Grant Allen: Living below the line (+recipes)

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Grant Allen discusses poverty and nourishment with top chef Michael Meredith

Grant speaks to Michael Meredith about the live below the line campaign. Photo / Michael Craig
Grant speaks to Michael Meredith about the live below the line campaign. Photo / Michael Craig

The $4.50 coffee I bought on the way to meet Michael Meredith would have blown two days of my food budget if I was "living below the line".

If you are living below the poverty line, $2.25 is the equivalent daily buying power you have to spend.

Sadly, 1.2 billion people live like this across the globe.

And it's not a matter of simply planting crops or a garden. You would not be likely to be growing your own food in places of hunger, with impoverished soils and nothing left to forage.

The Fred Hollows Foundation is using the Below the Line Challenge to raise awareness of the issues people they work with in the Asia/Pacific region face on a daily basis.

Blindness and poverty are inextricably linked. One of the many results of an impoverished diet is diabetes. Untreated diabetes leads to blindness.

Michael Meredith grew up in Samoa, where a member of his extended family was blind.

He saw the implications of managing this, someone needed to care for the person with little in the way of official support and with a minimal public health system.

This experience has led Michael to support the Fred Hollows foundation as their Ambassador for the Live Below the Line Challenge. "It's hard to live on $2.25 per day," Michael says. "It's not a reality for most of us and certainly not for me and for what I do.

All we want to achieve is to raise the level of awareness and understanding. We want people to just have compassion and want to be able to help those unfortunate people who live with these conditions every day."

Of course blindness is not the only indicator of an impoverished diet.

Think about how low energy levels would impact on your ability to work or study.

How stressful it would be to have to find food to feed your family every day at a price you could afford.

Where would you shop?

What would you buy?

How much of your daily time would be taken up dealing with this and how would it affect your morale?

Personally, I think it would be impossible for one person to feed themselves on $2.25 a day in New Zealand. The only way I see it being possible would be through collectively trying to meet the challenge.

I attempted to find some recipes that would feed a family of four on $9. This is one meal only. Maybe there would be a few leftovers, but it's pretty tight.

Any advantage gained by buying in bulk depends on having money to do so and possibly the ability to travel to find these bargains.

Take transport costs out of the equation and the budget is ever-diminishing.

Talking with Michael, we both agreed that it would be easier to feed a 100 people for $225 than a smaller number. In places where people live in extreme poverty there is often a more communal approach to food-making, with a village structure dividing the cooking, gathering or hunting tasks.

However, many people in poor places drift into cities looking for work and the traditional, collective aspects of their life are lost. In these urban environments it is everyone for themselves.

Last year POP Dining created a pop-up event to support the Live Below the Line Challenge. Their food budget was based on the allowed $2.25 per head.

Ben Barton, POP Dining creator, fed 50 people a vegan menu. He charged 22.50 per head and all proceeds went to the Live below the Line Challenge.

So, do you think you could manage on $2.25 a day and could you keep your family nourished and content? How would you deal with the hunger pangs and low energy levels and the anxiety about next week's food?

Where would you shop? Certainly no high-end food stores, butchers or even supermarkets at full price. Over-processed and tired vegetables have less food value.

My pantry for the week cost $70.22. This included a 5kg bag of brown rice, on special for $8.99, a $5 boiler fowl and a bacon hock, $6, rolled oats, frozen chicken portions, pasta, lentils, the cheapest oil, a small bottle of soy, a can of tomatoes, a tin of tuna, a head of celery, a few vegetables in a soup starter pack (onion, carrot, celery stalks and a turnip), a lemon and a packet of long-life full cream milk. Not much protein and little fresh food.

I figured the best way to expand the available was to make stock, boiling up the old fowl and bacon hock with a minimal amount of tired celery, one onion and a carrot (from the soup starter vege pack, $5.99).

This could be used by adding the shredded flesh of the fowl and bacon hock, lentils or rice to make soups, some sustenance at least, but not much solid food.

All the following recipes serve four.


Vegetarian Spaghetti
Tuna Salad
Ben Barton's Spiced Pumpkin, using Pop Dining spice blend

What is Live Below the Line?

Live Below the Line is a global initiative which challenges New Zealanders to live on $2.25 a day for food for five days between September 23-27.

The symbolic act of empathy is part of an international movement to increase engagement through direct experience of the challenges and hardships of extreme poverty. More than 1.2 billion people around the world live in extreme poverty, on the equivalent of $2.25 per day.

For more information, visit

- Herald on Sunday

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