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By Ian Dipple Friday 03 January 2014 Updated: 03/01 09:20
A GROWING number of people are turning to food banks to feed themselves. Across the country it is estimated about one million people will need the support of a food bank during the next 12 months. Food banks give out crisis food, enough to last three days. But is it really enough to live off? Standard editor Ian Dipple gave the food bank challenge a try to find out.
THREE days may not sound a long time to survive on a food parcel, but having done so I can tell you it is a lot harder than you first may think.
The first thing that strikes me about the bag of food I am presented with is how little it is for just one person.
That thought is closely followed by a sudden panic and realisation that my cooking skills are limited at best and I am not entirely sure how I am going to make this stretch to sustain me for three days.
I do have 250 grammes of cereal which should solve the problem of breakfast each day, except for the fact I don't have any milk. Fortunately the challenge does generously give me £1 a day to spend on such extras so I solve that by picking up a pint from the supermarket for 89 pence (I later found had I shopped around I could have picked up two pints for a £1 from the discount store).
I spy two cans of soup nestling between the items on offer and identify that as lunch for two of the three days.
Normally I would have some bread with it but at well over £1 a loaf it will eat too much of my budget especially if i run out of milk and there's no way I can survive without tea. Thankfully I do have the ingredients and a recipe to make my own bread.
I also have a packet of pasta, tomatoes, a small tin of meat and some canned veg which I am sure I can whip into something for a main meal.
Day one begins full of enthusiasm but after tucking into my small bowl of cereal splashed sparingly with milk (not the bacon and egg sandwich I'm used to) I head off to work with lunch consisting of a single can of soup and three chocolate biscuits from a half pack I'd been given in the bag. The fresh fruit, veg, yoghurts, crisps, chocolates etc remain in my cupboard.
The working day doesn't start well by 10am I've eaten my biscuits and all I can think about is food, particularly what I can't eat. By lunchtime my bowl of soup has never looked so delicious but it only staves off the hunger for an hour at most. One of the positives of being so hungry is it motivates me to attempt to bake bread later that evening which is a success, much to my surprise.
Dinner consists of a steak and kidney pie, half a tin of mushy peas and half a tin of new potatoes.
Having bread makes day two a bit more bearable as it gives me something to munch on between meals which consist again of cereal soup and a bland pasta and tomato creation. It's not appetising but at least I'm not hungry.
Day three involves beans on toast for breakfast (I could not face anymore cereal) some more bland leftover pasta for lunch and a small tin of chopped pork and the rest of the mushy peas and tinned potatoes.
As my three days come to an end I reflect on the experience. The intention of doing this was not to offend or recreate what families and individuals who genuinely need the food bank go through, as that would not be possible because fortunately I'm not in crisis.
However it has taught me a lot. Firstly it forced me to re-examine my relationship with food. I realised how wasteful I am and since the challenge ended have made a real effort to ensure every scrap of food is put to good use.
I'm also gluttonous, I eat far more than I need to. The food parcel I was given was enough for me to eat and function properly every day, without the excess scoffing I do between meal times. That said continually living like that probably would not do my health much good as over the three days I consumed about 3,000 calories less than recommended, which is why those that run food banks stress they are only to get people through a crisis and other help is offered to support them long-term.
Overall though, the challenge made me grateful for what I have and to appreciate the fact I can always go to a full cupboard and buy more food whenever it needs topping up. It is something so small which I take for granted every day.
It also served as a powerful reminder to me that any of us could need the food bank in future. Rich or poor we are all just one redundancy away from a crisis.
One thing is certain, the rising cost of living is going to see demand for emergency food continue to grow in 2014. The generosity of the public is going to be crucial in ensuring someone near you does not go hungry.
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