Live Below The Line: The obligatory day 3 soul-search, luck and self-loathing.

Love is making a rye and beer bread loaf for other people when you’re in the middle of doing Live Below The Line. Fact. This year’s LBLUK challenge (living on £1 a day for 5 days to raise money for Street Child United) has been strangely discombobulating as I find myself with two toddlers and a cacophonous revolving door of friends and guests to cook for. It’s not that I don’t want to share my 23p barley pancakes and peaches with everyone else, it’s that my ingredients for Live Below The Line are in such scarce supply that if I share them, I won’t be able to eat come Friday. And so the rest of the household has carried on business as usual, with me eating separately to everyone else – as my hunger patterns are different, and there may be a small outrage from the shortest people in the household if they see me stuffing a small pile of pancakes down my neck.


And so this evening I found myself obsessively trailing through other people’s Instagram accounts, reminding myself of the food world I accidentally landed in and come Saturday, can rejoin with gusto. It’s an uncomfortable thought, that there is an end in sight. Because I lived this, day in day out, for months and months and months on end. I didn’t know food writers back then. I didn’t have an Instagram account. I just dug around the back of my sofa (until I sold it) looking for change that was rarely there, scrabbling through the two handbags and whatever pockets routinely, several times a day, rarely fruitfully. I would insert my debit card into the ATM outside Sainsburys a mere minute before walking inside, and write the available balance on my hand. If it was more than a tenner, I would stop at the customer services department and buy a £10 gift card and tuck it in my purse for safekeeping, a guarantee that no matter what happened in the next week, I could buy a little food.


I logged out of my Instagram account, annoyed at myself for looking, for the pangs of self-pity at David Loftus’s beetroot cured trout, or Marina’s blood pudding with a soy cured egg yolk, or Jackson Boxer’s endive. Irritated by the heckled jibe from Fraser Nelson at the Spectator debate when I was talking about my £10 food shop, that “that’s not what it is not though, is it?” I rounded on him, wounded, telling him about Live Below The Line and challenging him to join me. The audience cheered. He didn’t take me up on it. And what marker of civil society is it that we seek to keep the poor ‘in their place’? That someone can take a shot at me for not being ‘poor enough’ any more, for not struggling hard enough, any more, for daring to have more than one kind of flour in my storecupboard, flour bought with 70 hour working weeks and more than a trace of exhaustion around my ragged edges? People dismiss it as ‘lucky’. I retort that it’s funny how the harder I work and the more opportunities I say yes to, the luckier I get. I’m not denying the debt of gratitude I owe David Giles at the Echo for passing me the Talk To The Press enquiry in 2012, nor the Sunday People for running the feature, nor Lisa Markwell for picking up a tweet and including it in an article about hospital food all those years ago, nor Xanthe Clay for getting in touch at the Telegraph. I owe so much to Robert Gwyn Palmer and Adrian Sington, and many many many more people, too many to list one by one here – but I also work seven days a week most weeks, run my diary like a military schedule, travel to the furthest reaches of the country, and still drop the children to school and pick them up again most days of the week. I work late into the night, early in the morning, on the treadmill, on the train, in the bath. Yet I’m pulled apart on stage in a live debate for not being ‘poor enough’ any more. As I said to Fraser, he doesn’t know what I earn. It’s probably less than most people think. But I’m grateful to have a job and grateful to have the work and you mustn’t think for one moment that I’m complaining about it, because god, I know what it’s like to not have those things and I wish for a world where nobody lives through those experiences. I wish for a world where a woman doesn’t get fired from Harrods for taking her free lunch home because she’s too busy at work to eat it. I wish for a world where a single mum claiming benefits doesn’t walk out in front of a lorry because the Bedroom Tax has taken every last scrap of the fight out of her. I wish for a world where I wasn’t at the desk of my local newspaper when a woman called in tears to say her friend, known to me at the local food bank, had hung himself after the latest round of sanctions from the JobCentre. I wish for a world where I didn’t have a regular slot on Sky News talking about food banks because I wish for a world where food banks were no longer needed. 


Forgive my rambling – Day Three is typically the deep and meaningfuls from previous years of Live Below The Line, as faint hunger starts to gnaw at my senses and the tiredness from caffeine withdrawal and carb spikes and plummets start to take their toll. I’ve had two naps today, almost missed school pickup and hared down the road to the school gates 10 minutes late as I crashed mid-afternoon. But for me, in two days time, it will all be over.


Please dig deep and donate for those who don’t have that bright light at the end of the tunnel. Those who don’t have an Instagram account full of London’s finest food writers to drool over. Those who aren’t checking off the days on their calendar until they can buy a small luxury again (mine will be a bottle of Dr Pepper, no idea why, I craved it through my pregnancy but let’s quell that rumour right there – maybe something to do with the sugar and caffeine I’m missing at the moment?!) Please head over to http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/agirlcalledjack and even if you can only give £1 – well, if all my readers, Twitter followers, facebook fans and Instagram followers gave £1 we’d have half a million quid on the spot. We can change lives. Make plans. Give hope and a future. Let’s do it. Together.


