LBTL – rich girl, poor girl – day 2: taste and see

It’s day two and for poor girl at least, physical effects are beginning to accompany emotional ones… but on both sides of the table, we’re getting a taster of inequality – not so much through what we’re actually eating, but more from what we’re seeing as a result.

rich girl poor girl 2

This image is from lunch yesterday… it might not look like such an extreme contrast in comparison to yesterday’s shopping photos. But the dish on the left is much less rich nutritionally, lacks much flavour, and won’t change for the 5 days for both lunch or dinner. And it won’t be supplemented by anything else.

It certainly felt like an extreme contrast to rich girl. Interestingly, she found it harder to stomach her privileged position at lunch than in the evening… she shares why:

‘In the evening, poor girl and I went to the classic Christian evening – our mission group was meeting and food is a key part of building community in our small group like so many others. So we had a bring and share meal. And I brought and shared.

‘There were seven of us there last night, sitting round chatting and eating of our laps.

‘Six of us tucked into jacket potatoes with a filling choice of yummy homemade chilli, ham and cheese. There was greek salad, cottage cheese and some other lovely looking topping available. And pudding included a choice of roulade, meringues and fruit.

‘And of course there was a never ending supply of tea, coffee etc.

Poor girl sat in the corner eating her microwaved portion of dal and rice – exactly the same as lunch and drinking hot water. (She’d thought it a bit embarrassing to bring her own tea bag and milk allowance to someone else’s house!)

‘What surprised me was that I found it easier to ignore the contrast. Because what I was having was normal. I was in the majority. I wasn’t having more than anyone else… well apart from poor girl.

‘It probably also helped that she was sat to the side of me rather than opposite… I was able to just look at what I was having and with the buzz of interesting conversation (much of which was about Live Below the Line) feel more part of an intellectual exercise again, rather than in the midst of something deeper and more disturbing.

‘At lunchtime, I’d eaten with poor girl and another close friend also doing Live Below the Line. Poor girl had her usual dal and rice and our friend had hers – porridge and water with a splash of milk.

My plate  of food tasted of guilt. I was in the minority. The odd one out – enjoying luxuries but surrounded by people not really eating enough to manage their afternoon’s work. It was horrible.

So we’re thinking that overcoming the discomfort of facing up to equality is all about perspective. What are you seeing while you’re tasting your food? And can you can explain away or dilute the reality of someone else’s need.

Poor girl was simply less visible among seven than she was close up – and so the contrast was easier to ignore. And she was just one in a crowd and so there were many more faces to look at and voices to hear. The contrast became a bit fuzzier…

Perhaps this is why we can look away and forget…

There are now over seven billion people in the world. 1.4 billion of them are in poor girl’s situation. And several more billion of them aren’t far behind. In actual fact, the rich – we – are the minority… The life we live is anything but typical if you view it globally.

But mostly we sit down to eat with each other, so I guess from where we’re sitting what we have is normal, and we simply don’t see what others don’t have.

And what about poor girl?

‘Well I guess I remained aware of how little I had in comparison to those around me (and the normal me) at lunch and dinner. The only difference for me was that in the evening, after a long day at work and very low on energy, it was difficult to always concentrate.

‘By that stage of the day, I didn’t feel that well and was very tired, so I struggled to eat all my rice and dal. The taste wasn’t much of an incentive and my stomach felt constricted.

‘When I did Live Below the Line last year I was in really good health. But I’m weaker this year. I’ve been having some trouble with my sleep over an extended period of time and so I’m generally low on energy. Without much sugar and caffeine to overcome this, and with the same workload in front of me as ever, I’m just not so well placed to stride through the challenge physically.

I’m not experiencing hunger as absence. I don’t feel empty. But it’s presence is with me – slowing my thoughts, making my head ache and draining me of strength and focus.

‘What’s humbling for me is knowing that in three and a half days I won’t have to face it anymore. And that while I spend most of my working day writing at my laptop, singing at my piano, or talking and praying with people who come into the Sanctuary…

‘Most of the people living below the line for real are engaged with much more manual work than me… And have much more cumulative exhaustion and lack of nutrition and stimulants than I am facing.

‘Later, as my mind wandered a bit while I sat in my corner, I looked at the communion bread and wine we would be sharing, and I remembered yesterday’s prayer… I knew there was one point in the evening where I would be sharing with everyone else.

‘This didn’t make me feel included though. Because at no point last night did I feel excluded by the lovely people I was spending time with whilst doing my exercise.

‘But it reminded me again powerfully that God sees no difference in value between me and someone living below the line for real.

This week I don’t either.

‘But the challenge is will I still see that next week when I taste more ‘normal’ food again and have the chance to look away and forget?

A prayer to open eyes wide shut

Spirit of truth help us to see as you do
The worth, the value, the reality
Of each individual and what they face day by day,
As if they were as clearly in view as our own reflection.

We look at poverty with eyes wide shut –
So many cameras, statistics and information.
But what is it for if we can turn away later?
Or stare it in the face objectively as a distant, disconnected force?

Help us instead look with eyes wide open
To the truth of how hunger feels and drains and degrades.
And to keep lovingly looking on those who face it for real
Until we stop forgetting we’re the minority and start acting for change once and for all.

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