I'm halfway through my Live Below the Line challenge - a campaign which highlights the challenges faced by 1.2billion people who live in extreme poverty every day - and frankly, I'm shattered.
Food is everything. It sounds obvious, doesn't it? But it's not until you're without it that you appreciate the impact it has on every single aspect of your life. These past few days I've been living on about 25% of what I would normally consume. I've skipped breakfast, reduced my lunch portions, eaten almost no fruit and veg, had no snacks or coffee and my sugar intake has drastically reduced. The fun is gone, as has my patience (my colleagues can attest to this), I have a constant headache and I'm too tired to chat about what happened on Holby City last night.
As the week approached I thought a lot about how this would impact on my daily routine. My train of thought went a bit like this:
Can I go to the gym?
How will this affect my want for a beach body come my summer trip to Ibiza?
Can I play tennis this week?
I guess I should cancel my appearance at my friend's birthday dinner.
Am I going to have to eat white rice instead of brown?
Superficial, huh. Of course I'm just eating and drinking on £1, but those 1.2billion people who do this every day also need to squeeze other essentials into that budget - education, clothing, healthcare, everything. And suddenly the guilt arrives.
The daily thought process of a person in extreme poverty is:
Can I feed my family today?
How will this affect my children's health?
I guess I should cancel their education.
Am I going to eat at all today?
But people in extreme poverty don't want me to feel guilty, they want solidarity and they don't want to be patronised. The thousands who will Live Below the Line from 28th April this year aren't trying to replicate poverty or glamorise it; they are trying to understand it better.
For me, the real brilliance of Live Below the Line is that it opens your mind to stark choices you'd otherwise just not understand. Sure, I understood that it was bloody difficult but I hadn't thought particularly deeply about the restriction of choice and the impact that can have until I, in a small way, experienced it.
Last night I took a phone call when I was cooking my rice. I got distracted and the rice burnt. I had no money left in my budget, so my choice was to eat the burnt rice or go to bed hungry. The reality is that in the developing world the choice is much more stark - food or medicine, water or education - but the experience exposes a restriction of choice I hadn't felt or understood properly before.
I hadn't connected poor nutrition as a contributing factor to joblessness until I tried to get up for work this morning having eaten nothing but cheap carbs for three days. I hadn't connected the impact that having to walk 6K to fetch clean water would have on your daily energy until I cycled in this morning on an empty stomach.
After last year's campaign we asked participants what they would do as a result of taking the challenge. The overwhelming number of people said they would do two things: waste less food and spend more time campaigning for an end to extreme poverty.
We want people to use this new found knowledge to take action. Our core belief is that if people understand the issues better, they are more likely to support measures that will help end it. We, in the so-called 'north', can only do our bit. We're not going to solve the problems of poverty entirely by ourselves. It's our job to get our governments to do what they can to make it easier for the developing world to reduce poverty through better governance, trade that works and stopping tax avoidance.
Some might say the challenge is a little patronising but it's actually the opposite. It exposes the reality of development - that the people working hardest to get out of poverty are those living it every day.
The Live Below the Line challenge takes place across the UK between 28th April-2nd May. For more information or to sign up please visit www.livebelowtheline.com/uk