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