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By Tom Lamont
Sunday 19 October 2014
The winner of OFM’s Blogger of the Year apologises, when we speak, for not blogging all that much in the weeks leading up to our chat. Jack Monroe’s online diary, about cooking for herself and her young son on a limited budget , got her a Guardian column and publishing deal, transforming this tough, funny 26-year-old from Essex into a post-austerity celebrity – feted by many on the left, derided on the right, signed up to appear on Question Time and endorse Sainsbury’s. Blogging changed her life, so much so that she now sometimes struggles to find time for it. “I’m not cooking any less,” she says, “I’m just not finding the extra half an hour at the end of the day to sit down and write.”
To briefly recap the story Monroe has told to MPs, and even a parliamentary committee collecting accounts of poverty in post-recession Britain: between winter 2011 and spring 2013, she left her job in Essex County Fire and Rescue Service. Out of work, short of cash and stressed, Monroe made inventive use of cheap supermarket goods, spending just £10 a week on food and writing up the recipes on her blog, which quickly found a large audience who related to her story. Fast forward to now and for the first time in a long time, Monroe feels financially and emotionally secure. Which brings its own problems. “I feel as though I’m expected to apologise for having improved circumstances,” she says. “People are very supportive when you’re the underdog. And as soon as you’re no longer the underdog, in people’s eyes, you’re no longer worthy of support.”
The Sainsbury’s ad last December brought “a level of vitriol that was overwhelming … It was well reported that my predecessor Jamie Oliver was on around half a million to a million a year from them. I can say quite frankly I earn not even a single figure percentage of that. People are quick to call you a sell out.” Monroe has been attacked by Edwina Currie (on television), Richard Littlejohn (in print), by countless trolls (online), the gist of the attacks, as she puts it, being: “Oh, there’s Jack banging on about her two weeks in poverty again (when it was actually closer to two years).” She’s often left wondering, “What should I apologise for? I didn’t used to have a job: that was crap. And now I have a job: life is better. I live in slight fear that people are going to expect me to loll around in a hair shirt for the rest of my life for the sake of ‘authenticity’. What’s wrong with a happy ending, for goodness sake?”
Her home life is more content. Monroe now lives with her girlfriend, the chef Allegra McEvedy, in London. Both have young children and together this family of four live in what sounds like a state of mildly chaotic, well-fed bliss. “There’s a lot worse things you could do with your life than move in with a chef with 20 years’ experience, who cooks absolutely bloody fantastic food. I think I’ve done quite well.”
McEvedy, who co-founded the successful Leon chain, has six food books to her name; Monroe will publish her second, A Year in 120 Recipes, this month. “People ask, ‘Is it competitive at home?’ It’s brilliant, actually, having someone who shares your biggest passion. And you only have to cook half the week.”
Original article published in Observer Food Monthly, October 2014.