You’ve got to believe it will be alright in the end.
I stepped off the BBC Breakfast sofa this morning, said goodbye to Louise Minchin and Charlie Stayt, and hello to a thousand new Twitter followers.
I stepped into a lift at the hotel the BBC had provided for me in Media City, Salford, and a woman jumped in with me to say she had just seen me on the TV. With tears in her eyes, she told me she had just been made redundant, and that she had stopped to watch it, because the information about cooking meals on a tight budget had come at ‘just the right time’ for her.
I had just eight floors to reassure her that no matter how horrible and awful things are, you find a steely determination and a strength you didn’t know you had, to just bloody well carry on.
As I said on Facebook last night, I’m not pretending it’s ben easy. Constantly feeling like a failure, two suicide attempts, sitting with my back against the door as the bailiffs hammer on it for an electricity bill that I know I can’t pay. Applying for jobs week in, week out, with the deafening silence as not even a rejection email comes through.
My ‘£1 a day food’ started a year ago, when, with just over £6 in copper coins and five pence pieces in a dish in my kitchen, I went to my local supermarket to see what I could buy. Yes, I was on Income Support. Yes, I was claiming Housing Benefit, because I live in a society that thankfully supports people when they need it and having needed that system, I am eternally grateful for its existence. But my Housing Benefit wasn’t enough to cover the rent on a flat I had moved into when I had a £27,000 a year job, so I topped it up with Income Support. I didn’t meet the eligibility criteria for a Social Fund loan or Crisis loan, so I couldn’t move to a cheaper place. I unscrewed the light bulbs, turned off the heating, and eventually opened up my house to sell everything I owned in a desperate bid to clear rent arrears and stabilise.
I went to my local supermarket with that £6, knowing it was all I had for the week to feed myself and a 2 year old boy. I bought value chopped tomatoes, value kidney beans, value pasta and rice, value bread, value jam, some mushrooms, etc. I took it all home and looked at it, and started to cook simple food for myself and my son. We managed.
As the weeks went on, I became more adventurous. I had rice leftover, so I bought lentils one week. I went mad one week and bought paprika and garam masala. I found a bag of vegetables for £1, for 1.25kg of potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onions, and I started to make soups. And so it began.
I never set out to be ‘famous’ – in fact notoriety is a pain in the backside when you call someone up in your everyday job as a news reporter for the local paper and they want to talk to you about kidney beans – I set out as an angry single mum, commenting on local politics in my town. When I added the recipes to my blog, it was to help other people in similar situations, to cook simple, nutritious food for themselves and their families.
The feedback I get from people is largely, hugely, positive. People get in touch every day to tell me how much they save on their food shop, people discover cooking skills they didn’t know they had. Pensioners tell me that they cook my meals as they are on tight budgets themselves. A woman at the BBC office asked for my Twitter handle, because she would be drawing her pension soon and wanted to know how to cook well without spending a fortune.
People tell me I am a voice for hope, and for change. I don’t know about that, but I do know that if you told the young woman, who cried herself to sleep after writing the blog post ‘Hunger Hurts’ in July 2012, resolving to sell everything she owned to keep the four walls around her – that less than a year later she would be helping thousands of people in similar situations, she wouldn’t have believed you.
My recipes are handed out for free at local food banks, mentioned in the Telegraph and the Independent and on online money saving discussion forums every single day.
Someone told me, all those months ago, that it would be alright in the end.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe