Jack Monroe has been called “the face of austerity Britain” and the “face of modern of poverty”, and has recently fronted Sainsbury’s campaign on using leftovers, ‘Love Your Roast’. Given her recent successes – two published cookbooks, a column with The Guardian and a string of awards – it’s hard to imagine that just over two years ago she was struggling to get by on £10 a week, caring for her 18-month-old son. Yet paradoxically, these are the circumstances which, as Monroe spoke about on Sunday evening, led to her current career as a cook and campaigner.
As part of the Cambridge Literary Festival, Jack Monroe appeared at the Cambridge Union Society in conversation with Anna Whitelock. Monroe spoke quite honestly and passionately about her experiences: the rapid descent into poverty after leaving her job, how she developed an interest in Southend politics, and how she eventually started blogging about food. She joked about being bitter that her blog, ‘A Girl Called Jack’, attracted more attention on account of its cheap soup and curry recipes, rather than her opinion pieces on local politics.
On the subject of food politics, Monroe was vocal about supporting fair trade practices and organisations. In particular, she criticised the assumption that many people make between ‘value’ labels and the ethics of the product, pointing out that many low-cost supermarket brands are Fairtrade certified. Monroe has also revealed that she buys ‘free-range’ eggs and meat, and joked that disclosing this preference to her blog readers was harder than ‘coming out’ as a lesbian. She encouraged people to make ethical decisions within their budgets, when possible, but was reluctant to lecture the public on their consumption habits.
The discussion ended with a plea for donations to food banks on Monroe’s part. She suggested they have been slipping from the public view, although a report recently published by the Trussell Trust highlighted the dramatic increase in the numbers of people visiting food banks over the last financial year.
Jack Monroe published her first book of recipes, ‘A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes’ (Penguin) in February 2014. Her second book, ‘A Year in 120 Recipes’ went on sale in October of this year.
Written by Giulia Nicolini