How much do you enjoy your food? If you’re like me – a LOT!
How lucky we all are to be able to wander through to the kitchen, have a rustle through the cupboards and choose whatever we want to eat.
Some people aren’t that lucky.
So when regular Queendom blogger a Restless Feeling told me she was doing a Ration Challenge for charity, I asked her to write about it for us.
A week in the life
Some time ago, I don’t remember why or when or how, I saw an advert for 2019’s Ration Challenge to benefit Syrian Refugees, run by Concern Worldwide.
Over the course of a week, I was to eat only what was contained within a ration box such as would be received by a Syrian Refugee, or someone in a similar position.
Up for the challenge
It struck me as something I could do.
I’m not what you’d call fit enough to do something sporty and as I would thoroughly enjoy abseiling or jumping from a plane so it wouldn’t be fair to ask to be sponsored to do something like that.
But eating less? That’s something I could do.
After all, having been a member of slimming clubs I was well aware of my ability to survive weigh day on a single rocket leaf, so I could extend that to a week. I signed up and didn’t think much of it.
It was weeks and weeks away.
The rations arrive
All too soon, my rations arrived in a very small box.
I peered into the box and was aghast to see before me what looked like the ingredients for a single meal.
What was inside?
- Vegetable oil
- A tin of sardines
- A tin of kidney beans,
- A bag of lentils,
- A bag of dried chick peas
- Vouchers to purchase a bag of flour and more rice.
Anything above that was to be added by raising sponsorship.
I immediately earned a spice by sponsoring myself and decided that would be mild chilli powder.
After some pleading emails and social media posts, I earned enough to add salt to my food which meant the rice would at least be edible.
I swapped out the sardines for tuna, as sardines are one of the few foods I cannot and will not eat. (I did check this was ok).
As the Ration Week drew closer I got more desperate until – hurrah – I got enough sponsorship to be able to add a vegetable to my rations.
I chose an onion. By directly asking people for sponsorship I was able to add one tea bag each day to my rations.
The challenge started when I awoke on 16 June, which was unfortunately Father’s Day.
There was nothing within the rations that resembled anything recognisable as “breakfast” and so I had a cup of green tea.
Fruity green tea is nice and sweet and probably the most enjoyable way to have a non caffeinated dairy free hot drink.
The type of tea bag was not incidentally specified so I wasn’t breaking any rules.
That first day was a little hard from the point of view that the rest of the family were home and hungry and I was being nice as it was Father’s Day – I didn’t make the father of the family make all the meals.
Making nice food that you aren’t going to eat is hard when you’re hungry.
I started off combining rice, lentils and onion, with some salt and chilli, and it was a tasty enough feed.
I dug out the crepe maker which was an unopened Christmas present, and discovered that you can make amazing flatbreads using simply flour, salt and vegetable oil.
By the second day I had despatched the rest of the family off to their respective schools and workplace, so I was left alone to mourn the absence of caffeine and to invent new and exciting things to do with chickpeas.
I’ve never had dried chick peas before and I did find them a bit of a hassle as you have to soak them overnight, or cook them for several hours, unlike tinned chick peas which you merely open.
But they do taste amazing and are so much nicer than tinned ones. Sadly they appear to be nigh impossible to buy in the supermarket.
I was starting to feel what could only be described as parched.
None of my food was moist food and drinking one solitary cup of tea and only water for the day meant I couldn’t quench my thirst.
I had a permanent thirst and no amount of water could diminish it.
I suspect it was really hunger but by the third day I was longing for fruit, or salad, or juice, or milk, or…you get the gist.
Making the best of it
I soon got the hang of making ok things from my meagre selection.
It was all rather labour intensive and a little dull, so I didn’t actually eat very much all week.
I had lots of the amazing flatbreads and I made little tiny blinis from the same mixture as the crepes and they were good.
The chickpeas and lentils, with chilli and onion added to each, made for food that actually tasted yummy.
But they were rationed so I had to have tiny portions. One onion had to last all week so I could only have one slice of it each day.
I had more or less unlimited rice but rice on its own is as dull as dull can be.
I would have said that I was a big fan of rice but I have established that it’s probably the sauce on the rice that I enjoy.
