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"I cannot live without books: but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object." -- Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Jack Monroe, Cooking on a Bootstrap, Introduction

Early in my search for easy frugal recipes, I found Jack Monroe, author of A Girl Called Jack, a cookbook of 100 recipes for people on a tight budget.

Jack has a witty, intelligent, creative way of explaining how to make her budget recipes. Because of her style and creativity, she has become a media darling.

She has been invited onto a variety of talk shows. She has written for several publications including a cooking column for The Guardian. For example: Tips for Students How to Eat Well for £3.50 a day (Source: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/sep/20/how-to-eat-well-for-350-a-day-by-the-scrimping-experts)

Jack has published several more cookbooks and continues to create budget recipes on her website, Cooking on a Bootstrap.

On her website, she also highlights her experiences as a single mother living in poverty. She shows people the harsh difficulties of being poor.

"There’s nothing fun and exciting about missing days of meals, with the heating off all winter, the lightbulbs unscrewed, selling your sons shoes and drinking his formula milk that the food bank gave you. Try it for a month at least, if you really want to get an idea. Two months. Two years. Unscrew your lightbulbs, turn off your fridge, sell anything you can see lying around that you might get more than a quid for.

Stop going out. Walk everywhere, in the pouring rain, in your only pair of shoes, with a soaking wet and sobbing three year old trailing behind you. Drag that three year old into every pub and shop in unreasonable walking distance and ask if they have any job vacancies. Get home, soaking, still unemployed, to ‘dry out’ in a freezing cold flat. Put two jumpers on and worry about how you’ll wash them, take them off, and put a tshirt underneath. You can wear the jumpers all week, and change the tshirt twice.

Drag yourself to the cooker to pour some pasta into a pan, pour some chopped tomatoes on top, and try not to hurl it across the room when your son tells you he doesn’t like it – because there is nothing else. Nothing else at all.

I was cold, exhausted, only forcing myself out of the depths of choking depression to smile at the children’s centre workers because I was scared they can see how numb and dead I felt, how I went to bed at night tormented by thoughts of suicide. The endless self-chatter: ‘Your son would have a better life without you. You’re a drain on society, the state, your family and friends.’ I slit my wrists in the bath and horrified, came to, wailing and sobbing on the floor because I knew I’d hit the fucking bottom. Again.

You’re grateful for the tea and sympathy but you just want everyone to leave you alone and to stop asking if you’re okay. Because you’re not. You’re full of rain and heartache and anger and despair and it’s starting to seep through the cracks in the kept up appearances, seeping through the tshirt sleeve and you need to get out of there.

The rain isn’t miraculously any less wet when you don’t have a coat with a hood, or an umbrella, or three quid for the bus. That rain still soaks you to the skin, and your three year old, too." (Source: https://cookingonabootstrap.com/2018/06/27/the-difference-between-poverty-and-poorface/)

She also criticizes how media make a game of trying to live on £1 a day.

"Poverty is not a 24 hour challenge. It is a world of endless nothing. It is depression, despair, darkness. It is having no light at the end of the tunnel, like being stuck down a well, waiting to die.There is no planning for the future because you don’t believe you really have one. There are no savings accounts, no rainy day funds, no contents insurance, no health insurance, no investment in your own self, your own health, because to invest financially, nutritionally, or emotionally is to look forward. Poverty only looks at its own feet, in too-tight shoes that let in the rain, it drags you downwards, and inwards, and I speak from bitter, horrible experience..."

I particularly like Jack's approach to creating recipes for those in poverty. She recognizes that not everyone has the same level of cooking skills or have access to various cooking equipment.

"In other circumstances, people may lack cooking facilities, in houses of multiple occupancy, student halls, domestic abuse and homelessness shelters. They may have shoddy landlords renting them inappropriate and ill-equipped homes, or their cooker may have broken and they simply don’t have the ready money available to fix it. I have readers who are literally cooking in a bedsitter, or on a camping stove. Some people have no saucepans or cooking equipment. Some people lack the confidence to try new recipes and ingredients; if you have no money or a bare storecupboard, trying new ideas is a risk – if it goes wrong, you end up with no dinner at all. (Source: https://cookingonabootstrap.com/2018/06/27/top-5-tips-for-eating-healthily-on-a-budget-and-the-limitations/)

She also recognizes that many people are on restricted diets and/or do not live near grocery stores or farmers markets.

Initially, being a "Best Selling" cookbook author did not made life easier for Jack. At this point in time, she has not received any royalties from the sales of her cookbook. In addition, she has to fight off aggressive abusers on social media and elsewhere.

Yet, Jack fearlessly addresses how politics and government policies directly affect the poor. She continues to write articles, serve on panels, and support various charities. She calls out "Conservatives" who try and use her as an example to others living in poverty.

"...And finally – I took exception to the Conservatives holding me up as some kind of role model because, it was their policies that left me hungry, cold, almost homeless, moving house seventeen times with a child under my arm. I ended up severely mentally ill, referred to psychiatrists, and still recovering several years later. I tried to kill myself four times that I remember under austerity policies, being continuously maliciously investigated for my benefits (curiously always coinciding with me writing something negative about the local Council on my well-read political blog I wrote from the gallery of the local public meetings), having housing benefit withdrawn over a dozen times, leading to my eviction from my home, and in such horrific debt it took two books to finally emerge from the other side of it. Not credit cards or frivolity; but water bills, bounced gas and electric, rent arrears, and bank charges. I still can’t even open my own front door, scarred as I am by penny pinching pissy policies devised over £39 breakfasts by those who think nothing of spending £6,000 of taxpayers money on a dining table for their second home while loftily declaring that the poor can live on 1% of that figure for an entire week. To be used as their ‘poster girl’ for frugality by such obscene hypocrites offends me to my burned and shattered core." (Source: https://cookingonabootstrap.com/2018/02/17/my-ready-meal-is-none-of-your-business/)

A simple web search for Jack Monroe will illustrate many of their interests and activities.

Most people are disconnected in many ways from the food they buy. Food is political.

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Monroe
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/series/jack-monroe-low-cost-recipes
https://cookingonabootstrap.com/

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