Food for Thought

By Jemima Bush

Food is probably my biggest passion. If I’m not cooking, eating or taking pictures of my food, I’m watching food vloggers and celebrity chefs to work out what I’m going to eat next. When ‘Just Love’, a group of Student Christians who try to promote social justice, announced they were doing a food related challenge, I was immediately interested.

About 30 students pledged to only eat plain rice, beans and oats for five days as part of Tearfund’s ‘Mean Bean Challenge’. The aim was to show solidarity with those who live in food poverty and raise money for Tearfund, a charity who among other things work directly with the poorest communities to bring about sustainable solutions to poverty.

After a couple of days, I noticed a big reduction in my concentration and energy levels.

I was expecting the challenge to be difficult and the food to be boring; but, honestly, how hard can five days of boring food be? On the first day I realised quite how disgusting beans are and how bland plain rice and oats taste without any seasoning, and by the afternoon I was really craving sugar.

After a couple of days, I noticed a big reduction in my concentration and energy levels that came as a result of such a low calorie intake (less than a quarter of what I was supposed to be having). Work productivity slowed down and I was just generally feeling negative. By day four, I could feel the lack of vitamins and minerals in my system; I was weak and aching all over like a walking, talking bruise.

For one million people across the world, this state is their daily reality. However, although I was eating the diet of someone in food poverty, my experience was still so far off. During my five days of rice and beans, when I felt tired I let myself have extra breaks and had a nap in the afternoon.

For one million people across the world, this state is their daily reality.

For those suffering extreme poverty, a further drain on energy is the exhausting manual work that many carry out to earn money, where taking breaks is just not an option. I noticed that concentrating on work became more difficult after just two days, but I will have the chance to catch up on work I missed when my diet is back to normal. For children growing up in poverty who are lucky enough to go to school, lack of food affects their ability to concentrate, and learning is so much harder. On top of that, I was free from the other worries that people in poverty face; I had a hot shower, as much water as I needed and not just a roof over my head but a warm house with all my regular creature comforts.

The thing that made this challenge feel possible for me was knowing that at midnight on Friday I could go back to my regular, nutritious and delicious diet. It breaks my heart that there are millions in the world who will live off rice and beans for their whole lives.

Tearfund’s ultimate goal is to see an end to food poverty, and since 2006 their work has reached 45 million people. ‘Just Love’ have raised over £3,800 so far and we are excited about the difference this could make. The five days that I lived in food poverty were difficult but barely come close to the daily experience of so many. Please have a look at tearfund.org to find out more.

Photograph: Jemima Bush

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