Not long ago, I tried living below the poverty line on a vegan diet. As a vegan myself, one of the most common claims against following a vegan diet is about its costs (see reason number 2). According to stereotypes, following a vegan diet would be too expensive for a lot of people who don't have much money to spend on food (*cough cough* students *cough cough*). And yes, this is true to a certain point.

Sure, grabbing a £3 meal deal can be tricky if you're a vegan, as there aren’t many choices, and sometimes you have to rely on the much more expensive Pret A Manger to eat your lunch out. But when it comes to actually buying whole foods from a grocery store or supermarket, some of the cheapest things you find are actually vegan. Pulses, rice, oats, bananas — they are all full of proteins, carbs and fats to keep you going without the need for meat or dairy.

Angelica Pan

All of this ran through my mind the first time that I read about The Hunger Project. This charity organisation challenges people all over the world to take part in their Live Below the Line campaign, which invites everyone to try and live off just £5 (total) for 5 days. After watching a few YouTubers (like CheapLazyVegan or Emma Blackery) taking on the challenge as vegans, I decided to give it a go.

pizza, tea, coffee, beer
Andreina Cecchini

The Prep

Andreina Cecchini

I worked out a list of foods to purchase and what I could make out of them. I checked a few websites to see the general price of what I wanted to buy and then set out for my first stop: Tesco. Here the first troubles came around, as my local store does not carry all of the Everyday Value range.

So I hopped on a bus and made it to the nearest Aldi (and bigger, but not necessarily cheaper Sainsbury's). Here, I realised that I had actually wasted money on a can of chopped tomatoes, as it would have been cheaper to buy baked beans instead. As you see from my receipts, the overall price exceeds the £5 cap. However, I avoided using some of the canned tomatoes and bananas, bringing my total to just below £5. 

#Confession: I used salt, oil and sugar to prep my meals and didn't include these in the amount of money spent over the five days.

Day 1

oatmeal, cream, porridge, milk
Andreina Cecchini

On what is officially day one, I prepped some oats in a jar using a little of the soya milk. I topped it with a third of a banana in the morning.

chicken, rice, pork
Andreina Cecchini

Lunch was half a can of baked beans, a portion of rice and a sweet potato. This first meal put me off a little bit as the brand of rice I had bought made me feel slightly sick. 

chicken, parsley, vegetable, rice, risotto
Andreina Cecchini

My dinner consisted in an easy stir fry, with some more rice (powering on through the nausea!) and some of the frozen veggies.

Day 2

lettuce, salad
Andreina Cecchini

I woke up with the worst headache. I felt sick of rice and was extremely hungry. I had my overnight oats for breakfast once more but I couldn't finish it. I then tried to put some fresh foods in me by eating my rice, beans and sweet potato with some lettuce.

The good thing coming out of this is that I found a new way of cooking sweet potatoes: in a pan with just some water. Innovative, isn’t it?

cream, mocha, tea, cappuccino, espresso, milk, coffee
Andreina Cecchini

Today was the first day I actually cheated. I went to see The Addams Family in Wimbledon and I was feeling so weak and in need of sugar that my boyfriend offered to buy me a cold drink from Costa and I accepted. At least I didn’t pay for it, right?

However, that evening was the worst part. I knew I was supposed to eat again my stir fry, but I couldn’t. I was just so sick of the rice, I ended up not eating at all, which I definitely do not recommend.

Day 3

coffee, yogurt, cream, milk
Andreina Cecchini

At this point, I decided to change my breakfast up a bit. I am aware not a lot of people would actually be able to use a food processor or a blender, but I wanted to experiment with my meals. I had a banana, oat and soy milk smoothie. It was pretty good, to be honest, and I would eat it any other day.

I went for plain white rice for lunch. I realised the problem was not the rice, but the frozen vegetables. The first time I had cooked them, I kept the water in which I had boiled them to try and make a risotto the next day. The water came out of a weird, phosphorescent green. Something was not right, and I was not going to eat those vegetables again.

chocolate, sundae, cream, ice, ice cream
Andreina Cecchini

And this is the day I cheated again — pretty significantly, this time. We were supposed to go out with some friends and my boyfriend offered to buy me a pizza, followed by some ice cream. I was really sick of eating rice and I wanted to say yes so badly. So I did and enjoyed the meal with my friends.

Days 4 and 5

salad, lettuce
Andreina Cecchini

Breakfast remained the same for the next two days. Yet again, I went for white rice instead of having the stir fry for a couple of meals. However, I made quite a good meal by combining two of the sweet potatoes, some of the rice and a can of baked beans, from which I washed the sauce off.

I cooked everything separately and then I mashed it together with a fork. I formed some patties and I rolled them in oats. The burgers came out pretty firm and I fried them a little bit in a pan, before serving them on a bed of lettuce. I made two meals out of this — they were definitely the best meals of the whole challenge.


green tea, tea

Living below the line is extremely difficult. I felt tired, hungry and annoyed the whole time. I tried to drink as much water as I could and sometimes slipped a tea in for some caffeine. They were not easy days and I am glad it’s all over. You do not realise how much food affects your life until you try to survive on the minimum available to you.

Honestly, I consider my challenge a fail. I cheated a couple of times and could not restrict myself to what I had bought with the £5. What is worse is that I felt my body missing vitamins, proteins and good fats. It really made me realise how hard it would be if someday I really won’t be able to afford more than what I had bought.

If you would like more information about The Hunger Project, or if you even would like to try and take the challenge on for yourself, go ahead and learn some more! I didn't open a fundraising page this time, but I feel like if I ever try it again in the future, having people betting money on me would definitely push me to try harder (and not cheat!).