Where’s the straight Pride? It’s not fair.

“Where’s the straight Pride? Why do the gays get a special day to themselves? It’s not fair.”

If I had a pound for every time I was asked that question, well, I’d have quite a few pounds.

Straight Pride is being able to walk down the street holding hands with your other half without being catcalled by groups of teenage boys hanging around on a street corner.

Straight Pride is being able to walk into a club or a bar without someone threatening you, without men putting protective arms around the women they are with and glaring at you. (Because gay women fancy ALL women, don’t you know? Especially the ones with large, insecure boyfriends attached. Challenge, innit.)

Straight Pride is being able to tick the ‘straight’ box on an equality and diversity monitoring form at work without wondering who might actually read it, and what their views might be about your sexuality.

Straight Pride is being able to kiss who you want to kiss, wherever you are, without self consciousness or a quick furtive glance around you afterwards to see who might have been looking.

Straight Pride is being able to exchange rings and vow and make a lifelong commitment without having to kowtow to an almost second-class, businesslike ‘partnership’, when what you actually want is a ‘marriage’.

Straight Pride is when your dad is awarded an MBE, meaning you can get married in St Paul’s or Westminster Abbey… But you can’t take advantage of that, because they won’t let you marry a woman in there.

Straight Pride is where strangers don’t ask you whether you’re ‘straight’ – because your sex life isn’t their business.

Straight Pride is being able to say ‘no’ to a man without being told ‘I could turn you’ – as though your sexuality is completely malleable, silly you, for thinking that you couldn’t change it.

Straight Pride means being able to live your life without fear of bullying, harrassment, and rejection.

Straight Pride is not having to come out to friends, family, colleagues and strangers, over and over again.

Straight Pride is not having to lie through your teeth about your love life because it’s easier than telling the truth.

Straight Pride is never having to worry if your son will be bullied at school because his mum is gay.

Straight Pride is never having to suck it up when your straight female work colleagues organise weekends out clubbing over your head and in your earshot – but don’t invite you because they’re not sure “where your sort hang out”.

Straight Pride is not having to walk through a crowd of jeering protesters with banners saying GOD HATES FAGS and men and women shouting in your face – in order to attend a Stonewall conference.

Straight Pride was never uninvited to a wedding for wanting to take their partner.

Nobody was ever kicked to death for looking a bit straight, or correctively raped for falling in love with someone of the opposite gender.

I was assaulted in a bar in Southend a few years ago. I had my hair cropped in a buzz cut. If there’s anything ironic about the situation, it was that I was mistaken for a gay man. Apparently, to the drunk fellow skinhead standing to my right as I entered the bar, that was all the justification he needed to shove me, punch me, and tell me that “faggots aren’t f***ing welcome here.”

I’ve been told I’m “too pretty to be gay”, perpetuating the damaging and insulting myths that all gay women are those bottom-of-the-heap rejects that are only gay out of choice because “no man wanted them”.

Straight Pride is taken for granted every single day. It’s invisible, unshocking, quietly permeating everyday norms.

It’s straight pride and straight privilege that asks the belligerent question, Why do the gays get their own special march?

I’m thankful that, due to tireless campaigning and a gradual shift in attitudes, I am growing up in a generation where I CAN hold hands with a woman in public, cut my hair short, and come out to thousands of people as quickly as I can hit a ‘Publish’ button.

To bastardise the Martin Luther King quote, I have a dream that one day a man will be judged not by who he falls in love with, but by the content of his character.

I’ve done the keeping up appearances thing, had close male friends I take to events because I don’t want to upstage the bride or “cause a scene”.

This wasn’t supposed to be an ‘outing’ post – but I’m tired of suppressing a smile when a journalist asks if I have a boyfriend. And if I lose fans and readers by unceremoniously strolling out of my closet, then so be it. It was going to all come out one day anyway, so to speak.

And with the short shaggy haircut, the sleeve tattoos, the Magnum walking boots, the thumb ring, and the consistent lack of a boyfriend – I’m not exactly a stereotype, but I’m girl called Jack, for crying out loud. A gay one, and a proud one.

Happy Pride day everyone. Please continue to enjoy your Straight Pride for the other 364 days this year, but this one’s for us.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

£3496 raised for Oxfam – THANKYOU!!!

As Live Below The Line comes to a close, I just had a quick glance at my fundraising page and am staggered to be able to report that – thanks to the incredible generosity of my friends, family and readers through both of my LBL challenges this year – I’ve raised£3,496 for Oxfam to help tackle poverty in the UK, and worldwide…

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…which puts me 8th in the country on the LBL fundraising leader board!

