Lindsay McDougall: Living Below The Line With “The Doctor”
Last week Frenzal Rhomb guitarist and recently departed triple j radio host Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall took on the Live Below The Line challenge, in which he committed to living on a food budget of a mere two dollars per day for five days – not an easy feat when you’re a hipster vegan with expensive taste, but a worthy one when it’s in the name of charity! From May 4-8 thousands of Australians will partake in the challenge – which is the equivalent of the extreme poverty line – with proceeds going to Oaktree, one of Australia’s largest youth-run organisations. We caught up with McDougall as he neared the end of his hungry week to talk about avocado cravings, the many joys of legumes, overzealous vegans and of course, punk rock.
So we’ve caught you in an unusual sort of week Lindsay!
Yeah, this week is a little different, I’m not living my usual decadent lifestyle of wholefoods and hummus and avocados… I planned this a while ago, and I had to do my Live Below The Line week a bit early ‘cos the band will be in Europe when the actual proper time is happening, and then I forgot what week it was and I woke up on Sunday morning with this weird feeling and realised it was this week! I was unprepared – I didn’t get to spend all of Sunday filling my face with good things to get a head start. But I feel good! I’ve been going for a few days now and I’ve learned a lot of things about what works and what doesn’t.
Take us back a bit – for those who aren’t familiar with Live Below The Line, could you explain what this organisation is about?
Well it was started by a couple of dudes from Oaktree, which is a youth-based foundation who do awesome things for people living in poverty overseas. And they came up with this idea that since 1.1 billion people live on less than $2 AUD a day, which is below the extreme poverty line – a great challenge for Aussies would be to feed yourself for $2 a day, for five days. So in this case it’s not really as extreme as actually living on $2 a day for all your expenses, which would include rent, transport, health, all your bills – that’s what these people are really living on – for us it’s just feeding yourself on $2 a day, which is a challenge in itself. They started doing it five years ago, they’ve raised millions of dollars for people overseas, and this year I got involved. A couple of years ago Alex Dyson from triple j got involved and I was interested but my scheduling and stuff didn’t work out, but this year someone brought it up and I was really keen to be involved!
With these triple j friends of yours doing it as well, are you sharing tips and/or commiserating about your limited diets?
Yeah, we’ve been sending some words of support and stuff to each other. But even outside of them, just through talking about it online and stuff and tweeting about it I’ve met a bunch of other people who are doing it or have done it in the past and I’ve got some really interesting tips, much better than the obvious, “Oh yeah, just buy a fucken’ loaf of bread” thing – which is not a good idea, by the way! One of the tips in the starter pack was actually, “Don’t eat white bread; white bread is not your friend”.
So what has your diet consisted of this week? How did you go about shopping for yourself?
Well they suggest doing it with a group of friends, but unfortunately I don’t have many friends… but doing it in bulk means you can pool your money, which might mean, for example, four people pooling $40 together for the five days, instead of just one person. But the best thing you can do is go to a market or a co-op, where you can buy stuff by the kilo. The co-ops are a bit more expensive but the markets, at the end of the day they’re basically throwing stuff away. I ended up getting some rice and beans, and then some potatoes, carrots and onions, as well as a little Cajun spice mix thing that I got for like 20c, and I still haven’t finished using it. That all only cost me $6.20, and I’ve still got the remaining $3.80 to spend for the last few days! I also splurged on a little stock cube, a chicken stock cube. That’s the thing: you need flavour, because you can’t even just go and pull condiments off your shelf and use them to make it taste good – that would be cheating! People living in extreme poverty don’t just have sweet chili sauce lying around!
How hard is it to avoid the temptation?
Well the thing is, it’s not even temptation, it’s like muscle memory! You just go to get the salt and pepper out of the cupboard and then you go, “Hang on, that’s not in my budget”. The worst part was, not remembering I was supposed to start on Monday, I made this huge delicious Thai massaman curry for my fiancé and I, which we had on Sunday, and then she’s been enjoying the leftovers all week and I can’t even touch it. I went to the gym this morning, I had a personal training session, and I came home and just felt so wrecked and hungry, and so now I’m eating carrots. I got a bag of carrots for 99c – that’s my snack food as well as part of my meals.
What are your craving the most?
Just fresh stuff; I love putting fresh stuff on top of whatever I’m making, whether it be herbs, like basil or coriander, or avocado, or tomato – I can’t even have fresh tomatoes; I’m eating tinned tomatoes because they’re cheaper. I’m a hippie vegan so I like to chuck that all over my food. Fruit, too… I think with the little bit of money I have left over I might be able to go and buy one banana, to treat myself! That’s something you realise doing this – people in extreme poverty simply don’t even have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
On a list of Most Punk Rock Things you’ve done in your life, where would this rank?
