Sorry BBC, you can’t actually live on £1 of food per day

Posted May 1, 2013 in ephemera  |  2 Comments so far

Last week an article appeared on the BBC news site with the headline “How to eat healthily on £1 a day“.

A cynic might say that the article set out to alleviate the guilt of wealthier people about the hardships endured by the poor, and to provide an answer to the ludicrous public debate about whether someone can actually live on £53 per week. After all, if you can eat healthily on £1 a day, what could all these people who are having their benefits cut possibly be moaning about?

But wait! A detailed takedown of the article posted at Aethelread the Unread appears to support an alternative conclusion, namely that it is in fact a load of codswallop.

The big problem is that the writer, Brian Milligan, is pricing his food items in a completely unrealistic way, with individual leafs of lettuce, say, coming in at 4p. Now I can remember being at school and hearing how some of my wayward colleagues were able to buy individual cigarettes for 20p as opposed to entire packets for £2, but the last I checked this sort of thing wasn’t going on in supermarkets. Surely Milligan wasn’t able to go into a shop, hand over 4p, then walk away with a lettuce leaf? Surely he actually has to spend a lot more than that to acquire a whole lettuce? This kind of erroneous calculation appears throughout the entire piece:

A 50g can of anchovies costing 79p is factored into his budget at 16p for 10g, and the remaining 40g simply vanish. Or perhaps he feeds them to a magical cat that defecates coins to the value of the food it eats – that’s one way of explaining how he doesn’t have to account for the money he spends on food he doesn’t eat.

All in all the amount he would really have spent works out at just under £40, nearly 8 times his original budget. I recommend you go read the entire thing, it’s a brilliant expose of a misleading and insidious piece of journamalism.

2 comments so far.  Post a comment

  1. May 1, 2013 at 11:10 pm [ Permalink

    Aethelread’s argument is at best fallacious and at worst as disingenuous as he claims Milligan’s article is.

    For one thing, Milligan’s article references the Global Poverty Project, which campaigns for “the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty”. He doesn’t once mention people in receipt of British state benefits (although someone unable to claim them is mentioned in a sidebar). To conflate British benefit claimants with global “extreme poverty” doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

    Neither does Milligan ever ask us to accept that you can by a single leaf of lettuce, or a single egg, or anything of the sort. He just describes a per-meal cost and uses that for his daily calculation (he details full item costs too).

    There are criticisms: he didn’t re-use items, he bought in quantities some may be unable to afford, and “garnish” seems to miss the point a bit, but these things don’t make a nonsense of the whole exercise.

  2. May 3, 2013 at 10:59 am [ Permalink

    Those are good points Glynn, but I still feel that the clarifications Milligan provides are equivalent to a lawyer’s small print when compared to the headline and the overall message of the piece.

    The headline “How to eat healthily on £1 a day” carries an implication that doesn’t square with the actual outcome, which was that Milligan was unable to eat healthily despite spending more than £1 a day. If you read the piece carefully he doesn’t hide the facts that lead to the true conclusion, but they’re buried behind a disingenuous headline.

    I’d be interested to read a follow-up piece, in which he does actually try to eat healthily on £1 a day, e.g. he’s given £5 on day 1 and can spend no more money on food until the end of day 5.

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