I’ve always had some trepidation about Live Below the Line. I’ve seen friends go through it and have looked on with something akin to schadenfreude. Perhaps it’s because I like to eat. Or the very impossibility of the equation, after all, the ‘more than half the world that live on less than £1 a day’ do so in countries where there’s a lot more food that one can get with £1, and in some rural environments money can be short but nourishment is plentiful!
It’s perverse that the week’s diet presents itself as an opportunity for a major detox slash crash diet, but I can’t think of any other way to make it work. I’ve got two weeks to figure it out. Eating for less than £1 a day definitely means a diet without meat. I’ll have to go bargain hunting for vegetables and hopefully will be able to afford eggs. I have recently been turned on to them by Stanley Tucci who I have been working with on Fortitude. He’s a great chef, and an expert on the diverse flavours of eggs – who knew! He made a frittata that was to die for – I began to understand how he sometimes eats nine eggs a day. But a carton of six already costs over £1, so I’m in a conundrum.
— chipo chung (@chipochung) April 20, 2014
As I travel home to Zimbabwe for the Harare International Festival of the Arts, I am suddenly aware of every penny I spend on food. At Heathrow I’m starving and buy a Yo Sushi! lunch pack. It costs £7. The rice is dry, it’s been sitting on the take away shelf too long. What a waste of money, I think. Being an actor, I have gone through extremely lean years, times when I’ve found myself at Pret deep in existential crisis as I stare at the £2.20 carrot cake, wondering whether it is really essential for my happiness or a worthy investment. I know what it is to count my pennies and not to waste on extravagance. With Live Below the Line looming, every penny spent unhappily seems a waste.
I am arriving home on Easter Sunday so look to buy Easter eggs, but can’t find any at the airport. I settle on chocolate covered almonds at the Harrods duty free store. £11.55. I know the minimum wage in Zimbabwe is about $65 a month. That’s a family’s food budget for a week spent on 30 tasty nuts.
Growing up in a developing country, you can never forget the fact that people very close to you live on a different economy. As I’m sure you know, the economy in Zimbabwe has had additional stresses and strains over the past 10 years i.e. record-breaking hyperinflation. It’s been somewhat stabilised by the black-market US dollar becoming the actual currency. But now we’re inflating prices in US dollars! A meal in a restaurant in Harare costs roughly the same as one in London. There’s a working class economy that might buy sadza (the staple maize meal that looks like thickened porridge) and a piece of chicken from the supermarket for $3 – I’m very happy with this level. But for the poor, the fact that the lowest denomination of currency is $1 is a real problem. $1 to take a bus to work, $1 to top up your mobile phone, $1 for a pack of fruit or vegetables, $1 for a pack of cigarettes. 10 years ago a pack of cigarettes cost the equivalent of US 20 cents. To the middle class these prices are reasonable enough, but for those struggling to find one dirty dollar, prices are impossibly expensive.
At Dubai Aiport, I find a Lindt chocolate bunny and buy it for the family. $8.33. I freshen up by buying freshly squeezed juice – pineapple, ginger and apple – $7. I have no idea how I’m going to do Live Below the Line. It seems an impossible challenge, and will certainly be an experience of solidarity in discomfort.