As part of Live Below the Line, you’re allowed to use food you’ve grown yourself, as long as you factor in the cost of production into your £1 a day food budget. So we’ve been drawing from the garden a bit.
It’s unfortunate timing really, because in Britain this is about the worst time for homegrown food. If we were doing the challenge in August, it would be very easy indeed. As it is, we’ve got lots of overwintering leeks still in the ground, so we’ve been eating them every day. There’s some scarlet kale, some Welsh onions, and a little baby leaf spinach. The Rhubarb is good value, and then there’s the herb patch, which has been very useful. I’ve been drinking fresh mint tea to save on teabags, and there’s plenty of flavours there to liven up our meals. Otherwise, the main beds are full of tiny seedlings and there’s nothing much to harvest.
Of course, we’re protected from the seasons by our global food system. All our favourites are available all year round and unless you’re a gardener, the seasons are irrelevant to our diets. For most people living below the poverty line, the seasons matter enormously. You eat what’s available. What you eat could change quite considerably over the course of the year, as various fruits and nuts come into season, as certain wild foods become available, or as birds migrate or insects spawn.
The cost of eating changes throughout the year too. Fresh produce might change, but everyone has a staple. Rice might be very cheap at harvest time, but get more expensive as the year goes on. In Madagascar, local rice sometimes ran out before the new harvest came in. People had to buy imported rice for a while, which they didn’t like as much as their own ‘Vary Gasy’.
Many people living below the poverty line will have a small patch of land for growing food. It’s often the province of the wife, while the husband grows the cash crops. Where I lived in Kenya everyone had a shamba with vegetables, a fruit tree and a few chickens. But this highlights the difference between rural and urban poverty. In the country, there’s room for everyone to grow something. That’s not true in the city, where conditions are often very crowded and people don’t have gardens. It’s much harder to supplement your diet with a few homegrown items.
On the other hand, those living in more rural areas miss out in other ways. There’s more room to grow things, but you’re more vulnerable to bad harvests. A market in a city has goods from around the country and imports, but yours might only sell local produce. If your harvest fails, chances are there’s no backup food source for sale even if you could afford it. You also miss out on services. It’s easier to provide healthcare and education in cities. A well or a road will serve many more people in the concentrated populations of the city, so the money is always spent their first. It’s a long wait for things like electricity or phone lines in remote areas.
Here’s a little tour of our garden and what we’ve got available for this week’s challenge: