Living on $10 of food for a week

I was reading a question on Quora that asked what it was like to live on $7 of food for a week.

I found the answers very interesting. Some had gone through the experience through necessity, while others offered advice on how best to spend that money and make it count over a week.

So I decided to have a go myself (upping the sum to $10 because I like round numbers and it sounds just as hard).

I thought it would be an educational experience, giving me some insight into a world I’m entirely unfamiliar with.

Now, before I go any further I think it’s probably best to say that I’m very much aware that doing this for a week, with the safety net of being able to break it and grab a burger if it all got too much, and knowing that it would all come to an end seven days later, is nothing like the REAL experience of having to live on that little food for a week. I’m also aware that this could come across as some kind of crass poverty tourism. But my intention was purely to go through a new experience, one that millions have to deal with all over the world. I thought it would give me more empathy along with an opportunity to leave my comfort zone.

So it started with shopping. I decided to go to a shop called Target, which sells lots of different products in bulk, and at the lower end of the price range. Armed with advice from the Quora people, I chose 18 (non-organic) eggs for $1.99, a large container of oats for $3.49, a 2.5lb jar of (shitty) peanut butter, for $2.99, and the rest on bananas, which I bought at Trader Joe’s (a mid-range supermarket) because they were cheaper. So I had protein, carbs and fat.

Things I learned from this:

  1. It would be easier in some ways to spend $20 over two weeks – not from an endurance point of view, but for the sake of variety. I had to choose between oats and rice, and I selected the former because I thought it would go better with the bananas and peanut butter. If I were doing this for two weeks I could have bought both and changed things up each day. Instead I lived off a lot of banana porridge.
  2. I wasn’t able to take advantage of knowing when the sale prices were happening, or using coupons, or checking out the ‘must sell today at knock down prices’ section of various supermarkets. I suppose all of those things would have given me an advantage in spreading my money around effectively, but I wanted to replicate the lack of choice that surely faces many people in this position. Most won’t have cars, so they can’t check a variety of places for the best deals, and many would get their money at unpredictable times, so the ability to plan ahead may not be a luxury they could fully enjoy.
  3. Fuck organic. I think there’s a lot of skepticism about what’s really ‘organic’, and the extent to which that is truly beneficial, but if you have $10 of food for a week that issue is irrelevant. Four organic bananas vs eight normal ones? Easy decision. I recall Delia Smith explaining that cheap, battery-farmed chickens and eggs were an obvious option for many families, much to the horror of wealthier people. I now see exactly where she was coming from. My peanut butter choice was an exercise in gaining bulk calories, but it’s full of the kind of crap I wouldn’t normally eat. ‘Good’ food is definitely an indulgence at this budget..

I added a further rule where I could accept food that was offered to me, or partake of free food if I had the opportunity to do so. I don’t know how many $10-a-week people get to eat snacks at work, or leaving dos, but I thought there was probably a bit of that going on. And I didn’t just stockpile tonnes of office trail mix as that would have corrupted the experience too much and been less realistic, but I did have the odd handful here and there. I could also use ‘reasonable’ extra ingredients, by which I mean stuff I could swipe from a fast food restaurant (salt, pepper and ketchup), as well as a bit of butter.

So what was the eating like? Interesting from the experiment point of view and very dull from a cooking perspective. But I did discover a couple of beneficial things. For example, I normally have a rasher of bacon and three scrambled eggs for breakfast. I chop the bacon up, fry it, then add the eggs, which cook in the bacon fat. However, this time I had to cook the eggs in butter, and my god they tasted SO much better. So I now have a new way of cooking eggs that will improve them immensely. I also had to have my banana and porridge with none of the maple syrup or honey that I’d normally add. And it was a little blander, but like removing sugar from my tea, it actually turned out to be fine, and healthier.

On the downside, over the course of the week my bananas got a bit riper than I would have liked, and I worried that they wouldn’t last me the whole seven days. And eating half-bananas (opening the banana, eating half, then keeping the other half in the fridge for later) is a new experience for me, but was very necessary to allow me to eat porridge with half a banana twice a day. And the peanut butter tasted a bit shitty (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn syrup), but not too bad. It was only the repetition of these dishes that made them less pleasant. The other downside of the peanut butter is that it gave me rotten indigestion, so I gave it up on Thursday, binning 1.5 of the 2.5 pounds. But I didn’t replace it with good quality peanut butter because that didn’t fit with the budget, and if people who really eat on $10 a week make a mistake they don’t have the safety net to rectify it. Instead I became even hungrier and wished I’d bought some rice, or more eggs, with the peanut butter money.

