A few weeks ago the BBC published an article on how to eat for less than £1 a day, in reference to the Global Poverty Project’s challenge to “Live Below the Line”.
Others have explained better than I could why the diet suggested in the article is totally unrealistic (for example, it is not possible to buy a quarter of a courgette). There’s a good blogpost on atheltheunread.wordpress.com.
Last week, the BBC published a follow-up article with “Readers’ Stories” of living on little money. A few of the stories included phrases like “my dog eats better than me”, “porridge week”, “it is very lonely and boring”, and “I am suffering from depression as a result of having little or no social contact with friends due to a lack of money for travelling or doing anything.” But one story was from someone who had lived on very little whilst “couch-surfing” around Europe and claimed, “there are… many incredibly happy people who live on next to nothing.”
Couch-surfing, i.e. staying somewhere for free whilst on holiday, is somewhat different to a daily grind of going to work (or looking after kids or going to the Job Centre), coming home, feeding oneself, sleeping and doing it all over again — not being able to afford to travel. Regardless of the happiness levels of individuals, poverty does not make people happy. Poverty tourists who travel to the global South to “find out who they are” should have therapy, not search for affirmation in the poor masses.
As a low-paid worker in London in an unstable job who has recently had to take unpaid time off due to illness, I have absolutely no time for people seeing poverty in the UK or anywhere else as a “challenge” or, worse, as something virtuous. Living on little is only a choice for those who can afford not to.
As an ex-Methodist, I am fully aware of the clerical overhang in this country that says we should avoid feasting, avoid drinking and avoid having sex for pleasure, that we should work hard because work itself is good, and that poverty is a virtue. As an ex-aid worker, I am fully aware of the various methods of fundraising for charities in the global South and the prevalence of trying to get people in the global North to empathise through challenges such as “Live Below the Line”.
As a socialist, I reject all of those. There is plenty enough food in the world to go around for everyone to feast if they so wish, and to have a varied and nutritious diet. It is capitalism that is the problem.
There is nothing wrong with those on a low wage who spend outside their means in order to avoid having absolutely no social life or no enjoyable meals. It is an entirely logical thing to do, particularly if poverty has contributed towards mental health problems. Those who can live for a long time on little without becoming extremely unhappy are very lucky, very strong, or have exceptional support networks.
Pretending to be poor in order to raise money is a self-righteous and artificial waste of time. Living on poverty meals for a week is nothing like living on them for a lifetime, with little to look forward to and no way out.
As socialists, we advocate the redistribution of wealth, the means of production in the hands of workers, and the needs of everyone being catered to — not a poverty-chic, anti-consumerist type of moralism.
Living in comfort, having a well-filled stomach, eating the best foods and drinking the best wines (or other preferred beverages) should be for everyone.