The longer we argue, the longer the queues at the foodbank get…

My column in Society Guardian, Monday 8th December 2014.

“Poor people don’t know how to cook”, Baroness Anne Jenkin said at the launch of the Feeding Britain report yesterday, and suddenly it was as though ten months of evidence gathering, and 160 pages of written report, hadn’t happened, cast aside to be summed up in seven words.

Welcome to the new politics, where every character counts, and every statement met with an equal and polarising one. Instead of discussing and debating the 77 recommendations in the report on Monday evening, as a former food bank user who had given oral evidence to the committee myself in July, I found myself on regional and national radio and television, being asked about Baroness Jenkin instead.

And herein one of the big problems with politics today lies: instead of discussing the issues at hand, the baying mobs on all sides are waiting in the wings for someone to say something imperfect, and they pounce, hurling insults and escalating debate into personal attacks and rudeness, and nobody is talking about hungry people or how to feed them any more. Instead it’s all ‘those big bad Tories’ fault, or ‘the Church shouldn’t be commenting at all because they have a bit of gold kicking about’, or it ‘started under Labour…’

The longer we all stand on opposing sides shouting over each other, the longer the queues around the foodbanks get, and the longer the benefit delays, and the longer the queues at the JobCentre. As I said to one interviewer: at home, I have two toddlers, and quite frequently, things get dropped or spilled or broken. I could stand there for twenty minutes, listening to them both blaming each other, or I could pick it up, clear it up, or mend it.

The Feeding Britain report outlines 77 recommendations as part of a strategy to eliminate hunger in one of the richest economies in the world. If Labour MPs and Conservative peers can work together, and the Government and the Church can work together, then surely we can all put our political and ideological differences to one side and galvanise the campaign, and make a difference to the 1 million families relying on emergency food handouts, and the many more working for less than a living wage. Go on, try it. Making a genuine difference is far more satisfying than shouting the odds on Twitter.

The original article is here: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/dec/08/jack-monroe-feeding-britain-food-banks?CMP=twt_gu

Jack Monroe

Twitter & Instagram: @MsJackMonroe

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62 Comments »

  1. The Truth is that we could all learn to cook better than we do at present. It is simply more crucial if you are poor, and many of us have been poor at one time or another in our lives.

    Jack’s great merit is that finding herself in that position she buckled down and hunted out ways of coping and, in addition, produced a valuable and inspirational book that would, I am sure, be a good basis for a cookery course that would help any of us to be better, more economical and more versatile cooks.

    I’ve bought copies of A Girl Called Jack and A Year In 120 Recipes. I don’t know about other people, but they’ve sure helped me!

  2. Jack , one of the greatest problems there is in food sales is the insistence by major stores to sell all fresh produce as Grade A or Grade 1 class – as I understand it when carrots are not the right shape or mushrooms are on the turn they should and could easily be re classified as Class 2 or Grade 2 and thus reduced in price to help provide ample good produce just off their best – not wilted and shriveled as they often are at the very end of the day – such a change for the stores would clear greater volumes of slightly second produce to a greater customer base than the willingness to wait til the death to clear brown and soft fruit and veg. I don’t think I have seen second grade/second class food for a long time. With such produce we could all cook good food on the same day at reduced prices.

  3. Mmmm the bottom line, is that nobody in power gives a shit. They may pretend to care in order to further their career …but in reality ? They don’t give a shit. It always has been, about the money. Their money… The protection of wealth. Love your book by the way….can’t stop eating mustard mash 🙂

    • I don’t know why I am being emailed all the responses on your blog. I haven’t actually commented on this post, nor on many of them and I haven’t changed my settings for WordPress. It is starting to become a bit problematic as my inbox is filled daily with a lot of emails! Please can you see why this is happening?

    • I don’t agree; I reckon plenty of people in power care, but the business they’re in frequently brings the debate down to the level described by Jack. People make the news for saying rather than doing these days.