Thankyou!

Happy Friday everyone!

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

World leaders feasted, while kids went hungry to bed: Independent, 23 June.

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Being invited to the G8 summit was a surreal point in the career of a single mum turned breadline blogger turned accidental activist. I started writing a blog in response to a local councillor claiming that “druggies, drunks and single mums are ruining the town”, to foster a culture of transparency not afforded by the sparse minutes of local council meetings. I found myself a year and a half later at the G8 summit, campaigning again for transparency, and my other great passions, food and nutrition.

Listening to Frank, a Save the Children campaigner who, at 16, “had food, but not always enough food” as he grew up as a young boy in Tanzania, I was struck by the similarities in our stories. Despite the miles between us, I had food, but not always enough.

Yet where Frank lives, it is recognised that aid is needed. Hunger is an acknowledged issue, and the UK has subsequently pledged 0.7 per cent of national income to overseas aid to tackle that issue. Figures in The Lancet last Thursday show that 3.1 million children die of hunger every year.

Half a million people in outwardly prosperous, affluent Britain are said to rely on food banks. Hunger in the UK is often invisible. I was frequently told that I didn’t “look like a poor person” as I skipped meals to feed my son, and sat in my flat with the lightbulbs unscrewed and the heating off in the depths of winter. It took a perceptive supervisor at a Sure Start group to see that I always had seconds, sometimes thirds, of the free lunch, and to refer me to a food bank.

Food banks meet a need, but are not the solution. They are very good at pulling people out of the river, but someone needs to go upstream and find out why they are falling in. That person should be the Prime Minister, who had the opportunity to put hunger on the agenda once and for all.

But on Monday night, David Cameron posted a photo of his dinner menu on Twitter, including fillet of beef, violet artichokes and rose creams. A reader of my blog commented: “Pampered Government ministers with full bellies are pontificating on hunger, while children are going to bed, and going to school the next day, having not had a nutritious meal. Sickening.”

The Enough Food If campaign, for which I was at the G8, believes there is enough food for everyone in the world, if world leaders would tackle uneven distribution and unaffordability. But cash that could help nutrition and welfare budgets is lost in tax havens, offshore accounts, and creative accounting.

As the Prime Minister strode out on to the bank of Lough Erne for the outdoor press conference, I held my breath. A few words could end hunger for thousands of children and their families in the UK.

I was disappointed. The Lough Erne declaration was all “we should”, not “we will”.

While I welcome the commitment to international aid, Mr Cameron now needs to get his own house in order, to tackle hunger and poverty issues in his own country, so that he can ask the rest of the world to “do as I do”, not “do as I tell you to do”.

Jack Monroe, The Independent, 23 June.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/g8-summit-leaders-feasted-while-kids-went-hungry-to-bed-8669707.html

Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Simple Spiced Potato Soup

This is one of my go-to recipes, a whatever-happens-to-be-in-the-cupboard special. I sometimes add a chopped chilli to the onion, and some coriander from my window ledge herb box, but I have given the basic recipe below – feel free to customize it as you wish. when it comes to my lunch, I can be an impatient oik so I tend to chop the tinned potatoes into small cubes. It makes no difference to the final product, just means that they cook quicker. I like to serve this soup with pitta bread.

Serves 2

1 onion
a splash of oil
a few generous pinches of ground cumin or turmeric (whichever you have available)
1 x 500g tin of potatoes (approximate drained weight)
1 chicken stock cube, dissolved in 200ml boiling water
150ml natural yoghurt

Peel and chop the onion and put into a saucepan with the oil and cumin. Cook on a low heat for around 10 minutes to soften the onions into a spicy sweetness.

Drain the tinned potatoes, cut into small cubes and tip into the saucepan. Pour in the stock and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft.

Tip everything into a blender along with the yoghurt and blitz until smooth and creamy. Add more water if necessary – I find different tins of potatoes come up differently.

Serve and enjoy!

Tips: I sometimes like to add spinach to this soup and a tiny dab of mustard, to make it a bit more exciting. If there are any Spiced Spinach Potatoes left over (see Saag Aloo recipe), this is a brilliant use for them. Just add in place of the tinned potatoes.

‘Simple Spiced Potato Soup’ recipe from A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe.

Twitter: @MsJackMonroe Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

“In my household there was food, but not always enough”.