No sauce: no taste.
I made little pakoras from rice, lentils, onions and a batter made from my trusty crepe maker. They were good, although extraordinarily hard to cook as they fell to bits with no egg to bind them.
By the fourth day I actually felt ill.
I managed to freak myself out that I was suffering from a lack of electrolytes.
I solved this with the magical healing powers of a banana.
They are a good source of potassium and I swear by bananas when off food a bit.
I had to pay a £25 penalty for slipping up and did rather kick myself for not making the slip up a full Scottish breakfast.
I reasoned that two bananas would be fair for a full penalty, so I had a banana for two consecutive days’ breakfasts.
I also had concerns about full caffeine cold turkey and switched my daily green tea to regular tea for the last few days.
No milk and sugar though, so no more rule breaks and no more penalties to pay.
I saved the tuna to the end of the week as a treat, and it was a treat.
I managed to split the tin of tuna over four meals and had each as a crepe wrap with tuna inside.
A little bit of salt and a tiny pinch of onion and this was probably my favourite meal all week.
Making it to the end
I made it to the end. I had a glass of juice very slightly prematurely (at midnight on the day I was to end rather than upon waking).
Aside from the wicked bananas, I’d made it to the end on just the rations.
- The whole 250ml bottle of vegetable oil,
- Most of my kg bag of flour,
- One onion,
- All the lentils,
- All the chick peas,
- All the tuna,
- Not that much rice (there was so much),
- Plus two small bananas,
- 3 fruity green tea bags,
- 4 Twinings everyday tea bags and
- Many, many litres of water.
I lost 9lb in weight over the week.
A humbling insight
I began by being politically charged and full of “making a difference”.
I ranted on Facebook about refugees needing our help, and how awful it was for them.
I thought so much about their plight.
I was moved to consider other people who relied on donations such as those who use food banks.
There are restrictions on what you can donate, everything has to have a decent shelf life for example (no salad or bananas) so despite seeking help and being given food, they’d have a similar sort of woeful bunch of ingredients as me.
There are so many people in the world who have to live on food rations, it’s very humbling to get a glimpse into what that might be like.
This isn’t like the student days of being poor and eating just noodles. This is the grim reality of survival for too many people.
By the time day 4 rolled around, I was utterly self obsessed.
My hunger was all I could really think about.
I was heard to mutter to myself that at least refugees didn’t have to be in a house full of food and surrounded by people eating said food.
And they wouldn’t be expected to cook that food for those people either.
The after effects
More than a month has now passed since the challenge ended.
I hardly drink any coffee now, I’ve learned that I can do without it and I don’t long for it as I did before.
I feel rather disloyal as coffee has got me through a lot in the past, but I used to feel like that about cigarettes and I successfully stopped them altogether years ago.
I’m still very devoted to juice over water, and the reduction in caffeine has sadly not improved my ability to sleep at all.
I had truly mastered crepe making, but that was clearly a skill borne out of hunger as I’ve not managed to replicate them so successfully since I finished the challenge.
The 9lb loss has been regained (not unexpectedly) as I’ve been embracing food somewhat since the end, and I’m not dehydrated now.
I can learn about eating less from this…planning is not something to be sniffed at.
I’m very aware that I, as a privileged and well fed individual, did this for one week and I found it tough.
I’m a fairly accomplished cook with access to good and hygienic cooking facilities.
People who are refugees do this every week, many in conditions of poverty so they won’t have access to the facilities I do.
Some weeks they won’t get any food and this level of food would be a treat. They don’t have to suffer it for seven days, there isn’t an end in sight.
They don’t have the option of switching teabags or having a banana.
It’s not a challenge to them, it’s their life.
I never indulge people when they reckon that refugees get privileges afforded to them.
They only get what they absolutely need, and only when they can get it. This is an absolute eye opener, to experience just a small sample of what reality is for so many.
I raised £382 of a £350 target which is brilliant and I’m so grateful to everyone who sponsored me.
It’s a tiny amount of money, but 40,000 other people across the world did the challenge at the same time as I did, and together we raised over £5 million.
That’s not a tiny amount of money and it shows what we can achieve when many of us do just a minor thing.