    • I disagree, many many people with power, money or influence do care. Quite a few have even been there too. And there are always others who are disconnected and don’t care. This is what human nature is. What Jack says in this post is right though. Emotion, anger, frustration, disappointment and the sheer desire to be “right” all make us all act in a way that doesn’t honour us or others or we all say things, especially on social media and in conversations that doesn’t honour us and our experience or others and theirs. The desire to be right often overides the desire to resolve and participate appropriately.

  4. Jack, your articles have become more powerful as your anger of the old days is held within. Don’t lose that passion for righting the wrongs, nor that empathy with those still suffing in this rich nation. Bless you.

  5. Hi Jack, saw your interview at the 9oclock news tonight on tv-very well said, agree with what you said bout not judging people hard times and all the rest really;) Thanks for having the courage to come and talk about your hard times in the past and being so honest! Inspirational:)! Well done!

  6. Well said. Thanks Jack – I wish there were people like you in politics; I think there are a few, but so often debates seem to focus on point scoring and blame rather than resolving a problem.

  7. The comment by the your Baroness LaDeDA reminded me of the comment by the Australian treasurer who sad,”poor people don’t have a car or don’t drive far” when raising the excise tax on fuel. It is really ahrd to ignore such comments- they do get headlines and debate, which may, in the end, alert people to the real issues.

  8. Although I agree with almost everything you write here, when the Baroness said that “poor people don’t know how to cook” what she should have said was, and “Rich people don’t have to” because they can go out to eat or afford ready made meals.

    Yes! let’s fix it, but we must stop blaming the poor for being poor.

    • That’s exactly what I said to hubby yesterday when he mentioned this obnoxious, ignorant bitch. Sorry Jack, I shouldn’t be name-calling, but I don’t think any amount of serious debate with the likes of her would get her down helping out at the food banks.

  9. Can’t help it I don’t like that Jenkin woman, her husband is our MP foisted upon us by boundary change. The rest of his area is rich rural guess which area we think he cares about more. “Poor people can’t cook” does strike home as ” let them eat cake”

  10. Your third paragraph is spot on. I can understand that people have opposite viewpoints. Debate and finding common ground seems old fashioned nowadays. You need to have people who communicate very well to get the message through. It is easy to get sidetracked.

  11. Couldn’t agree more Jack…have always loathed Committees and Quangos…just another excuse to not roll up your sleeves and get on with the job in hand. ….could you have a word with Sainsburys please and ask them to add a section on online ordering and donation boxes in store to give items and make a daily delivery to local food bank….sure any decent human being would give to that….be quick and easy for us all to do plus all other Supermarkets follow suit please…x

    • I don’t know about Sainsburys but, certainly in our town, Tesco and ASDA have regular donation boxes for the local foodbanks.

      • Yes they do instore(I did phone them) but I am mostly housebound looking after my husband so I cant easily participate….and most of us wouldnt remember to pick things up specifically for the foodbank… but if I had the option with my online orders to add items or donate a few quid then I would every time…..we are missing a good opportunity to help easily….and with the best will in the world I have good intentions and want to help but a “busy” life takes over…and Im sure that would be the case with most of us! xx

  12. Jeremy Kyle on radio 2… The Archbishop of Canterbury horrified at foodbanks usage and asks why can we not use the amount of food that is thrown away??? Cue discussion on “surplus” food as if the problem is there is not enough to go around and is it up to the supermarkets to give charity??….EXCUSE ME! Why are people using food banks in one of the richest economies in the world?????? Stop buying into the distractions, justifications, excuses and insults. WHY ARE PEOPLE IN THE UK TURNING TO FOODBANKS?? And it ain’t rocket science!!!

