It’s not right that a record number of people are using foodbanks in the UK, but it’s even worse that they are publicly shamed for doing it. The recent debate about Jack Monroe’s £5 recipes prove that people still don’t fully understand how poverty affects daily life for a huge number of people.
Jack Monroe is a food writer and activist, who uses her personal experiences to campaign against austerity in the UK – particularly food poverty. She rose to prominence with her budget food blog A Girl Called Jack, which led to her books Cooking on a Bootstrap, A Year In 120 Recipes and Tin Can Cook. She has just published another budget recipe book called Vegan(ish).
Last week, Monroe appeared on the cooking segment of This Morning to share some recipe ideas from her latest book. All of the meals were made for under £5. They included a peach and chickpea curry, a chicken and vegetable stew and salmon, pea and lemon pasta.
For anyone feeling the pinch right now, they were great dinner ideas for a tight January.
But for many people who live in constant or recurring poverty, often relying on the growing use of foodbanks, this is the most they can do to feed their families throughout the whole year. Eating out at Nando’s, rustling up a roast dinner with all the trimmings and following organic, vegan diets are simply unaffordable.
And this is the reality for the record number of people who need to use foodbanks in the UK. A recent report from the Trussell Trust found that more than 3/4 of people referred to food banks in 2019 were in arrears. And 22% of people at food banks are single parents with families to feed (it’s also more likely that these are single mothers).
So, Monroe’s £5 meals are a fantastic source of inspiration for making the most out of low cost and tinned goods to create nutritious, filling and tasty meals.
But, for some This Morning viewers – and a journalist from a certain tabloid – the meals were there to be sneered at. One article – headlined This Morning viewers slam food writer Jack Monroe’s three meals for £5 and claim a ‘revolting’ salmon paste pasta looks like ‘something a child would make – featured a round-up of negative tweets.
The responses included in the report were loaded with privilege and ignorance. But Monroe has since pointed out the other unreported reactions that support her mission – and these are the ones we really need to take note of.
“I wasn’t going to say anything but it’s so weird the Mail haven’t focused on the 99% of comments that are like THIS,” she wrote, alongside a series of screen shots of positive tweets.
“I just CANNOT put my finger on what it is about a successful tattooed leftwing ex-benefits-claimant second gen immigrant lesbian that they don’t LIKE very much.”
The story is particularly poignant right now as Labour MP Zarah Sultana has just called out the work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey for describing food banks as a “perfect” solution.
“Here’s the secretary of state for work and pensions’ reply, where she describes food banks as a ‘perfect way’ to meet the challenges of those in poverty,” tweeted Sultana.
Obviously, food banks should not be a longterm solution to food poverty in the UK. But if there was less stigma attached to using foodbanks, perhaps people would feel encouraged to be more open about the reality of what’s going on. And then, just maybe, more privileged people would think first before shaming people for what they are serving their families for dinner.
Images: supplied by Macmillan