Live Below The Line (Midway)

This update will cover the cooking and prep-work involved on the weekend before the challenge, and blog entries for Days 1 and 2.  To read my previous post detailing my thoughts about the actual Live Below The Line challenge, please head here.

The Weekend Before

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As the challenge drew closer, I started noticing and appreciating each little purchase I made, food-wise. On Friday, I located the same 5¢ miso paste packets that Leaf had used for the challenge (which she did a few weeks ago). We will use them sparingly to help flavour our meals. On Saturday, I spent $25 on brunch at Min Lokal, and then on impulse, bought two sushi hand rolls for $4.60. That’s essentially 15 day’s food allotment for the poor, spent so easily in just one morning.

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Planning ahead is important when tackling this poverty challenge. Crunch time happened on Sunday afternoon. I met up with Fakegf and we trawled South Melbourne Market for closing specials, bought bags and bags of $1 fruit and vegetable specials. Now I don’t really eat apples and bananas, my favourite fruit are the Asian tropical varieties like custard apples, pomelos, lychees & mangosteens. But we got no choice here and are relegated to buying the market fruit that are in season and probably about to rot.

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We then got home and started cooking. Well… Fakegf cooked, I just took photos and looked pretty. Breakfast will consist of oats with fruit. We stewed the plums in its own juice, no added sugar.

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Lunch will consist of sandwiches filled with blended chickpeas, like a poor man’s hommus. We just boiled the chickpeas in water and then blended it, nothing else added.

Speaking of sandwiches, Fakegf mentioned how we’ve always been saying how cheap Vietnamese banh mi’s are, priced at $3.80 for a roll at Nhu Lan Bakery. Well… with this challenge, it feels so sad that our $2 a day allotment can’t even buy us a banh mi.

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Our dinners will consist of a lentil and bean soup with root vegetables and tomatoes. We chose that over rice because the legumes will give more protein. Although in retrospect, not having anything Asian (like rice and soya sauce) for the whole 5 days feels quite daunting to me. It’s Day 2 as I write this, and I’m already sick of this soup.

Total spend up to this point was $12.85 for two. So we had a $7.15 contingency fund should we run out of things or need to indulge.

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I spent most of Sunday pigging out like the silly boy that I am. Dinner happened in Ormond in a family-style Italian restaurant, with my friend Shing as chaperone. Massive portions of everything, thank goodness. I had a huge-ass slab of eye fillet and we shared Greek Loukoumades for dessert. So yes! My belly was very full and I was quite ready to take on the challenge!

Day 1: Life Without Coffee

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Reason why I chose not to factor coffee into the budget is because I wanted to challenge myself. And also short of buying instant, a proper cup of coffee isn’t attainable at $2 a day. A bag of good beans alone costs about $12.

I’ll admit it, I’m a coffee addict. Life without coffee sucks. I spent the better part of last week weaning off coffees. From my usual 3-4 shots a day, to a final cup on Friday morning. The weekend was spent in a fog of mild compressive headaches and a general dispirited sluggishness. And just to mock me further, that was also the very weekend that the Melbourne International Coffee Expo 2012 was held.

I now look at our flat whites, lattes and espressos as luxury items in Melbourne, selling at $3.50 a pop… beautifully micro-foamed and extracted from $10,000 machines by good-looking, coiffed baristas. It’s all part of the whole experience of drinking a cup. But while we are enjoying a brew of coffee, let us also remember that the beans normally come from developing countries and poorer regions of the world. The farmers are paid much much less than the end price of the bean that’s sold in store.

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It was good that I weaned myself off coffees in advance though. I had to make a 5 hour drive to and from the state’s border on Day 1 of the challenge. I think if I had gone cold turkey off coffees on that same day, I’d probably cause a road accident. I was about 100km out of Melbourne when I’d experienced a brief spell of lightheadedness. I stopped the vehicle immediately and chowed down half my lunch (chickpea sandwich) at 10am. There were no further dizzy spells for the rest of the day, but I found that my brain grew tired easily and quickly. In fact, this lack of brain energy was what dictated when I should eat, rather than hunger itself.

