Since the news of my six-week collaboration with Sainsbury’s has emerged, I feel I should have gone into hiding in a rather large 13p can of tinned potatoes, refashioned as a tin hat, to avoid the hate mail and expressions of disappointment that are littering my inbox and Twitter feed.
When I wrote my first recipe blog post – a carrot soup fashioned from some of the less photogenic elements of a £1 veg bag – I didn’t do it with a media career in mind; I did it because I was blogging about being a single parent.
I stuck to supermarkets for my recipes, not wanting to assume that everyone had access to a market, a friendly fishmonger, or specialised shops to buy spices in bulk. I wanted my recipes to be accessible to as many people as possible, so I tried to use widely available, standardised products.
As the months have passed, I’ve tailored my fridge with experimentation. I now use free range meat and eggs – that doesn’t mean you have to. I found some bargain asparagus for 29p in the reduced chiller the other night, but digging around in reduced bins at 9pm is not a sustainable lifestyle choice for the parent of a young child.
Frankly, I’m astounded by the fuss over my Sainsbury’s advert. For six weeks it’s me saying on the telly what I’ve been saying on my blog for two years: “This is where I shop, this is what I do.” In the process, I turned down offers to work with other supermarkets and held out for Sainsbury’s because it’s where I’ve shopped since I moved to the centre of Southend three years ago.
I hate television. Five minutes on a breakfast sofa with a presenter is just about doable; I stop myself from shaking by sitting on my hands before the cameras roll. Those who know me know that I am painfully introverted, the one with my back to the wall at awards ceremonies, with my hood up while waiting for the tube, a frightened deer in front of a camera lens. So if I was going to do television, I wanted to do it honestly. With no script and no fed-in lines, just me, cooking, chatting, and ignoring the extremely large crew of cameras, lights, sound booms and runners.
And what could be more honest than knocking dinner up out of half a chicken from the supermarket I shop in and have blogged about? It’s less an advert and more a one-minute documentary about making your food go further. That’s the bit I don’t understand. I spent two years pricing my recipes according to the supermarket that I shop in, while name-dropping them innocently, to illustrate what I was doing. Every week I answer the same questions in my Guardian food column: stock cubes are 20p for 10, a 1.5kg bag of carrots is 89p, tinned potatoes are cheaper than fresh ones, yes of course it’s a free-range chicken. I avoid that sort of speculative suspicion on my blog, because I include the prices and the supermarket they were bought from, which anyone who has access to the internet can check and find another supermarket with similar products if they wish.
As for the accusations that everybody has a price? Mine is £1,653 for six weeks’ work. My actual fee is higher, identical to what the other three bloggers in the campaign are being paid, but I am keeping £1,653 to myself – the equivalent of the living wage for the six weeks that the campaign will run for. The rest is going into the tax pot; to a food project in Africa that I am visiting with Oxfam in January; and to my local food bank and homeless shelter. My friends think I’m bonkers. They tell me I’ve earned it, to keep it, to squirrel it away – but if I was in it for the money I’d have leapt at the first advertising deal offered to me almost a year ago for an upmarket butter brand, and all the 50 or so since then. I didn’t. Am I guilty of selling out? Hardly.
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe
First published here on Comment Is Free, The Guardian, 17 December 2013.