In my head, eating rice and beans for a week didn’t sound too bad. I like rice and recently discovered that beans really enhance a fajita mix. Surely putting the two together would actually be a surprisingly manageable challenge?

I can’t tell you how wrong I was. I haven’t had beans in my fajitas since, and my curries are now chickpea-less.

As a group of students we were taking part in Tearfund’s Mean Bean challenge, which meant eating only porridge (with water) for breakfast, and rice and beans for lunch and dinner – no seasoning, no hot drinks, no snacks. It was pretty tough, to say the least.

But what a good cause to get behind. A challenge tougher than I could have imagined, but fighting an everyday reality far tougher than I will ever imagine.

Some thoughts, experiences, and tips:

1. Breakfast of champions

Having never had porridge before, I was horrified by the gloop a friend presented me with on the first breakfast. Weirdly enough, this later became my favourite meal of the day.

2. All together now

TIP: eating together makes all the difference. It means a bigger variety of beans, less chance to wallow in self-pity, and more fun washing up – and the chances are someone else will be cooking. The dullness of the food is at least partially offset by good chat (which gets progressively weak as the challenge progresses).

3. Beans on the mind

I honestly can’t tell you how many of my conversations revolved around the following:

  • Whether beans or rice is the best part of the meal
  • Which bean is the best bean
  • The best approach to assessing the above – is it down to size, shape, flavour, or a combination of these?
  • Bean-based puns

4. Low on fuel

TIP: be prepared to be unbelievably unproductive. It helps to make a plan and keep busy, but be warned: not having caffeine and hot drinks was far more of a set-back than I expected.

5. Food for thought

I genuinely spend most of my time thinking about food. Right now I’ve been thinking about the French toast I’m going to have for lunch since breakfast, and I’ve been excited for it since last night when I remembered that I have some maple syrup to put on it (I am aware that’s a slightly odd lunch but I enjoy it and would recommend to a friend). Spending a week without good food to look forward to was SO HARD. I went to bed ridiculously early so that I had slightly less time to be thinking about food, I drank buckets of water, and watched an embarrassing amount of TV to distract myself.

6. Taking the scenic route

TIP: be creative with meet ups. I was supposed to be having coffee with a few friends but obviously couldn’t buy anything in a café – going for a walk along the river was a very pleasant alternative.

7. A marathon, not a sprint

The week DRAGS. My word I don’t think I have ever lived through a longer week.

8. What’s the tea?

TIP: drinking plain hot water is actually surprisingly decent and if you put it in a dark cup so the water looks dark you can kid yourself into thinking you’re drinking tea.

9. The big picture

TIP: keep in mind why you’re doing this. Looking at the bigger picture reminds you that there is a reason behind this self-inflicted pain. Meeting together and praying into what you are doing is invaluable and really helps to keep focus.

10. End of the line

By day 4 I think I had genuinely lost it. At the beginning of the week I was planning my first meal post-challenge and this was obviously made up of my favourite food. By day 4 I could not stop thinking about how much I wanted tomatoes which was weird because I absolutely hated tomatoes. Since then, I’ve been having tomatoes pretty much every day. I’m as weirded out by this as you are.

The final verdict

The Mean Bean challenge is actually unbelievably hard, particularly if you love food as much as I do. But coming together in community to fight global poverty is a privilege, and you might even find that you start liking foods you previously couldn’t stand.