Of course, the other big problem was the number of calories I was consuming. Three eggs a day is 166 calories, while two bowls of half a banana plus porridge was probably another 200-300. Add in a bit more banana and peanut butter and I was probably coming in at under 700 calories a day. So I was fucking hungry, and by Friday I was finding it hard to think clearly. It might have been the lack of food, or the heat here in LA, but I couldn’t rouse myself to do anything in the afternoon. Yes, my hunger was self-imposed, but it gave me a good idea of how debilitating it is to operate with a constantly growling stomach. It’s harder to work, to drive, to engage in conversations, and all of those difficulties affects other areas. If you can’t concentrate at a job interview, or you scrape a car while you’re parking you’ll have other consequences to suffer, increasing the hardship. This is definitely one reason why it takes a big effort to break the cycle of poverty. But because hunger is invisible and comes with a stigma it’s also hard to get sympathy for those circumstances.

In the end, after a VERY welcome catered party on Saturday night, I kind of cheated on Sunday, eating three more eggs than my original purchase and going out for a bowl of chili at lunchtime. So I really managed six days, but I could have done the seventh with a gun to my head.

So it was interesting as an idea, boring as an experience and effective as a method of weight loss – I shed nine pounds in the first four days, partly because I didn’t ease off on popping to gym or going for runs. Most days I burned 1200 calories by 10am, so the 700 I replaced  them with barely touched the sides.

I don’t think I’d do it again (unless I wanted to lose ten pounds in a week for some reason, or I suffered a catastrophic loss of finances), but I’m glad I went through it. Being hungry is fucking hard for lots of reasons, many of which aren’t apparent until you go through a week of it with no choice (I know I had some choice, but I stuck to it because otherwise there would be no point in the entire exercise).

By the way, I’m also in the midst of another experiment: April has been a month devoid of social media (well, 99% devoid of social media). What has that been like? I’ll explain early next month.

Do I attract you? Do I repulse you with my queasy smile? Am I too dirty? Am I too flirty? Do I like the weekend?

The awesome script for the pilot of Breaking Bad.

Fold a T-shirt in five seconds:

Could NY sitcom characters afford their apartments?

A dictionary of things we don’t have words for.

You never actually touch anything:

Every single possible combination of letters arranged in 410 page books would have the story of your life and death, wouldn’t it?


ITIAPTWC Episode 28 – Fredrik Bond

This week it was my great pleasure to chat to Fredrik Bond.

As one of the best directors in the world (DGA nomination this year to go with the ones he got in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2008, 2007 and 2004, and he deserved more from 2000-2003) his perspective on reaching the top and staying there is fascinating and inspiring.

He and I made our way in advertising around the same time (albeit along very different paths), so I have quite a vivid memory of Fredrik’s meteoric rise, his regular output of brilliant and hilarious work, and his maturing as a truly great director.

I think the fact that 2016 has been one of his best years of his career is testament to his enduring quality.

So it was great to learn how all that happened, including the following tips (many of them will work for creatives as well as directors)…

Work in a gay restaurant in Sydney.

Learn why you need to sharpen your elbows in New York.

Maybe your shouldn’t feature rape in your spec banana ads. Or maybe you should…?

Work with an agency that doesn’t ‘give a fuck about clients’.

Ideas come first.

Darkness is good.

You might get excited about a script when you first get it, when you’re talking to your family about it, or when you’re rewriting the treatment.

If Moby says he loves big tits and ass, he might not be serious.

Treatments can help you find the creative sweet spot.

Pressure can be a good thing because it puts a ‘fire in your ass’.

The easy road is never the fun road.

It’s a team effort.

Very short scripts can be amazing.

Sometimes you just have to put your blinders on.

Each commercial is not just a commercial, it’s a story that you have to connect with on a personal level.

Directors lives go up and down. All you can do is keep working hard and doing your best.

Don’t focus on the money.

Make the job fun.

One note about the recording: we did it in the lobby/restaurant of a hotel, so there is quite a lot of ambient sound. It might be annoying at first, but hopefully it’ll just blend in after a few minutes. Any female laughter you can hear comes from my wife.

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link:

And here are some of the many, many great commercials etc. Fredrik has directed:

And here is Fredrik’s short film, The Mood.

And the trailer for his movie, Charlie Countryman:

ITIAPTWC Episode 27 – Me

Hi there,

As it’s a holiday weekend I don’t want to put out an interview podcast that might be ignored.

Instead I’m putting out a monologue podcast that might be ignored.

And that monologue is from my own fair mouth/brain.

It concerns three slightly related topics.

  1. The ‘Kendall Jenner’ Pepsi ad. I thought I had a take on it that hadn’t really been explored. Alas, I was wrong. But by the time I discovered my mistake I’d already recorded the whole thing, and besides, I’m OK chiming with Jimmy Kimmel.
  2. Diversity in advertising. It’s the buzzword of today, but many people seem to take it only to mean ethnic diversity. I blather on about why this is, what the other types of diversity might be, and why it’s worth giving a shit.
  3. Does the political context affect the quality of art? Ian Heartfield (a former colleague) wrote an article about this for Campaign (well, it’s somewhat about this; there are other, possibly more interesting, parts of his article). Ian and Richard Curtis think it does; I disagree.

