Once upon a time I used to read cook books for pleasure. Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall... I devoured their books and their recipes too. These days my cook books languish on their shelf - like most mums I spend a lot of time thinking about food, shopping for and preparing it, but I haven't bought a new cook book for at least five years. This week though, I'll be making an exception and pre-ordering Jack Monroe's A Girl Called Jack from Amazon. In case you haven't heard of her, Jack Monroe is, according to The Guardian, a '25 year old mum, prodigious blogger, austerity cook extraordinaire and breadline veteran.'
Her most famous blog post, Hunger Hurts written a year ago, describes her life at an all-time low - when she was unemployed, hungry and unable to feed her young son:
"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."Reading Monroe's blog about life in 'austerity Britain' brings tears to your eyes. The silver lining is her grit, determination and culinary creativity. Having determined to feed herself and her child on a budget of just £6 (around AU$10) per week, Monroe shares her 'Below The Line' budget recipes with her readers. Her recipes are a gift - who would complain about eating Brie and Bacon Risotto (26p per portion) or Creamy Salmon Pasta with a Chilli Lemon Kick (27p per portion). I don't think it would be possible to recreate Monroe's recipes quite so cheaply in Australia but they sound so good I'd be willing to give it a try.
A respected and talented blogger, Monroe has a job with her local newspaper now. Her book deal with Penguin is in the bag and things are definitely looking up. Her own life is in the ascendant, but Monroe
hasn't forgotten those who are still living below the line. She's an ambassador for Child Poverty Action Group, writing and raising money for Oxfam, and meeting with British Government advisers to tell them it's unacceptable that half a million people in the UK are relying on food handouts
Twelve months ago, Monroe says she 'was angry about my personal circumstances. Now I’m angry about everyone else’s.'
Most people's reaction on reading about Monroe will be ‘what can I do to help?’ Here's her answer:
"Donate something to your local food bank. Tins, nappies, baby formula, UHT milk, cereals, toiletries, pasta, rice, tinned fruit and vegetables… Volunteer at a children’s centre or a play group – I found the ‘free’ things to do with Small Boy were literally a lifeline to me when I had nothing to do in my day, no money, nothing to look forward to. Visit your local volunteer centre and see how you can help, someone, somewhere. Donate old clothes, shoes and blankets to your local homeless shelter. Don’t step over people in the street – give them the £3 you might have spent on a latte."And if you have £12.99 to spare, why not buy her book?