Why a Sheffield doctor chose one week of a Syrian Refugee’s diet

Archana Soman is a self-confessed foodie.

By Nik Farah
Wednesday, 26 June, 2019, 11:15
Archana in the gardens at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice

“My luxury is rich, decadent food," she says with a big smile.

“I love cooking, and spend without really thinking on the best ingredients and eating out. Anyone who knows me – or at least has seen me at the dinner table – knows that food is the one luxury I cannot do without, I’m really quite greedy.”

A bowl of rice was a typical meal for Archana during the challenge

Which is why it surprised so many people in Archana’s life when she decided recently to take on the Ration Challenge, living for one week on the same rations as a Syrian refugee – about 1,700 daily calories made up of just rice and lentils.

“My weekly ration also consisted of a small amount of chickpeas, a can of red kidney beans and a can of sardines - all these to last me the whole week,” the 47-year-old explains.

“No spices, no herbs, no fruit, no vegetables.”

Archana, a doctor with Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice, dedicated herself to the challenge in order raise awareness and funds for families living in war-torn Syria.

Archana took on the food challenge to raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees

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“Refugees in Syria have no choice but to live on little more than rice, beans and a tiny tin of sardines a week,” says Archana, a consultant in Paediatric Palliative Medicine who cares for children at the North Anston hospice, as well as at Sheffield Children's Hospital.

“I knew it would be no mean feat for me to take up the Ration Challenge, but I am very aware of children and families around the world who face huge life problems with little or no support. That’s why I wanted to do this. The money from my sponsors provides food, medicine and education for Syrian refugees and supports Concern Worldwide UK in tackling hunger and extreme poverty in the world's poorest places.”

Archana lived on 1,700 calories a day throughout the seven-day challenge, using her weekly rations of 1.9kg of rice, a tin of red kidney beans, a small tin of sardines, flour and 80g of dried chickpeas.

“I could only spice it up with chilli and a bit of salt; the day I got to eat the sardines was amazing.” says the mum-of-two.

She banished herself from the family’s kitchen in Fulwood, took a rice and bean pack-up to work and kept a daily blog. On day five she wrote: ‘Today has been the hardest. All that is left for the week is some rice and oil, a tin of red kidney beans plus an egg and tiny carrot - rewards I’ve earned because of my sponsors’ generous donations. I caved in and had a black coffee with my packed lunch.’

She admits: “It was much harder than I imagined. Although I was very hungry it didn’t affect my work. But by the evening I was light-headed and heading for bed.”

Archana got through the week, raising almost £600 and losing nearly five pounds in weight. She adds: “The challenge made me realise what privileges we enjoy here, and made me determined not to waste food.”

Visit my.rationchallenge.org.uk/archanasoman.