Yeah, it is a bit punk rock! I mean if you want to look at punk rock as being something that’s against the government of the day, then it’s definitely punk rock – we’re talking about a government that’s just cut foreign aid by a huge amount, we’re looked at by other countries with raised eyebrows for the way we’re treating our foreign aid policy right now, so what Oaktree are doing is punk rock as fuck!
Speaking of the punk side of things, you must be somewhat used to living on a limited budget thanks to your years of experience in Frenzal Rhomb’s early touring days. How does what you’re eating compare to a Frenzal touring diet?
Well on our first few American tours we toured on $10 a day each, including dinners and a pack of beers for the drive – which seems silly, because we got beers at the venues – but we were living pretty cheap. But when we first started the band and I moved out of home, I was living on rice and curry paste and onions when we were lucky! Me and Gordy [Forman, drums] would buy a loaf of bread and a big box of hot chips and try and make that last for as long as we could, and our bass player, who still lived at home, would be stealing chips from us, and we’re like, “Don’t touch that shit, that’s our meal for the week, you still live at home you meat-eating prick!” [Laughs]. It’s definitely something we have dabbled in; we know what it’s like to save up your change for a feed.
Has being vegan made it harder or easier for you to find suitable options to eat during the challenge?
Well things like beans and legumes are a great source of energy and protein, and I just found out today from my trainer that Basmati rice has almost as much nutrients as brown rice, which is what I bought. The thing is, because I’m vegan and a self-righteous food prick I do have to look at that stuff a lot already in order to work out if I’m getting enough protein in a meal, so I’m used to it and therefore probably less likely to make the mistakes that someone else might make, such as stocking up on bread and two-minute noodles.
I understand you’ve been vegan for a very large portion of your life now – how did you first get into that?
I’ve been doing it for about 17 years now, since I was about 20. When I first joined Frenzal Rhomb they said I had to go vegetarian in order to join the band, which was cool because Jason [Whalley, vocals] and our old guitarist were vegan, and our manager was too. And after becoming vegetarian, just because once you do that you hang out with people who talk and whinge about all that stuff in your ears all the time and you learn a whole lot about it, I became vegan. And luckily I live in a country where that’s pretty easy to do, to find good foods as a vegan.
Do you think vegans cop an unfair amount of shit?
I think we cop a lot of shit but I think a lot of it is warranted, because a lot of vegans become these over-earnest, whinging zealots to the cause – which is justified to an extent given the horrible torture and cruelty going on around the world – but I was talking to Neil Hamburger, a comedian who’s in town at the moment in Melbourne, and he told me this story about how he was in a Thai restaurant and this group of corpulent Americans sitting at the next table were telling all these vegan jokes while scoffing down their meat, you know the kind: “How do you know if there’s a vegan at your party? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!” And they obviously didn’t know he was a vegan, and he wanted to stand up for himself and be like “Hey, I’m a vegan and I’m not like that”, but he knew it was a catch-22 – he’d be proving their point if he did it! So it’s an awkward situation. But I’ve been doing it for 17 years, and there’s always going to be people who whinge about it, but I’m not telling anyone how to live, I’m just eating the way I choose to eat, and if people ask me about it, then I’ll tell them. But there’s a level of defensiveness that some meat-eaters get, which I think might stem from knowing that what we’re doing is kind of better? It seems that the anti-vegans make more noise about veganism than the vegans do…
Jona Weinhofen from I Killed The Prom Queen recently copped a lot of flack for the PETA advertisement he shot, which used some very confronting visuals to make a point about the sheep shearing industry – what’s your opinion on the use of shock campaigns as a vegan tool?
I think it’s important – you get so many people on Facebook complaining when they see an image that exposes a big factory farm or abattoir, but the shock stuff works, because people are talking about it. People are saying, “Wow, is that really how sheep are being treated?” And the answer is no, that’s luckily not the case in the majority of shearing farms, but in saying that, it is true for certain farms, and there are a lot of shearers who get paid per volume of wool they produce, rather than per hour, so they end up cutting corners. It’s like that in a lot of industries – that’s why you have kids choking on small parts or people breathing in fumes from paints that are made cheaply. It’s not just an animal rights thing, the world is moving to faster, cheaper modes of production and that’s resulting in shit being done badly. So while that might not be the case for all sheep, it is a truth that it does happen in the industry and it should be stopped.
One last thing – how’s post-triple j life treating you?
It’s great, I’m having a ball! Frenzal are recording an album this year so it’s nice having my brain back to think of stupid jokes to put into songs instead of saying them on the radio. I’ve been going to the beach a lot and hanging out with my fiancé a lot which is rad; she’s finishing a thesis so I’ve been cooking her food while she’s working. But when you come out of doing something like that for 10 years, you realise – despite the fact that people might say it’s only a 2 hours a day or whatever – that it took a lot out of you creatively, having to be on all the time and always preparing, and it’s nice to be able to go back to having people give less of a shit what you say all the time, and to have the time to whinge about sheep or do something like Live Below The Line!
Head to www.livebelowtheline.com.au for more info on how you can get involved.