Ed#443 Leftovers & Ginger Tea

11 October 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#443 Leftovers & Ginger Tea

In July last year a 24-year-old single mother in England named Jack Monroe tapped out a blog post on what it was like to live in poverty. She wrote about not having enough money to pay various bills, pawning household items to raise some cash, and turning everything off (including heating) to reduce power consumption. She also wrote about hunger; the pain of trying to feed her young child (first) and then herself (not always) with too little in her flat. She wrote: “Last night when I opened my fridge to find some leftover tomato pasta, an onion and a knob of stem ginger, I gave the pasta to my boy and went to bed hungry with a pot of homemade ginger tea to ease the stomach pains. This morning, small boy had one of the last Weetabix, mashed with water, with a glass of tap water to wash it down with. ‘Where’s Mummy’s breakfast?’ he asks, big blue eyes and two-year-old concern. I tell him I’m not hungry, but the rumblings of my stomach call me a liar. But these are the things that we do.”

She concluded the post, which she called ‘Hunger Hurts’, with this: “Poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, or unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off. It’s not a tourism trade, it’s not cool, and it’s not something that MPs on a salary of £65k a year plus expenses can understand, let alone our PM, who states that we’re all in this together. Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one Weetabix and says ‘More Mummy, bread and jam please, Mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.”

It got her noticed. More and more people started reading her blog (agirlcalledjack.com). It includes recipes aimed at people, just like her, trying to get by with very little. Can’t afford a tin of kidney beans? Try dried ones. No kitchen? No problem. An electric two-ring plug-in cooker is all that is required. Work opportunities came her way, as did – predictably – a backlash. Some claimed she was being sponsored by a supermarket chain, or selling her impecunious state. Just recently she had to defend herself, writing: “When I started writing this blog, I was an unemployed single mother living in a flat that I couldn’t afford, struggling to feed myself and my son. I had a nightmare with benefits, missed and delayed and suspended payments, which made a bad situation worse and worse.”

Jack Monroe has started writing a regular recipe column in The Guardian newspaper in the UK, aimed at people on tight budgets using simple ingredients. Her story is a valuable counterbalance to the foodie culture in which we are all, more or less, immersed – all those high-priced, glossy recipe books; all those expensive restaurants and the small army of people rating or reviewing or photographing all that food; all those restaurant and cooking shows on TV, which have fostered the cult of the celebrity chef.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Much has been done to broaden people’s diets, introduce them to different foods or different ways of preparing them, and encourage people to think of food as a shared thing – a way to bring friends or strangers together. But it’s an odd world we live in: a world of five-star restaurants and widespread hunger; of crises based on starvation there and obesity here. So this is our food edition. With (like a fine casserole) a range of ingredients: a handful of chefs, a spoonful of restaurant and cooking stories, even a pickle pot. Use-by date: before the next issue.

Alan Attwood is Editor of The Big Issue.