Dawn Lent 2021 – Day 5

I thought today, as I ate my 5th portion of rice and dahl for lunch (filling but getting very boring) how much I like cooking for other people. Pre-lockdown, we often have friends over for dinner at the weekend and I love this. How would I do this on this budget? I couldn’t, no matter how many “cook dinner for a fiver!” articles I read. Cooking for others would be out and how could I go to other peoples for dinner with no gift? (wine is obviously out – “make something” said a friend – with what?? How could I afford to make a cake or biscuits on this budget?). This is really really horrible. I am not hungry but my diet this week has been very limited and there has been none of the usual pleasure in cooking – imagine if this was forever rather than just a week?

I think I thought I was aware, but I realise how many aspects of food poverty I had not understood. The anxiety that would go with an empty cupboard, the endless worry about children eating enough (and the guilt), the distress at not being able to reciprocate with friends and the shame this causes. I start to see the connection between poverty and mental health – the distress that hunger and anxiety about food can cause, the relentless, grinding misery of it all. How can we allow this to happen?

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Dawn Lent 2021 – Day 3

Breakfast was oat pancakes with (the very precious) banana – not entirely successful but we ate them anyway as we are both really hungry. I cracked and made coffee – worryingly, my headache stopped. Coffee was not in my weekly budget, so I have cheated (again). Lunch was very boring. My daughter went to Coop with our remaining 34p to see if she could find anything in the bargain section (preferably a vegetable of some sort) but there was nothing – even an apple cost 40p. There were no loose potatoes and a bag cost 90p. So – rice and lentils for tea again.

I met a friend for a walk after work and we usually have a coffee (from the mobile café in an old horsebox). I have to ask him if him will pay, which is embarrassing. He is fine about it but I wonder how this would feel long term? (He also bought me a flapjack which was marvelous!) I haven’t included coffee in my weekly budget so I can’t even bring a flask of coffee (assuming I have one). I suspect I would feel really ashamed and wonder if I would start to avoid meeting up? Would I start to lose my friendships? This is something that had NEVER occurred to me before… that poverty can cause even greater isolation, at a time when people need each other most. So far, this is the worst thing that I have realised all week, and the one that makes me feel most saddened.

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Pre-covid, Norwich foodbank operated from ‘distribution centres’ where people who have been referred would collect their food parcel and any extras (toiletries, pet food, occasionally fresh items such as end of the day produce from supermarekts). All 10 Norwich foodbank centres (covering Wroxham, Wymondham, Loddon and all areas in between) had free tea, coffee / cold drinks and biscuits and 3 centres also offered a free hot meal, thanks to the church and volunteers for this provision. With specific regards to the meal-sites, lots of people would come for the food parcel at the start of the session and stay til the end – it was somewhere safe and warm and welcoming and, if appropriate and ‘wanted’, plenty of volunteers were around to chat and help and support.

This is something that is missing from the current ‘covid-secure’ delivery model – a phone call referral, a reasonably quick doorstep delivery and that’s it. Not much interaction and little ‘contact’ and we know in this current climate, lonliness at worst can be a killer and at the very least has a big impact on mental health.

Dawn’s comments about meeting up with a friend does remind us once again that for some in our community, they are very isolated and a foodbank delivery might be the only contact they have.

Dawn Lent 2021 – Day 2

Last night wasn’t too bad. I slept really well and wondered if all the carbs and calories helped? (I certainly ate far more of each than I usually do). Or maybe it was drinking less caffeine? I cant say I am very excited about more rice and dahl for dinner but I’m not hungry and the porridge went down well (though we are going to run out of milk soon) – we are actually eating bigger portions than usual to fill us up. I can’t say this is a healthy diet and not one I would recommend for anyone for more than a few days… and really, its only nice because I have a drawer of spices (which is not in the budget, so I’m cheating). I imagine, without this, dinner would be pretty horrible. This must be what our families foodbank users have to live with – eating whatever is available or whatever they are given – and it is a sobering thought.

I told some colleagues at work about this and everyone was really supportive – we talked about how to make food cheaper and I realise how tough/impossible this is… some collective thoughts:

“vegetables are really cheap” I worked out that a veggie curry (vegetables and chickpeas) would cost me about £4.20 to make (with rice) but that thiswould only last us for 2 meals (with me having left overs for lunch) and that has taken up over 40% of my budget…so actually, vegetables are NOT cheap and this only provided food for 2 days, with no breakfast (and no lunch for my daughter). So – it might be a healthy option – but it is not a cheap one.

