Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Life below the breadline

Jack Monroe
Kenton Theatre

MY teenage daughter and I have a little tradition of going to talks by cookery book writers at the Henley Literary Festival, which is why we booked tickets for Jack Monroe.

I knew the sketchiest outline of her past — that she had faced some hardship and therefore wrote about eating on a very tight budget — but I was totally unaware of quite how severe that hardship had been.

In conversation with the warm and lovely Emma Freud (mum of Scarlett Curtis, wife of Richard Curtis), Jack articulately told a haunting story of life below the breadline.

Pregnant at 22, she left her well-paid job due to childcare issues and thought it would be reasonably straightforward to find another. But some 300 interviews later, she found herself with no job, no self-confidence, in debt, bailiffs at the door, suicidal and with £6.20 a week to feed herself and her son.

Even typing that figure makes me shudder. How can two people survive on such a paltry amount? But as Jack pointed out, 4.2 million people are currently living below the poverty line and a third of them are children.

The rest of Jack’s story — from her first article in a paper about cheap but nutritious recipes, to book deals, court cases and appearing on Question Time with vomit in her hair — was equally gripping. This is a person who really lives her values.

For example, when filming an advert for Sainsbury’s, she was so incensed that they would waste 42 partly-cooked chickens that she insisted they were cooked all the way through and then donated them to a local homeless charity. She also donated a huge part of her fee to a food bank.

Emma brought up the fact that Jack, despite her claims that she is not confrontational, has managed to court a lot of controversy in her 30 years. From the Katie Hopkins court case to losing a £30,000 book deal two weeks before Christmas when she came out as transgender, to being trolled online with death threats and having to buy a stab vest, few things about Jack’s life have been stress-free and straightforward.

She’s clearly not someone who is driven by a desire for an easy life, and that’s very admirable. Both my daughter and I were left impressed with how hard she strives to be true to herself no matter what. And I’ll be upping my weekly donations to the food bank too.

Adele Hawkes

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