  13. You did well Jack. The media is like a basket of snakes trying to catch you in a moment of unawareness.
    The Baroness ( so ridiculous that on the XXI century people still carry titles, oh, well…) on the other hand should be working harder polishing her communication skills. She may think whatever she wants, and everybody knows that many wealth people think that the poor are guilty of their own situation, but saying so she makes a big mistake confirming once more how far from reality many politicians live while they decide about the fate of those they don’t know and who lack means to fulfill their basic needs.
    By the way, she says that older generations know how to cook economically . But then why ( for many years already) do so many elder people have to choose between ” heat or eat”? Well, because when you don’t have enough to survive on, all the cooking skills of the world won’t change the poverty and misery you’re in. And you end up needing the food bank and other charities.
    People in need deserve hope and respect to carry on with dignity in these hard times. They don’t need condescending types blaming them for their troubles. Specially since we all know that the economical mess we are in wasn’t created by the ones holding the humble jobs or the ones who lost theirs due to the crisis.

  14. i am reading your common sense and wonder in 100 years time and they look at the record of poverty will all partys consider it a shamefull black mark on their history or the beginning of a new era

  15. I think this is spot on. My favourite of all your blogs so far. Thank you. Today’s launch of Feeding Britain was encouraging and will add momentum to the work we do, despite the predictable stirrings and faffing about of complacent snipey journos who neglect their own moral responsibilities.
    The FoodCycle cake was good too, no?

  16. I tried to comment before. It has vanished into ether. So will try again. You have done a fantastic job Jack with your blog. Feeding people on a budget is hard. The better off cannot imagine how difficult it is without resorting to picking up a ready meal from M&S or an Ocado delivery when you’re just too tired to cook. And making interesting meals from cheap ingredients is a challenge. It’s a skill. Hearing the stories of people with nothing in their cupboards or fridge for several days is crazy. A young girl saying, it’s fine I can go a few days without food as long as my poorly father eats. It’s just wrong.

  17. never a truer word spoken!!!!!!!!!!!! well done!!!!!!!!!!!! We need you to be a member of parliament to speak up for the poor who are getting shafted by this government.!!!!!!!!!! do not listen to the critics,most of whom have never experienced hardship.You are like a light at the end of a tunnel for many people.x

  18. It’s a side issue which has deflected attention from the main issue. And she misdirected her comment, which actually isn’t too far from the mark, but she should have said “many people these days don’t know how to cook” which is actually an important point. Cookery classes at school have largely been dropped – and were probably not terribly helpful anyway, but they could make a vital difference if schoolchildren grew up being taught basic nutrition and cooking simple meals. Think how community cookery classes could help, or REAL televised cooking without the competitive slant and the celebrity hype. (Know anyone who might fit the bill??) So many children from all walks of life are growing up in households where no-one cooks! And so it will perpetuate itself. I’m guessing there are many people who wouldn’t know what to do with most of the contents of a food bank box. There needs to be a huge shift in attitude, starting with the admission by the government that their policies are driving whole swathes of the population into 2nd world circumstances.

    • Lynne …I got my real passion for cooking from the most fantastic Cookery teacher ever when I was at school …just a Comprehensive School in Hemel Hempstead in the Seventies….Mrs Tribe…a total star…nothing basic in her lessons…I learnt to completely bone and stuff a chicken, made gnocchi, fresh pasta and did a fruit and royal iced/decorated Ruby anniversary cake for my grandparents!
      It helped that my parents/grandparents were all pretty good cooks but I have never forgotten her lessons or inspiration to experiment

      • I forgot to mention that Mrs Tribe also weighed all our potato peelings and told us stories about how that might have fed you for a few days during the war…..astonishing now when I look back I can put my frugal cooking down to her too as she made you so aware about waste…and I still have the thinnest potato peelings in the world!

  19. I agree with you Jack, it is pointless blaming governments or chuches or wages, at the end of the day we need to take a leaf out of our grandmothers book, they managed to survive on poor wages and food rationing making much from very little, we have been seduced in the past by ready meals, instant food and snacks and a lot of women have forgotten the art of cooking. You do a wonderful job of educating people to make the most of cheap and wholesome ingredients, maybe we can find our way back to cooking filling healthy meals that will feed our families without breaking the bank.