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On Monday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Tanzanian activists Mwajuma and Frank, who both suffered from hunger and malnutrition as children.

In Frank’s own words: “in my household, there was food, but there was not always enough.”

At 16 years old, he now campaigns for Save The Children. Video interviews and an article to follow.

Frank and Mwajuma are on Twitter, at @FrankAndMwajuma

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

David Cameron’s violet artichokes and fillet beef…..while IF campaign to end world hunger.

Ironically, just after I posted the photo of the END HUNGER sign on the bank of Lough Erne to greet the G8 leaders as they arrived for the summit today, one of those leaders tweeted a photo of what he would be having for dinner this evening…

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Ironic, and sadly out of touch. There’s no money in the budget for nutrition interventions, living wages and free school meals – but Bushmills whiskey and fillet beef are apparently all part of the day job…

In the ten seconds it will take to decide between mint, rose or violet creams, another child in the world will have died from malnutrition.

Can our politicians listen to us, and work with us, to end hunger, starvation and malnutrition across the world?

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

“It’s in your power to bring about change.” – Barack Obama, speaking before the G8 summit

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On Monday morning, Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, addressed a group of almost 2,000 young people at Waterfront Hall in Belfast ahead of the G8 Summit.

Speaking before her husband, Michelle said:

“When we reach out and listen from someone else’s perspective, we find that they listen to us.

“We need to rise above all divisions, and treat people the way that we want to be treated.

“Young people today have the freedom of an open mind, and the fresh perspectives to help find solutions to age old problems.”

The President of the United States added to his wife’s speech:

“Your generation have come of age in a world with fewer walls, in an era of instant information.

“You are a generation possessed by clear-eyed realism, and optimistic idealism, aware of the world as it is, but keen to make it as it should be.”

He acknowledged the impact of the recession, and the hardship that it had inflicted on communities “that have suffered real pain”

“It’s in your power to bring about change. In today’s hyper-connected world, things that happen here have an impact far beyond these walls.”

And that’s what we’re here for, the IF@G8 bloggers, to take the things that happen far beyond these walls, to the summit, and to take the decisions made at the summit, and throw them back out, far beyond these walls.

Updates to follow. See http://www.enoughfoodif.org/g8bloggers to follow me, Richard Murphy, Sarah Robinson and Rosebell Kagumire at the G8 Summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Welcome to the G8 Summit

It’s 0929 in the morning, and we’ve secured some hotdesks at the Killyhevlin Media Centre in Enniskillen. ‘We’ are the IF@G8 Bloggers:

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Jack Monroe – @MsJackMonroe – Hunger and Nutrition
Richard Murphy – @RichardJMurphy – Tax and Tax Havens
Rosebell Kagumire – @RosebellK – Uganda and Transparency
Sarah Robinson – @SarahRobinson78 – Chosen by Mumsnet
Shane McCracken – @ShaneMcC – Our minder! (According to him anyway)

So, we’re all set up with our laptops, mobile phones, cameras, nerves and anticipation, ready as we’ll ever be, and all eyes on the eight world leaders as we push for them to tackle world hunger at it’s root causes.

Decisions made today and tomorrow will potentially impact the lives of the 3million children who die from malnutrition every year.

The IF campaign is recommending action to be taken on tax transparency, nutrition, land transparency, biofuels, agricultural investment, budget transparency, climate change, and accountability, and for commitments to be made by the eight world leaders for investment and policy change.

There is enough food for everyone, IF they commit to investing in nutrition, and policy changes, and transparency, both in developing countries and in their own.

Updates to follow, see http://www.enoughfoodif.org/g8bloggers for live feeds from all of us throughout the next two days.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Soho Food Feast…. In Pictures.

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From top to bottom:

1. Soho Food Feast Flyer.
2. Nice man from Brindisa chopping up a bone for Xanthe Clay.
3. Best panzanella I’ve ever, ever tasted – need to go through my business cards and find out who made it!
4. That nice man from Brindisa again…
5. One of the vegetable sculpture competition entries!
6. Spanish rice at the Brindisa stall… I spent a lot of time lusting after Spanish goodies that afternoon!
7. When is a pineapple not a pineapple? When it’s an armadillo!
8. Prize giving ceremony and raffle.
9. Roe and potato salad, and smoked eel with beetroot – om nom nom.
10. A packed Soho Square…
11. Sleeping Drunk Man sculpture, made from assorted fruit and veg.

