Enough with lecturing the poor on food

An almost empty fridge

It’s very easy to be a food snob, even if unintentionally. This is especially true when it comes to what poor people eat. Every time there is a debate about supporting people on low incomes, there will always be someone who pipes up to explain how a family of six can be easily fed for £10 a week, someone will hail the virtues of eating porridge as if that’s a balanced diet, someone else will look at a supermarket website and cite the existence of a £3 roasting chicken as evidence that anyone could cook that bird and feed the household like Jesus with the loaves and fishes. And someone else will inevitably pipe up to ask why the poor don’t just grow their own fruit and vegetables, not thinking about the time, money and access to land this entails to be truly feasible.

Or the privileged armchair critics will decry people on low incomes for living on readymeals, frozen pizzas, bags of crisps, and cans of fizzy drink without a second thought as to why the single mother working two jobs might not have the time, energy or inclination to throw together a cordon bleu meal before she collapses into bed at the end of another identically tough day.

It is ignorant snobbery to look down on the meals of the poor and declare that you have the answer in a bag of no-name rolled oats.

Other factors people forget when they claim to have solved food poverty because they saw a bag of flaccid carrots on offer for 40p in a supermarket include: access to cooking facilities, gas and electricity. It could be that a negligent landlord hasn’t bothered to get a tired oven fixed, the gas or electricity has been cut off, there could be a less-than-ideal share house situation going on, or someone has been put in temporary accommodation with inadequate or absent cooking facilities. Temporary accommodation is the gossamer-thin safety net that often comes before homelessness.

For a reality check, you only need to check the advice from food banks about appropriate items to donate. There will always be room for foods that can be quickly cooked through the addition of boiling water, for example. Shelf-stable, longlife products are always welcome to help people without access to adequate refrigeration, for another sad example of a personal situation many of us have never had to contemplate.

I may be sitting here in my warm house, with a full belly, putting together a food website. But that doesn’t make me any better than someone who is not in a great place to be able to put together good meals from scratch.

When we started putting this website together, it was really important that we created recipes with ingredients that are not hard to come by, to include suggestions for alternative ingredients, and even to provide recipes where it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t have all the ingredients. I freely admit that some recipes here might be out of reach for some people. It is here that I take my hat off to the amazing Jack Monroe with her website, books and social media – her recipes are incredible, she has inspired countless people to cook (whether they’d cooked before or were convinced it was not a skill they possessed), she is a brilliant advocate for the people of Britain who have been forgotten about by successive governments.

If someone finds themselves on this website and they spot something they can make within their budget and, even better, it works out, I’ll be happy. And equally, I won’t begrudge them or judge them if they can’t be arsed and have a cup-a-soup instead.

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