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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Evening Mail reporter spends a week on rations from Barrow foodbank

I ARRIVE at Barrow Foodbank just after noon. It has been open for only an hour but already I am the seventh “customer” of the day.

I count myself lucky that, unlike the previous six, I have not been referred by professionals because I’m in desperate need. I’ve just wolfed down two hearty sandwiches, ensuring I made them good ones because it’s my last “meal of choice” for a week.

With the aim of highlighting the crucial, and sadly, all-too-important role Barrow Foodbank plays, I’m here to collect my rations for the next week.

As I’m fortunate to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, I don’t expect my experiment will mimic their experience precisely. After all, I won’t have to ration the food quite as frugally, as I can return to a normal healthy diet when my experimental week is over.

And I won’t have to go without, or eat less, to ensure other family members get the nutrition they so badly need – because I only have myself to look after. Nevertheless, I’m going to do it properly.

Inside the Abbey Road Baptist Church, where the food bank is based, I’m greeted by Ann Mills, the marvellous lady who manages the centre, and her fellow volunteers. I’m given two carefully-compiled boxes of food. Each is designed to last for three days and weighs 9.4 kilos.

Ordinarily, people are given one box a time, but I wanted to try and get a fuller picture. I politely decline the extra offers of toiletries and pet food. And I’m asked if I have any special dietary requirements and if I have cooking facilities at home. I’m then encouraged to choose an extra item from the “treats” section. I select a packet of gravy granules, and head back to work, ready to begin my challenge this evening.

DAY ONE

The content of the boxes is worked out by a dietician and satisfies your “five a day” needs. Considering I have two cartons of fruit juice, tinned veg, fruit and beans, that’s probably achievable if I mix the right foods each day.

But I struggle to think how I can concoct any genuine cooked meal without any fresh veg or meat. Using Ann’s advice that the packages are designed to supplemented by the odd things people may have at home, I slightly top-up what I have with some ingredients from home – two onions, two peppers, two potatoes, and a pack of unsmoked bacon – a cheap and flexible meat.

To start, I make corned beef hash. Using half a tin of the corned beef, I add the full tin of sliced carrots, my two potatoes and half an onion, and mix with the gravy granules. It’s delicious and I wonder why I don’t make it more often, but, as I finish with a tin of custard, little do I know that I’ve already had my favourite meal of the week.

DAY TWO

For dinner, I eat the soft white buns filled with tinned tuna and a tin of mixed fruit salad in syrup. For tea, I begin with a tin of vegetable soup and make a main based around the packeted golden veg savoury rice, which contains turmeric and garlic powders, and must be mixed with boiling water.

I fashion a sauce using the tin of chopped tomatoes, adding half a tin of processed peas and two rashers of bacon. It tastes okay, but it’s an example of how it’s hard to make meals of any real substance with the ingredients available.

DAY THREE

Hungry by mid-morning, I eat the frozen meat and potato pie cold. Being a lover of a good pie, this one isn’t great at all. It’s watery and tasteless. Later I finish off the tin of corned beef inside two white buns. In the evening, I start with a tin of tomato soup and utilise the first of two Loyd Grossman sauces. Cooking with half an onion and two rashers of bacon, I pour the tomato and basil sauce over some penne pasta and the result is pretty good. It’s really tasty, if slightly overpowering, because there is so little I have to add to the strongly-flavoured sauce.

DAY FOUR

I nip home from work to make beans on toast after defrosting a loaf of the unsliced bread. I also eat the frozen pork pie, which is delicious. For tea, I open the tin of cream of chicken soup and form a meal around that. I cook it with half an onion and two rashers of bacon and again serve with a good portion of pasta. After baking it in the oven, it works out quite well and I make sure I’m absolutely stuffed with pasta as I’m taking part in the Tour de Staveley 50-mile bike ride tomorrow.

DAY FIVE

Short on inspiration, I again make beans on toast – this time using the non-branded beans, which stick in the throat a bit – and chomp down a Penguin bar. I stuff the double-finger Twix and caramel wafer in my bag and later devour them for an energy boost midway through my exhausting cycling odyssey around the South Lakes.

I return home with aching legs and, scouring the remaining options with a “can’t-be-bothered attitude”, defrost the cheese and onion pasty and serve it with the tin of meatballs. Despite the pasty being okay, the meatballs are the kind of thing you would serve to a child for dinner, and I can’t finish them.

DAY SIX

Before leaving for a Sunday shift at work, I enjoy dinner by cutting the tinned ham into slices and eating it in sandwiches. Mid-afternoon I devour a full tin of sliced peaches and remind myself to buy some once the experiment is over – they’re delicious.

After work and shortly before the World Cup final, I reluctantly heat the second meat and potato and serve with a tin of mushy peas. Unfortunately, it’s not much better warmed up, but the peas are nice.

DAY SEVEN

In another big deviation from my normal food habits, I boil a tin of hotdogs and eat them with a few buns with a squirt of ketchup, which everyone has in their cupboard. For tea, I use the other Loyd Grossman jar – this one is tomato and wild mushroom and actually has small pieces of mushroom in it. I cook it with another half onion and serve with the fuseli pasta I’ve now moved onto. Just like the last one, it’s a tasty sauce, but it’s lacking ingredients and isn’t very satisfying.

DAY EIGHT

Okay, it’s technically more than a week, but I didn’t start on the food bank diet until the previous Tuesday evening, so I’m carrying on one more day.

The tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce takes me back to being a kid and isn’t bad poured over toast for dinner. For tea, I’m down to the bare bones and opt for the tin of spaghetti bolognese. Unfortunately, I just don’t like it and can’t manage more than a few mouthfuls.

As an alternative, I pour the packeted tomato and pasta quills ready meal into a pan. and heat. It’s okay, but like a bulkier version of a cup-a-soup and I can’t finish that either.

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