All photos by Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Food poverty: you think it doesn’t happen to normal people. The Guardian, 6 June.

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Society, The Guardian, Thursday 6 June 2013.

Food poverty: ‘You think it doesn’t happen to normal people’
Jack Monroe’s A Girl Called Jack blog vividly charts her life on the breadline, from visits to the pawn shop to living on a £10 a week food budget. Policy makers should take note. By Patrick Butler.

The undoubted star turn at the food poverty meeting at the House of Commons this week was Jack Monroe, a 25 year old single Mum, prodigious blogger, austerity cook extraordinaire, and breadline veteran.

Jack had a good job, until she had to give it up for childcare reasons. She spent the next 16 months unemployed and on benefits, living hand to mouth, and dependent, in the end, on charity.

Her descriptions of her demoralising, mundane existence during that time were vivid and arresting: the one weetabix for her son’s breakfast, mashed with cold water; the trips to the pawn shop; the obsession with unplugging things (including the fridge) in case she was tempted to spend money she didn’t have on electricity.

She recalled how six months ago she was referred to a local food bank for help:

“I was attending a group for the single mums on a Wednesday, and only went for the free lunch. One of the ladies noticed that me and my son always had seconds and thirds. She asked me if I was ok but I lied and told her I was fine. Because that’s the trouble, when you have got your collar bone jutting out of the two jumpers you wear to keep yourself warm, your cheekbones poking out and your son’s an absolute state: you tell everyone you’re fine, because you don’t want him taken into care.”

Despite her doubts, one Tuesday morning she turned up there:

” I joined a queue about 60 deep of other mothers with push chairs and small starving children outside a community centre and I waited an hour for five tins of beans and a bag of nappies.”

This triggered a discomforting realisation:

“You can’t just walk up to a food bank. You have to be referred to one. Someone has to physically look at you and say you are that desperate you need some free food or otherwise things might go horribly, horribly wrong.”

This was a shock: it wasn’t supposed to happen to people like her.

“I had a £27 grand a year job. I’ve not been brought up on benefits and a tracksuit watching Jeremy Kyle. I’m a middle class, well educated young woman who fell a bit by the way side. You think it doesn’t happen to normal people, and you think we are all scumbags, eating burgers and watching day time TV. It can happen to anyone.”

Throughout her time on the dole Jack wrote a blog, A Girl called Jack, which juxtaposed her observations of breadline life with ingenious recipes, and tips on how to eke out a food budget of £10 a week. The blog became cult reading, and the food posts won her prizes, plaudits and a Penguin book deal. She now has a job as a reporter on her local paper in Southend.

Her insights on how to reform the welfare system are required reading, suffused as they are with the kind of “service user” insight that the system’s designers and putative reformers, and most of the media commentators on the issue for that matter, do not have.

Perhaps her most valuable insight, however, (and the one most frequently ignored by policy makers), is this, made as she reflected on her experiences using a food bank:

“To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, there comes a point where you have to stop pulling people out of the river and you have to walk upstream and find out why the hell they’re falling in.”

(Thanks to Jonny Butterworth of Just Fair for the audio file)

Follow me on Twitter :@MsJackMonroe

“We need to stop just pulling people out of the river.” – Jack Monroe in the Houses of Parliament, 3 June 2013

The full text from my speech in the Houses of Parliament, June 3rd 2013.

This morning, small Boy had one of the last weetabix, mashed with a little water, and a glass of tap water to wash it down with.

Where’s Mummy’s breakfast? He asks, all blue eyes and two year old concern.

I tell him I’m not hungry, but the gnawing pains in my stomach call me a liar.

But what else can you do?

What else can you do – when you’ve turned off your heating? That was in November 2011, it went off at the mains and I parked furniture in front of it to forget that it was ever there, to alleviate the temptation to turn it on.

What else can you do, when you’ve turned everything off at the wall sockets, when you become obsessive about unplugging things, down to the green LCD display on the oven, mockingly flashing away.

You learn to go without things, you unscrew the light bulbs. You turn the hot water off and pretend the freezing cold shower is ‘invigorating’, but it shocks you every time.

You sell the meagre DVD collection for an even more meagre sum, your sons toys, everything you own.

But poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off.

Poverty is the choking, sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one weetabix, and he says:

More Mummy? Bread and jam please Mummy?

And you’re wondering how to carry the tv and the guitar to the pawn shop, and how to tell him that there is no bread and jam.

I’m Jack Monroe. That was an excerpt from my blog, from July 2012.

