come in to look for reduced food? “We constantly change it round to make sure everybody has a chance at buying it.” Umm. Fair. But not helpful to me, in my current situation. As I leave, I buy my youngest child a pain au chocolat. I’ve never noticed the price before – 88p! A snack that’s a full main meal.

I’m going to try a curried eggs recipe at 90p a portion… But I’ll leave out the herbs so I can at least have a couple of cups of instant coffee. While I’m shopping for it, I discover something that shocks me. A four-pack of tinned tomatoes is actually dearer than buying the tins individually! I always blithely assumed buying in bulk would be cheaper – surely an unwritten contract between supermarket and purchaser? I wonder how many times I’ve been ‘conned’ by that one. Furthermore I’ll have to switch to battery eggs. I HATE doing this but I have a feeling that, as time moved on, I’d begin to worry less about chickens.

My evening meal is delicious but I’m still so hungry. I try to take my mind off things by watching TV. Still, I’m constantly discovering things I didn’t know. For example, Tesco fusilli pasta twists cost 95p for 500g, while the Everyday Value spaghetti is just 20p for the same amount. 20p! Heaven knows what it’s made of, but who cares. It will fill me up.

I have a confession, today I feel like I’ve cheated, though unwillingly-ish. I had a day ‘off’ yesterday because of an unexpected lunch I had to attend. At first, it was wonderful – eating everything in sight. But today, reality has hit home. If anything, it’s been even harder to go back to my meagre rations, simply because I’ve tasted paradise. How can anyone cope with unremitting poverty? It’s hard enough, playing at it. It sets me thinking about how much good food I get for free – working meals; interviewing in cafes; sampling stuff when I visit food producers. The more you have, the more you get, hmm?

Today, I visit another fabulous Nailsworth shop: Bramley’s fruit and veg, set within Morrison’s car park. They’re so helpful, weighing stuff out for me. In the end, I leave with a leek, two potatoes, two carrots and an onion, for 76p. As I cook my vegetable booty, though, I think about the stuff I normally take for granted. Salt and pepper, for example.

During my five days, I’m using condiments from my store cupboard because I’m sure as heck not going to spend any of my £1 on those sorts of things. Or should I? Maybe I need salt to stay healthy? But there again, worrying about my nutrients wouldn’t be a major part of my day. In fact, I’m already tempted to splash out on a packet of biscuits to fill me up. And then there’s cooking – if I buy dried pulses rather than tins, it’s cheaper – unless I take into account the cooking fuel. What if my electrics are cut off?

On day 5 I realise the Live Below the Line toolkit is excellent at giving advice – advice I haven’t followed, regrettably. It suggests, for example, that you spend your £5 at the start of your week so you can prepare your meals in advance. Wish I had. Its daily menu suggestions, as a result, look like heaven to me: “Day 4, breakfast: two eggs on toast; lunch: egg-fried rice with vegetables; dinner: rice with vegetables and half a jar of curry sauce. Apple for snack and water to drink.” I’m not disputing that’s possible but I reckon you’d have to have transport, time on your hands and a cheap supermarket nearby. All I’ve got left are a couple more eggs and some cooked veg. I don’t even have butter in which to fry them.

What have I learned? Well, for one thing, I’m so spoiled, I didn’t even do this properly, using planning and forethought. If I had to do it for real, I’d either change my ways or be permanently very, very hungry. What’s more, the experience has left me feeling ashamed: ashamed at the food I waste; the food I buy without thinking; even the fact that I’m ‘playing’ at being poor. Above all, I feel confused about my ethics: I’ve always felt proud of them. Now, I realise I’ve just been able to afford them.

First published in Cotswold Life Friday 2 May