Jack Monroe. Twitter and Instagram @MsJackMonroe

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26 Comments »

  1. Well done Jack, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to struggle every day for food. I’m constantly amazed at the complete lack of understanding from government and privileged people who have never had to struggle and worry about whether their bank balance is zero.

  2. my mother was raised in abject poverty, many years ago when community still cared for its poor neighbours. she spent many winters with one coat between four sisters and summer shoes all year round and remembers most of it through rose tinted glasses but never forgot being the raggedy kids at school. sixty five/seventy years on she has plenty, more than plenty, but her bedrooms are full of clothes. All smart and hung and coordinated and more than she will ever wear. she owns nothing casual and rarely looks as though she dressed to relax. The memory of what she was is so ingrained in her soul. The rambling point i’m trying to make is that it IS ok to work five days. it IS ok to say no once in a while. please dont let the fear of where you started prevent you from taking a breath once in a while. Youve seemed quite fragile for a while Jack. let yourself rest a bit.
    this is kindly meant, i hope you take it as such.

    • My mum’s the same. A post-war start to life with little to go round a big family and many years as a single mum. Now (and for as long as I can remember) her kitchen cupboards are stacked so full with that much food she couldn’t ever possibly eat it all.

      Funny how it never leaves you.

  3. You are a hero to me. I just want you to know that. I think you struggle quite enough, don’t be hard on yourself please, and certainly don’t listen to others that are. You make me feel stronger, and braver, speak out louder & be more grateful. You are an inspiration to many, don’t give up. But do have a rest 🙂

  4. The legacy of my father’s extreme poverty as a child has brought great realisation of the impact of the anxiety, desperation, uncertainty, exhaustion of constantly worrying where the next food, drink, comfort, security, rest and relief is going to come from. History will mark this era as one of such extreme inequality, it will not be remembered well, except for the people, like you, who made a difference, saved their own and others lives. I would never underestimate the legacy of your own hardship and the terrible anxiety that was and still remains. Take a rest, Jack, learn to be at peace – we need you as much as you need yourself to go on xxx

  5. Dear Jack, am having similar thoughts as Kezzy here – don’t let the thoughts you have when understandably feeling at a low point undermine you. What you have achieved, what you do every day is such a source of solace to people who are in very difficult circumstances, please don’t allow the critics sniping to even land their jibes – they haven’t a clue about being vulnerable, lost and worried sick about housing, bills and getting by.

    I live in Ireland which is struggling with neo liberal austerity policies too but reading about how the social welfare system / cutbacks in England is operating makes my blood run cold, the idea of food banks, people going hungry and being forced to leave their communities see the Independent today – housing / social cleansing article is so disturbing.

    I’m going to click the link simply as an act of solidarity – there but for the grace of God or fate go I – please know that you are a very bright light and voice for some very vulnerable people.

    With affection, admiration and a large hug,

    Cathy

  6. I’m the same as you in that when I was in my twenties I bought postal orders instead, made out to be cashed in post offices further and further away from home . No name, so , because I couldn’t drive and never had the change for the bus, I’d have the exercise of walking to the next post office
    further out each week and I’d have
    the chance of getting fed.

    I’m fine about how I dealt with what I did not have.

    I would wear one pair of trousers under the outer pair when it was cold during winter and many is the time pint bottles of milk constituted a meal when I was at my lowest financially

    Whatsoever the status you are or were, I still can’t forget how you stay in touch with people. And fight to raise the issues.

    I still “rob Peter to pay Paul” as it were (English phrase, NOT advocating burglary, overseas readers!)” I still have to deny one creditor to pay another but I just manage my account better. The bank says”oh you do well to keep your account in good condition” Easy to say but they don’t know what the hardships were and are like someone who has been through it

  7. In my experience one is often hit hardest when the worst is really in the past. Up till then you had to be strong, tough it out, even after things got better because you never know when it will end. Slowly accepting that it might be for real, that you will not unexpectedly be dropped in those bad circumstances again in the near future means all those hidden feelings and fears surface and hit hard. You sound as if you are battling those feelings, as if you feel you are not allowed to be so sad and scared anymore. I hope you will feel less and less vulnerable, it must be really hard, especially if you feel so judged too.

    I admire you greatly, not just for how you managed when the going was tough, but also for how you champion your cause and keep fighting for those who still are in dire need. In order to do so long term you need to make sure you don’t crash, so take good care of yourself!

  8. The idea that you have to be poor to care about poverty just makes me so angry! It’s just one more way of trying to shut people up. Keep shouting, Jack!

  9. Well said!!

    It’s when the hunger starts to get to you and the cupboard gets barer that those memories of doing it for real come tumbling back …. it’s exactly where I get to by day three and for me that’s today ☹

    Yes, now I’m lucky too, it really is amazing how hard you have to work to get this lucky!