I’m a 25 year old single mother to a 3 year old boy, and I was unemployed for 16 months.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

I have no TV, no heating, and no car, and many evenings have gone by with no dinner, but I’m one of the lucky ones. Because around six months ago, I was referred to my local food bank for help.

I had been attending a support group for single mums on a Wednesday, and to be honest I only went for the free lunch. One of the women who ran the group noticed that my son and I always had seconds, and thirds, and quietly asked me if everything was okay.

I lied, and I said that I was fine.

Because that’s the trouble, when you have holes in your socks and holes in your jeans, and your collar bones are jutting out of the two jumpers you wear to keep warm – you tell everyone that everything is okay.

Because you think if you admit to skipping meals, to feeding your child the same cold pasta with tomatoes for four nights in a row, you worry that you might lose him, that he might be taken into care. And in the cold, in the despair and desolation, your son is the only thing that stops you stepping off the flyover you walk over every day. So you say you’re fine.

But she filled out a form for me despite my protestations, and one Tuesday morning, I joined a queue 60 deep, of mothers in push chairs, outside a community centre, and I waited almost an hour for five tins of food and a packet of nappies.

When Oxfam released their report, Walking The Breadline, this Thursday, it stayed that half a million people in the UK are currently dependent on food banks.

But food banks, while meeting a need, are not the solution.

To paraphrase Desmond Tutu, there comes a point where you need to not just pull people out of the river. You need to go upstream and find out who is pushing them in.

So what would I do? Having lived the quality control measures of Government cock-ups for the past year and a half, what would I change?

Well I agree that welfare needs to be reformed, but not like this. Not these damning cuts and sanctions and work capability assessments. Start by making things better for people, not worse.

Start by paying housing benefit monthly, not four weekly, in line with most peoples rent and mortgage payments. To spell it out, in my local area, LHA is £635 a month. But paid four weekly, it’s just £586. The additional £49 needs to be topped up, usually out of income support, which is money that should be used for heating, clothes and food. Paying housing benefit monthly would also be cheaper to administer, as payments would be made twelve, not thirteen times a year.

Secondly, raise the minimum wage to a living wage. Minimum wage for an adult is currently £6.19 an hour. A living wage is estimated at £7.25. By my quick and crude calculations, minimum wage earners working less than 28 hours a week will not be paying tax on their earnings. By raising it to a living wage, people who work over 22 hours a week will be in the threshold for paying tax. Also, slightly higher incomes mean decreased eligibility for benefits. I’m quite a simple person – but more money into the economy in the form of taxes and higher income, added to less money coming out of the welfare pot, can only be a good thing to help restore the health of the economy and incentivise work over benefits.

I’ve actually taken the liberty of writing a 14 point plan, and i’m pleased to see today that Asda have adopted one of the points, although I shan’t take the credit, and will be donating some of their food waste to food banks and other humanitarian incentives.

Again, I don’t believe food banks are the solution. They’re currently a life line for half a million people in this, the seventh richest country in the world.

But isn’t it time that we stopped just pulling people out of the river, and instead, let’s go upstream, and stop pushing them in.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Reader Recipes: Joy’s Maple And Banana Pancakes

Joy’s Banana and bacon pancakes with maple syrup.

Ingredients to serve 1:

1 rasher of Sainsbury’s basic bacon
30g self raising flour
1 small very ripe banana
60mls milk – or 30ml milk and 30ml water
very small pinch salt
Small knob of butter, if needed
1 tsp maple syrup to drizzle over.

Method:

Fry the bacon in its own fat until cooked and as you like it. Set aside in a warm oven. Keep the fat. Wipe around the pan if there are any over browned bits left and you don’t like them.

Make the batter. Place the flour and the pinch of salt in a bowl and add 1/3 of the banana, mushed up (I used my hands).

Add the milk and whisk into a batter. It won’t be totally smooth because of the banana, unless you zizz it.

Make sure the bacon pan is hot (add a little butter if needed) and pour in half the batter. Fry on one side, then turn and fry the other side, then tip onto a warmed plate and keep warm. Do the same with the other half of the batter – you’ll maybe need a little butter in the pan first.

Thinly slice the rest of the banana.

Serve by arranging the two pancakes on the warm plate, scatter over the sliced banana, top with the bacon and then drizzle the 1tsp of maple syrup over the top.

Eat straight away. Delicious.

Joy.

To see your recipe here, email it to jackmonroe@live.co.uk