(PREVIEW) A Girl Called Jack – Jack Monroe (Writer, Cook, Activist)

28 Feb
Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

Here at YYZ, we celebrate food and indulgences in life. We are admittedly privileged in our experiences. Without sounding trite, not everyone gets to run around the city noshing at the most fabulous restaurants or cook with organic produce. Some people can’t even afford to stock their fridges. In Ontario, 375,000 people use their local food banks.

I’ve been reading a lot about Jack Monroe lately in the UK papers. She’s a writer/ blogger, mother, activist for Oxfam and poverty, and a cook. Jack isn’t the newest celebrity chef. She was featured in a Sainsbury ad recently (a UK supermarket) for their budget range and she donated her fee to Oxfam. Her work is much more relatable and important.

Her writing and cooking were borne out of necessity. She was unemployed and found herself using local social services like benefits and the food bank. Already ashamed of her situation, she felt doubly crushed by how the current Tory government and Daily Mail-type media vilified those (in her case single moms) who found themselves needing state assistance. She attended local council meetings and started writing a blog (“A Girl Called Jack“). Her post, “Hunger Hurts,” (July 2012) described clearly what it was like (struggle, humiliation, depression) to have to slowly sell off possessions to make rent or to go to bed hungry because there was only enough food for her son.

She started documenting her efforts to feed herself and her son on reduced benefits. How much money did she spend on food? £10 a week. Using current conversion rates, that’s $18.32 CAD a week! I just spent $17 on cocoa powder, 6 boxes of jello, 2 cartons of broth … How did she do it? Shopping from value ranges in supermarkets and making her own food rather than relying on frozen/ pre-made processed meals. Her message: delicious and nutritious food is absolutely necessary and can be achieved ON A BUDGET with creativity and planning. She became a phenomenon.

We’re looking forward to Jack’s book, available in Canada as an e-book, Feb 27th and in paperback April 1, 2014. Until then, Penguin UK has graciously allowed us to provide our readers with an excerpt. We thought these turkey meatballs sounded delish!

A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe (Penguin UK, 2014)

At first glance, the book has great potential: great photos accompanying each recipe, a clear list of ingredients and directions, not too much text, and a tip on how to serve leftovers!

Jack Monroe’s concept is great. It reminds me of how women and families ate on rations during wartime in the early twentieth century. It’s also striking to me how dire the situation is for those who need benefits in Britain. Really, £10 a week?! 

Her experiences with food also sheds light on two issues with which Canadians and North Americans can relate. First, obesity rates are sky rocketing in this country and much of it is linked to poverty. It’s cheaper and less time consuming to feed a family on fast food than to cook a meal. But, Jack (and to a certain extent, Jamie Oliver has done this too with his specials on school dinners) shows us that we need a change in mentality to correct this type of thinking. It’s cheaper and healthier to make your own food. There’s also the matter of being a conscientious consumer. This isn’t about a fancy all-organic diet, which as we know can be expensive. When HoM and I cook, we eat seasonally and, as much as we can, from local food producers.

I’m not saying we get poverty like that experienced by Jack Monroe. We’re lucky in Canada that the recession didn’t hit us too hard. BUT, I think she brings a much needed reality check to our habits in eating/ consuming.

Thanks to Katya Shipster from Penguin UK for the excerpt from Jack Monroe’s book.


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