    But we, and thousands of others are taking our ‘luck’ and getting stuck in to raising hundreds of thousands of pounds to help people that really need our help. If ANYONE knocks you for that just keep challenging them to join in.

    Keep strong, even in the face of warm luscious Rye bread 😊

  10. I echo Jools. In amongst all the other demands and commitments please try to find some time to be. Just be. Self-ish is essential, without caring for yourself a little you cannot care for others. Sending love, a virtual hug and lots of smiles your way today Jack x

  11. I have written an article on my experience of going from living very comfortably, married and being someone who never knew the cost of food, never needed to as looking at prices need never have entered my head, never figured in my life, then fast forward to being a single mum of five and the prejudices i have experienced and the hardships i have endured, all for leaving an emotionally abusive relationship,I found. work and feel incredibly lucky but lead a frugal life. Have been in some scary places though the past year… Piublic perception and judgement is cruel, and often incorrect, I would like to voice my opinions if anyone would like to hear.or any tabloid,

  12. I echo the above. You’ve done enough and more and you need to be kind to yourself. The £10 supermarket card is something I’d never thought of. I like the idea of giving that to someone in need rather than cash that they might feel has to go to bills, or the usual food bank fare. Where would I donate it to? A food bank?

  13. Hey jack. What a brilliant blog. I have just started reading it. Have a barley pancake and know that you create’ compassionate momentum ‘in people who were maybe still. Don’t get burnt out caring or thinking too much. As I used to say as a nurse, put the oxygen mask on yourself first.
    Stay perky
    Ruth

  14. Excellent blog again. I recommend you read a book called “Scarcity: the true cost of not having enough” by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, if you haven’t already read it. Very very interesting on the true costs of being poor. I experienced something like you when my barrister husband got lung cancer.

  15. I echo the supportive messages above.
    One very positive outcome to my reading your post this morning – I shop with a shopping list app. so that I hopefully buy just what I need. Tesco has a food bank bin – I always forget till I come face to face with it after I’ve paid. You reminded me today (shopping day) and I added to my app FOOD BANK. I made it a permanent fixture so I always remember. So simple.

  16. Hi Jack. I remember not knowing where my next meal or rent was coming from and some privileged people just dont get it. I am currently struggling to find work with a disability and my husband is doing his best on his p/t wages since my JSA was stopped. I draw inspiration from the book A Girl Called Jack that things can get bettet and it has fed us on a budget many times. Keep going and ignore the haters x

  17. Keep going Jack, regardless of circumstance, and regardless of ‘trolls’, you care enough, and that is what matters in this world, people that care will always make a difference x

  18. Don’t you bloody dare feel anything but proud of your success, missus. And echoing the above, do take some time out to enjoy it – you’ve worked hard enough for it, you deserve it! As for being too rich to speak for the poor – well, goddamn, if successful people don’t speak for the poor, who can? Nobody listens to poor people.

    Above all though, much as I admire your dedication and drive, *please* do be sure to put your own health and well being first – there’s a reason airline safety leaflets tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others with theirs 😉 The world’s not going to stop turning if you take time out and enjoy yourself for a while!

  19. Have donated, because I am able, but remember only too well that as a post war baby, my Mum lived and died on a ‘war footing’: you could ask if she had anything, from a piece of string to a tin of something and she would have it, bless her. It made me careful and now at 68 I am able to help my daughter & family, charity donations and still live with everything I need. My wants are even less….
    Please take some well meant & sincere advice- take some time out to have some ‘me’ time. This isn’t frivolous, it is essential, otherwise you are heading for ‘crash & burn’. Having been there, I can tell you it’s not a nice place and has resulted in lasting damage, do please accept this advice In the spirit in which it is offered.xXx

  20. Jack, as a 61 year old, try taking Irene’s advice. I enjoy your posts & I think you are very brave opening up like you do. Honestly, there will always be people who knock & criticize, so what? Just do what you believe in. Stop any self loathing love. You have got nothing to dislike about yourself have you? No-one has died. Nuff said.

  21. Like many here, Jack, I find myself concerned that you may be pushing yourself a bit too hard. Please look after yourself.
    And you are so sweet and caring and wonderful….those assholes who criticise you etc are just idiots. They do less than you about the troubles in the world and as is typical for such types are having a go at you. Their cynicism and all the other stuff is frankly b/s.
    It’s going to be hard but you are going to have to grow a thick skin….not easy!
    In some ways know that the more flak you get from certain types the more it demonstrates that in fact you are telling the truth…and please believe those of us who have gained some sense of you…who care about you and believe in you and know that you are telling the truth.
    You are a brave, courageous, committed and caring person. Never let any idiot make you think that you are not. Sending love. 🌼

  22. Jack. Please take time to love your self.Life has been hard on you. You deserve what you have. It was hard earned. Give yourself some “Me” time you need to rest and recover your strength.
    You are a hero. xxx

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