I’m not sure whether this lack of energy is because I’m no longer supercharged by coffee, or if it’s the lack of sugar from today’s diet. But I think we’ll have answers over the next few days as I listen to my body further. I felt a slight sense of pride that we went through Monday without requiring any added sugars or salt in our diet, we did not even use our miso paste packets.

On the lighter side, I’m glad I only had to make this long 5-hour drive on Day 1 of the challenge. Imagine me doing this drive on Day 4 or 5, famished and grumpy. Whoa man, all the fields of cattle I pass by will probably start to look like walking slabs of prime beef steak!

Day 2: Life On Foot

Tuesday’s added trial was to spend a day on foot. No cars or public transport. I confess it’s a bit of a cop-out, since it’s my day off and all I really needed to do was stay home! To help assuage any guilt, I’ve decided to get up early tomorrow and walk to work… experience life on foot!

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I spent the morning doing food-styling of our meals for photography. Somehow, doing that felt so wrong, lol. The number of $2 coins is meant to be symbolic of each day of the challenge. Because I was taking photos, I ate both the bowl on the left and the bowl on the right, having twice as much for breakfast.

The oats were just cooked with water and any sugars would have come from the added fruit. Did it taste bland? Hell yeah! But funny thing is, so far I’ve never really gone all that super hungry. Okay, our incredibly unexciting meals helped, but it’s as if my body has also physiologically adjusted to this new (low sugar, low salt) intake and have learnt not to demand what it can’t have.

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Fakegf and I took a walk and we had a picnic in the park. Once again, it was chickpea sandwiches with soft apples… Yup, that’s what we’ll be having for lunch all week! I actually quite liked the sandwiches. Fakegf, on the other hand, prefers our bean soup dinner, saying that these sandwiches made her feel sad. I’m quite unfond of the soup dinner by contrast, how interesting!

Our plan was to stroll down the main street that connects both our homes and meet at whichever point we meet. During that stroll, I really noticed the smells of everything that I walked past. The aromas of frying, grilling, baking… my nose was very attuned to smells of all the foods that I knew I couldn’t have. As I walked by my local brunch café, I detected the singed smell of toast, cooked eggs and bacon grease. By the time I met Fakegf, I was feeling half-peckish but more so, I was half-jealous and half in agony over all the options and choices that I’m not allowed to have.

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Fakegf noticed during our walk just how many ads on the street are food related. I think you look at things with different eyes when you’re deprived of things you can’t have. $12 for steak is so cheap, and yet so unreachable for this week. We decided we needed a bit of indulgence snacks in between our meals, so we extended our budget and got another loaf of bread and a large jar of peanut butter. That brings our spending tally to $16.90 now.

We also had outrageous food envy when we discovered what our teammate Winston was having for his meals – ABC chicken soup, spaghetti with sausages. So sooo yummy by comparison with our vegan, sugar-free and salt-free meals. We could’ve bought eggs but we didn’t want to go cage eggs. I dread my dinner of beans and more beans tonight and will probably have to use a packet of miso paste to help flavour it differently.

Tomorrow’s added challenge will be ‘Life Unplugged’. It means I won’t be using my iPhone, iPod, camera, TV or laptop for the day. Thank goodness I have a full day at work to keep me occupied! Any tweets that I release tomorrow regarding this post would’ve been scheduled from the night before. I also look forward to the thoughts that’ll come to me when I embark on the 9km walk to work tomorrow, rain or shine.

As of 8pm this evening, our team Food Lovers Collective has raised $1238 towards the cause against poverty. Very well done, Foodies! Especially teammate Jade, who’s raised over $600. I feel a bit behind, having raised less than $200. If you’re feeling generous, please think about sponsoring me as I continue living below the line. The option to donate can be found in my profile here:

This year’s feature project will revolve around building education facilities in the remote regions of PNG. So it’s for a good cause!

LBTL Posts

Live Below The Line – Introduction, First Thoughts
Live Below The Line (Midway) – Prep Work, Days 1 & 2
Live Below The Line (End) – Closing Thoughts, Days 3, 4 & 5