  20. “Revealed: how the wealth gap holds back economic growth” . This is the title of the main article on The Guardian this morning. Just to confirm that cooking classes aren’t going to solve the social and economical troubles we are in.

  21. You were magnificent on Channel 4 News – dealing firmly with Jon Snow and insisting that we debate the REAL issues for a change. Well done!

  22. Great article. Thought you were superb on channel Four news – really on it. Well done in refocusing the discussion back onto the key issues.

  23. Seeing as “we’re all in it together” already that might be a stretch too far for some politicians, after all it will prove them wrong publicly. In “election season” Still, lets do our bit and one day maybe some of them do feel secretly ashamed when they look in the mirror at home….that goes for the polarising media journalists as well. It has method of course, just like any “inquiry” avoids having to talk about the actual problem and having to tackle it.

  24. I feel a bit sorry for the baroness! She apologised profusely, and in the process was very complimentary about you. She explained that what she meant was that because so many people have not been taught the rudiments of cooking, they are forced to spend more on food than they need. She used you as an example of how knowing how to cook cam save money. Apart from the appalling choice of words, I think the points she was trying to make had validity, and she clearly feels that people who are forced to use food banks deserve considerably more help than they are getting.
    It is truly sad that the comment received national coverage, the apology considerably less, and the report even less again!

    • I agree, comments can and will be taken out of context to sell papers. Yet the Baroness is in part correct as there is a real issue of many lacking the knowledge of how to put a meal together. Which is where Jack and her recipes come in. I work for a foodbank and try to put items together that will make a meal, Add herbs and spices and chat to people about what they can domwith the ingredients. Hopefully I’ll get funding to get a cooking club going to extend this. I’ve said elsewhere if food, growing it, cooking it, eating it were on the curriculum not only would we have a generation of new cooks, they would be learning math, literacy,science, geography and probably politics in the process. And start questioning policies that create food poverty and allow food waste. But not wrapped up in a PR campaign for a supermarket, please.

  25. The Politicians will vent their spleen on the victim group of choice to defend their policies and maintain that in this Country no one goes hungry but supports the sanctions imposed on the poorest by the DWP. The poor must be punished to incentivise them out of poverty but the rich must be placated in order to maintain their wealth. The rich will always be rich because they are organised, the poor will remain poor because they are not.
    The problem is not what we eat but how we consume. The supermarkets have us over a barrel because we all consume individually. In any group of people in the community they will all trot off to some consumer palace of hell as an individual and buy the same basket of goods in small quantities to consume individually. The original Rochdale Pioneers overcame this by buying staples in bulk and sharing the cost and benefit communally. The way for the working class to take more control over their relationship with food producers and suppliers is to form small so operatives and take advantage of their communal purchasing power.

  26. My local Foodbank in St Georges Church Britwell was closed down. Apprently Foodbank did not like it that CAB users were also in the same space. Appparently they must be kept separate at all times. Despite the Church allowing CAB users to use the church hall if they needed privacy, Foodbank was still shut down. Where do the Foodbank users go now? Well one man WALKED to the next nearest one 3.5miles to get his allowance for his family of four and he no access to transport, anyway some how he did manage to get some of it home, but he will not beable to do that WALK carry heavy bags again so he nolonger uses Foodbank.