“you can get some great bargains if you shop around” – this is indeed true but how can you shop around if you don’t have the bus fare or petrol money? Also, many of our foodbank users work, so how can they find the time, never mind the energy and the extra travel cost?

“buying in bulk makes things cheaper” – yes it does, but you can only do this if you have money to start with – and bulk buying is not possible with only £10. And many families end up making tough choices, like feeding their children and not themselves. Pre lockdown, I often stopped to talk to a homeless man in town and he told me he ALWAYS fed his dog before he fed himself (the dog always looked better than him).

The highlight of my day was eating the cupcake my daughters friend gave us yesterday, with a cup of tea, when I got in from work – I think I ate it in 5 seconds flat…. It wasn’t just because the cake was so nice, but because someone had made such a kind gesture.

No pictures the food look exactly the same except there is less cabbage…

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During the pandemic, lots of the foodbank’s donors have asked how they can help in different ways and one ‘extra’ thing the charity has done specifically is to accept fresh donations, in a limited way so as not to waste anything that ‘turns’ and taking into account the heat in the warehouse (usually either freezing or baking!), so just from a few select donors who are known when they will come and what they will bring. Norwich foodbank now receives regular donations of bread from Bread Source, eggs from a local farmer and fresh fruit and veg (potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, cabbage / sprouts) from the Norwich Christadelphians. Not only does this provide at least one more meal alongside the 3-day food parcel, but also some healthy options and an encouragement to cook, which many of those who receive the help say they miss as it feels like a luxury.

As part of the Trussell Trust, Norwich foodbank uses a specific picking list for each food parcel – single, couple, family, etc – and these lists are made in conjunction with a nutritionist to ensure that the 3-days supply of food is nutritionally balanced. While all the items are tins, jars and packets, tinned vegetables and fruit are included but fresh pieces to complement what is given is such a joy.

Dawn Lent 2021 – Day 1

I went shopping and took my daughter along so we could double check the shop. What feels like a challenge rapidly become very anxiety inducing. I made a list and had an extras list in case we were under budget. How different this is to usual, when I just buy what we want and don’t really worry about the cost. We debate the ‘extras’ – shall we buy raisins to liven up the porridge? We don’t have enough. Or more veg? Ditto, not enough. Or something nice to go with our pancakes? We settle on 3 bananas. I have a car, so we go to Aldi (where we usually go) but I can see that, if I had to walk to the local Coop, my shop would be much more expensive… The poor, as we know, pay more.

Our total food cost is £9.64 for the week but with almost no vegetables (a cabbage, ½ cauliflower and 3 bananas). The rice and lentil portions look worryingly small (100g lentils and 200g rice a day seemed a lot but it actually isn’t). Syrup was too expensive, so we have sugar instead and lemon juice in a bottle (as it was cheaper than a real lemon).

So far, it’s not been too bad, though mostly because I ate 3 biscuits at work and had 2 cups coffee and then my best friend brought me cake for lunch (as she knew I was doing this). And then, someone sent my daughter birthday cupcakes (10 days late but very much welcomed!) and we had 1 each with a cup of tea. We plan to have another one while listening to Boris Johnson tonight.

Our menu for the week is:

Breakfast – porridge with sugar (raisons, fruit and syrup are out as too expensive)

Lunch – for me, leftovers: for my daughter – bagels with baked beans or spaghetti hoops (no margarine or vegan cheese – way too expensive).

Dinner – rice and dahl with cabbage every single night – we can stretch to potato or cauliflower fritters on 2 or 3 nights if I am careful.

Pudding – vegan pancakes (to cheer us up) with sugar and lemon (no fruit). We don’t usually eat pudding but flour is cheap and I don’t want my daughter to feel hungry.

Drinks – tea with milk or lemon juice. No coffee, no herb tea or rooibos (my usual favourite).

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Norwich foodbank receives referrals every day from people who say they are completely on their own with no friends or family to ask for help or who have exhausted these options due to family and friends personal constraints or embarrassment at needing to ask for help ‘again’. Our communities are so different from previous generations when people knew their neighbours and whole street and you could just pop round to ask for a bit of food or company or whatever was needed, because chances were you would do the same in return if / when needed. But currently, regardless of lockdown, this just rarely happens and so many people are genuinely alone and not known and worringly, the charity expects there are even more ‘hidden’ people in need who aren’t receiving their or any other support.