Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Girl Called Jack

Thanks to Josh Spero for highlighting the Guardian piece, "Jack Monroe: the face of modern poverty," covering the food blog A Girl Called Jack. 

Jack Monroe is an unemployed, 24-year old, single mother in Southend who has drawn national attention in the UK for her blog. Why? Because not only is it a biting, realistic account of modern poverty, but because of the clear, vividly photographed, detailed and precisely budgeted recipes she has included.

From The Guardian article:
"Filled with humour and almost real-time practical advice about the weekly price movements of supermarket food, it is a plain-speaking, practical austerity cookery guide – quite literally how to feed yourself and your toddler on £10 a week, in ways that are healthy, tasty and, importantly (to relieve the tedium of baked beans), varied."

After the events of 2010, I was very lucky. I sold most of my belongings, bought a plane ticket before I could be deported by my (soon to be ex-) husband, and then spent every drop of my savings paying lawyers. I slept on my dad's couch for a year, and was very grateful to have had a couch to sleep on (and his free booze to drink).

The next Fall, I moved out of my Dad's and found myself in a place I hadn't seen in twenty years. Abject poverty. My friends told me no-one could survive on $20 every two weeks for groceries, but I knew they were wrong. And I knew it because I'd started reading cookbooks back-to-front when I was nine. I had refused to sell off even one of the 147 books in my cookery collection. And I had brought over the entirety of my robust spice cabinet (dried Amarillo chiles anyone?) from overseas.

In addition to my self-taught food education and gleanings from Julia Child, the Frugal Gourmet, Yan Can Cook and the Cajun Chef (which all came on PBS directly after Mr. Roger's in the '80s), I also know that the butchers in DC's Eastern Market is less expensive than the grocery store if you know how to identify cheaper cuts and off-cuts, although these can be more complicated to prepare. I also knew that a bag of salad vegetables from a Latin American abuela on a street corner or from a tiny local 'farmers street market' only open on saturday or sunday can be one-fourth the price of the same veg in the supermarket. 

"Cooking can be done cheaply," Monroe says in the Guardian article, but she acknowledges that the problem is more complicated. Monroe had been passionate about cooking ever since a food technology course at school and therefore had the skills and confidence to experiment with her own dishes.

However, food waste and food ignorance is a problem not confined to the poor. I've seen appalling food waste and lack of education among every economic stratification. Mushroom stems, carrot tops, parsley stalks, citrus and onion skins and stale bread have never been destined for the rubbish bin in my home, not only when every scrap saved meant I'd eat better tomorrow, but also because those scraps meant chicken stock, jellied terrines and panzella (a delicious Italian bread salad).

PS I'm copying this post over to YankeeBooze, a food blog I'm having a lovely time experimenting with. Thanks to M for the name.

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