I considered writing three blog posts about the above but I wondered if a podcast might be better. You can listen to it while jogging, preparing dinner, or sticking your hand up a cow’s arse. And those are three situations where it’s easier to listen than to read.

So have a listen, let me know if you enjoyed it and let me know if you think I talk sense or not.

(here’s the Soundcloud link and the iTunes link.)

Happy Easter.


Moving on the floor now babe you’re a bird of paradise. Cherry ice cream smile I suppose it’s the weekend.

The most painful experience known to man:

Pottery porn (thanks, T):

Visual effects you thought were real:

Satisfying things:

Sadistic fun (thanks, S):

A supercut of Wes Anderson supercuts:


ITIAPTWC Episode 26 – Chaka Sobhani

Chaka is the delightful CCO of Leo Burnett London.

How did that happen?

Well, her journey started at the BFI and went via the Boilerhouse Studios and Fox through ITV and Mother.

It’s an unusual path, which is why I wanted to chat to her.

She wanted to be a director, so she became one, helming pilots and music videos.

At Fox she started directing the promos and programmes for their kids channel, so that was her first step into advertising and branding.

Then a friend asked if she’d like to do the same at ITV, where she made lots and lots of stuff for all parts of the channel.

She then set up ITV Creative, which needed to bring all the different channels and brands together and grew to a large organisation with branding and advertising across the portfolio, £300m of airtime and thousands of campaigns.

She also worked with Tiger Savage at M&C Saatchi and Nick Gill and others at BBH, who were ITV’s off-air creative partners.

Then Robert Saville and Mark Waites came calling, and offered her a place at Mother. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse, particularly with all the fannies on the wall.

We also discuss the vagaries of crossing over between industries, the primacy of populism and the thorny issue of diversity.

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link.




I like the all white high top strap with the gum bottom. (Big boy) there’s something bout them that’s dirty that’s why I got the weekend.

Making shoes by hand (thanks, C).

Jack Black sings When Doves Cry during a Tenacious D gig:

If you want to direct a big movie but you’ve never done it before you have to make something called a ‘proof of concept’, a kind of teaser for the real thing, often for a tiny budget (under $50k). Here’s a cracker:

Does Amy Schumer steal jokes?

Interesting FX:

ITIAPTWC Episode 25 – Dave Dye Part 4

We now reach the AMV years, a time at which Dave and I worked in the same agency.

That time was part of a golden era for AMV, where incredible work seemed to flow from it much like yummy gin flows from a bottle of gin.

Unsurprisingly it was much harder than that.

It’s great to get Dave’s perspective as a new person coming into the agency and tackling some of the most iconic accounts in the country.

Among other things, we discuss…

What it was like for young teams in such a grown up agency.

Why self-generated kicks up the arse can be very useful.

And are those kicks still appreciated?

Are more D&AD Pencils a good thing?

The terrible misery of having to work on the Royal Academy in Soho House.

Judging the Economist work.

Changing the Economist work.

Making things look like a pint of Guinness.

The Volvo campaign that wasn’t a campaign.

Refreshing the RSPCA.

‘Crap at ideas?’.

Here’s the chat, the iTunes link, the Soundcloud link and lots of the work:


Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans. Way back up in the woods among the weekend.

Cutouts that change landscapes (thanks, O).

Game of Thrones, from script to screen:

The coolest set photos in history.

The Graduate as a horror film:

These are pretty fucking amazing (thanks, T):

Amazing kinetic sculptures (thanks, T):

ITIAPTWC Episode 24 – James Studholme

James is ITIAPTWC’s first owner/founder of a production company.

Fortunately a robust case could be made that he’s the best around.

Blink was British Arrows Production Company of the Year in 2015, having already received the title at both 2014 Creative Circles and the Shots Awards in 2014 and 2015, as well as by Campaign in 2012.

And that’s about thirty years after Blink was formed.

He’s discovered and/or nurtured some great directors, including Dougal Wilson, Ivan Zacharias, Mark Denton, Blue Source, Doug Foster and many more.

And he’s kept his company fresh, but always of the highest quality.

We discuss…

Starting in music videos.

Getting fired for ‘indifference’.

Challenging fun with Tony Kaye and other provocative directors.

Making progress through animation.

Moving to live action.

Winning awards.

What James looks for in a creative who wants to become a director.

What happens when a script arrives at a production company,

What makes a director want to do a script.

Squad age.

The importance of diversification.

What it’s like having the best director in town.

How less money has affected commercial production.

The pros and cons of being Production Company of the Year.

Here’s our chat, the iTunes link and the Soundcloud link:

And here’s Blink’s website, along with a somewhat random selection of some of its best commercials (here’s a link to the great Terrence Higgins Trust ad that put Blink on the award map):