  27. Hi Jack I wholeheartedly agree, would you suggest to Baroness Anne Jenkin that she speak to me and film my cooking with her on a budget? This is so that I do not have to punch her out, I am not normally a violent person. I have been writing to governments for 13yrs. over these problems and what has been the answer to take away money from me and now I try to live on £480 per month for fuel, heating, light, communication and food – nothing for entertainment nor relationships!!! By the way I truly believe that the government wish to come out of the EU so that they may further destroy the human rights particularly of the poor. And the very fact of any and every member of government of any house whom refuses to accept every single persons right to a healthy diet means that they are in breach of UN Human Rights – see Amnesty’s website, let alone EU Human Rights. Is there any help that you can give me in my situation, any journalism jobs? I have a certificate in journalism. A recipe suggestion that was particularly tasty : sausage loaf with BBQ beans. Regards Susan Sullivan Date: Mon, 8 Dec 2014 21:44:38 +0000 To: susan.sullivan29@hotmail.com

  28. I’m poor, I know how to cook, and I’ve taught my son how to cook. It doesn’t mean that I have enough money for the two of us to actually live on, and eat well. I’m ill, he’s at college, and can’t get a job. I have next to nothing coming in, and I’m made to feel like a criminal for being ill, and being in need of help. As a single person with no dependents, because my son is over 20, you fall off of the face of the earth as far as help is concerned. After basic bills have been paid there is less than £20 per week for a whole life for two people, and that includes food coming out of it. I challenge any of these MP’s to put the money where their mouth is, because whilst they make the cut backs on the poorest of us, you never see them making any cut backs within their own lives at all. Their expenses suddenly shoot up, and we pay for it. I was forced to go to a budgeting meeting so that I could have my bedroom tax paid for for a couple of weeks. I pointed out that it’s not that I don’t know how to budget my money, I just don’t have enough to budget on. I was told that I was being overly negative. Yes, too right, because that is reality of my life. It is overly negative when I have some patronising meeting to sit in that asks me if fruit, and veg is a luxury, or a necessity. I haven’t had fresh fruit in my house for months because I can’t afford to buy it. Every month I buy 2.5kl of potatoes, and 4 butternut squash because that is all the fresh veg I can afford to buy. I’m allergic to cereals, so try to eat as little as possible, but I buy them for my son. I’ve lost a stone in weight already when normally my medical issues mean that my body finds it exceptionally hard to lose weight, and in fact I can put weight on eating 1500 calories a day when I’m exceptionally active. When I get hungry I eat the cereals, which includes pasta, because it’s all we have in the house, and it makes me feel worse. So, I’m ill already, and I’m being forced to eat to eat foods that make me feel worse because it’s all I can afford. It may be true that some people don’t know how to cook correctly, but it’s disgusting that the people preaching about the poor get more than double in a week just for the food allowance than the pittance that they dictate that we have to exist on. They are likely to spend more on one lunch than I can spend in two whole weeks for both my son and I to exist on. Note that I say EXIST, we do not LIVE, for there is no quality of life.

  29. the people in power are all wealthy and very often have financial interests in businesses that feed off of people being poor, desperate and willing to work for less and less, the issue is, should those who benefit from people being poor be allowed to decide what is in their best interest?

    • As Sam states above those that talk about others are always from a well to do background and always have a vested interest in keeping those at the bottom in life poor

      you will find that to be the case worldwide. the main dangers thou for those in power is that the poor will strike back and cause very severe backlashes for the country’s concerned brining them all to often to their knees and thats always been the case

      i have known the likes of Baroness Anne Jenkin for the past 60 years and she is just a typical lord who speaks with half a brain and only a fool would even contemplate listening to her so called view in the first place

  30. we needto change what we value in society.

    Either we continue to value hard capitalism, pursuit of money, ambition, and profit.

    Or we value compassion, dignity, creativity and progressive thinking (for example caring about the very environment we live upon – ironically)

  31. Ah Ghost Whisperer but that’s a problem because the poor don’t vote. Who could you vote for anyway, the poor have been abandoned by the Labour Party and the Lib Dems now paly Jimminy Cricket to “call me Dave’s” compassionate conservatism so democracy fails you. If you want to change things radically then the first step is to organise then educate then agitate. Without organisation we are just a mob, dangerous and occasionally violent, riot may be the “moral authority of the crowd” but it just gives those in power cause to oppress you. Organisation gives us a platform to build a revolution on.

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