Tom Hiddleston wrote a special essay for his Dragonflies! A few weeks ago, Hiddles took the “Live Below The Line” challenge in which he chose to live on £1 a day (for food and beverages only). Hiddles tweeted photos about his meals and I do think he probably raised awareness for the issue. He’s a UNICEF ambassador and – much like Angelina Jolie’s work with the UN High Commission on Refugees – much of his role is to get press, to raise awareness, to give interviews and pose for photos and try to get people to contribute money. So Hiddles wrote an essay for the UNICEF blog about living below the line and he ends up admitting that he has a really bad caffeine addiction:
I took on the challenge of living on £1 a day out of compassion and a desire to understand the constraints and conditions of those less fortunate, who don’t have a choice. For me it was about voluntarily experiencing even the smallest fraction of the hunger, as well as the discipline required, to subsist on such a small amount. The world’s poorest families, all over the world, face such malnutrition that their growth and development is held back.
Here’s the thing. I haven’t really ever lived below the line – not below the poverty line. I still live in a nice house in London, with running water and a roof over my head, with gas and electricity. Clean drinking water comes rushing out of the kitchen tap. My surroundings are still comfortable. But the children who live below the poverty line have none of these things.
Conversely, I live a very active, very blessed life. It wasn’t always thus: everyone starts at the bottom. I have worked hard since I left school to get to where I am now. But even that statement alone is a declaration of good fortune. My parents had sufficient income, not only to feed me regularly and to feed me well, but also to send me to good schools. To state the obvious: education is power. It always has been; it always will be. I’ve been very, very lucky. It has given me an emotional and physical strength, which anyone who has lived below the line, for a long time, doesn’t have.
Most of us are physically active. I am propelled through my life by an unceasing supply of energy: three square meals of nutritious food (eggs, oats, meat, fish), but also coffee, tea, bananas, smoothies, organic vegetables, fresh fruit, chocolate, biscuits. If ever I feel drained there is always energy within easy reach. Like most people, I rush about. I dash in and out of town for meetings. I’m on the move all the time. When I am working as an actor, it is first and foremost a physical act, on stage or on set. I was lucky, that when I took this challenge on, I wasn’t doing physical action, stunts and battle sequences.
Live Below The Line made me think about food in an entirely different way. I had to plan better, to budget better. I didn’t waste a penny, or a crumb. It was a test of mind and will power. It was a test, simply because I am unused to being hungry. In order to stay within my budget I had to think carefully, and pay more attention when cooking my own meals. I had to cook my own meals and not buy food on the go. When you only have a 1 kg bag of rice, you take care not to burn it. When you only have two eggs per day, you take care to cook them right.
I enjoyed cooking during my Live Below The Line week more than I ever have. I enjoyed the meals I made for myself, more than I enjoy the food I would normally buy on the go – a coffee, a sandwich, lunch at a café, or a take-away.
Through this challenge I learned the importance of preparing food carefully. I learned to be grateful for every single mouthful. I understood how wasteful I used to be.
I realised that I have an addiction to caffeine and coffee. For most of the morning on the first few days I found it very hard to concentrate on simple tasks, without a cup of coffee. This won’t come as news to anyone who has ever tried to go cold turkey – and to stop taking a substance they are addicted to. But after a few days, my head cleared, and I found a more sustainable equilibrium.
More than anything, I learned that I could not live the life that I have, if I were hungry all the time. Some say that hunger strengthens the will, keeps you sharp. Steve Jobs once said: “stay hungry”. But that great innovator was speaking metaphorically in the language of creative ambition. In his field, he’s absolutely right. Real hunger, however, kills the spirit. More than that, it is still one of the world’s biggest killers of children in the developing world. Every 15 seconds, a child somewhere in the world dies because they can’t get enough food to eat. This is the truth about Hunger. UNICEF is committed to eradicating this tragedy from the face of the earth.
I’ve seen the difference UNICEF can do first-hand, at every level of care for malnourished children, in Guinea in West Africa. I undertook the Live Below The Line challenge to raise awareness and support UNICEF in their commitment to save the lives of the poorest children in the world.
Ultimately Live Below The Line has taught me gratitude, on a level far beyond the intellectual. This week, if you have done the same, you have my greatest respect.
I think all of this is fine. It bugs me when people complain about movie stars trying to do this kind of awareness-raising campaign, especially when the celebrity is working on behalf of an organization known to be doing a great deal of work in the world, like UNICEF, UNHCR, Save the Children or what have you. I think some people find the celebrities to be hypocritical, I guess because what would the celebrity know of poverty, how could they really understand what these people are going through, etc? But what I come away with is… at least some people are trying. Maybe they don’t always succeed, maybe the difference they’re making is negligible. But can’t we give them credit for trying? Can’t we give them credit for doing something when so many people live with so much privilege and they don’t even stop and think for one moment that billions of people don’t even have a fraction of what we take for granted?
Photos courtesy of WENN, Flaunt, UNICEF.