Thrift is a choice for those who can afford it

to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting

Oscar Wilde. The Soul of Man Under Socialism 1891

He goes on to say :

It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.

 

Yet isn’t that exactly what this government is telling us? To tighten our belts.

Food writers, TV chefs, glossy magazines, supermarket adverts are bombarding us with family meals on a budget, use cheap cuts of meat, grow your own veg, Save with Jamie and or Cheap and Cheerful recipes from James Martin.

The minimum wage for someone over 25 is £6.31 per hour.If you work a 40 hour week that is just over £252 a week, or £13124 a year, £1093 a month, before tax and other deductions. If you live in a council flat almost a quarter of your income will go on rent. I have checked a local authority for properties to let, and for a one bedroom flat the rent is between £75 and £83 in West Bromwich, Sandwell. If you rent from a private landlord the rent would be an average of £99. And on top of that there are utility bills and Council Tax to pay, about £30 per week depending where you live and time of year. Add to that travelling to work by bus, that is another £12 a week if you have a bus pass or £4 a day if you don’t. Numbeo have a cost of living indicator here on which I have based these figures.

After deducting these from your £252 pay packet you would be left with £135 for everything else. Food, clothes, prescriptions, entertainment, and saving for the spectacles you need, the boiler repair and the phone bill. I haven’t even added in the cost of a TV licence or internet connection or cable.

And then you become ill. Too ill to work. Or you get laid off. And then you have to rely on benefits. From the date of making a claim for Job Seekers Allowance and other benefits, to receiving payment, could take up to three weeks. Sometimes more if you have to be assessed for your fitness to work.

The gas bill is due and you cannot pay it. You cooker stops working and you cannot afford to replace it. To help you ‘budget’ your utility company installs a pre payment meter, which is the most expensive way to pay for gas and electric. Yet it stops you getting into debt by having bills you can’t pay. And then it snows, the temperature plummets and you have £5 to last the next three days.

What would you spend that £5 on?

And this is a scenario for a single person with no dependents. What if there were young children in the family?

Would you tell the young man working in a bar, on a minimum wage to be more thrifty?Could you tell a mom who buys food for her child and lives on tea with sugar to keep her energy levels to eat less?

To work harder?

The Living Wage Foundation work with employers to encourage them to pay a living, not minimum wage. The Joseph Rowntree Association have set a Minimum Income Standard based on what members of the public think is enough money to live on, to maintain a socially-acceptable quality of life. Both organisations agree that the minimum wage is too low.

I heard of a family that only had one lightbulb. Only light the room you are in. They were not practicing thrift, it wasn’t a choice to have one light bulb. They really could not to afford to put money in the meter to pay for the electricity.

And those of us who earn much more than the minimum wage, can make a choice to be thrifty. We can decide to save for a holiday abroad, a new kitchen, a rainy day we hope will never happen. How many of us have made a choice to not eat out or have takeaways for a few months to save for something special? Have you chosen to shop at Aldi instead of Asda?  Did you chose to shop at charity shops and feel triumphant when you got a designer dress for a fiver?

Some of us can afford to be thrifty. Others don’t have that choice, it is thrust upon them. They have already cut back and the cupboard is bare. They hang around supermarkets for when items are reduced and charity shops are not an opportunity to bag a bargain but are the only clothes they can afford. If the boiler breaks they hope the landlord will fix it. In the meantime you have cold washes not showers.

This is a reality for so many people in the UK today. If they are lucky they may get a a job that pays more, that gets them off benefits. If they are not they may get a referral to a foodbank from the Citizens Advice Bureau or Local Authority.

These are the figures from The Trussell Trust. Foodbank is not a lifestyle choice. Foodbank is a life line.

  • 913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2013-14 compared to346,992 in 2012-13

Of course it will never happen to you. You have a good job, a house with a mortgage, a company car and a Final Pension Scheme. Life is good. And you go to Florida on a holiday of a lifetime. On the first day back at work you get a redundancy notice.

Six months later you are still unemployed. You savings have all gone.

Your children get Free School Dinners. A grant for a free school uniform.

Twelve months later you have to attend mandatory job club, with half a dozen other middle managers and directors who, like you, thought it would never happen to them.

Eighteen months later you get a job, on half the salary you were earning before. The bills are the same, the mortgage is in arrears, and so you spend the next one, two, three, ten years paying of the debt you accumulated when unemployed.

No, this could never happen to you.

But if you really want to know how it feels to be hungry, to have a child who was hungry, then read Hunger Hurts by Jack Monroe.

And then make a donation to your local foodbank.

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Live Below the Line – Day 4

Yet again, A Girl Called Jack comes to the rescue for ideas for dinner tonight. Chickpea and Peach Curry.

A Girl Called Jack

I have made this before and that time I changed it slightly as I only had tinned mangoes in the cupboard. This time I used peaches, but yet again I tweaked it. We are away for a long weekend and I had a banana and some tomatoes that really needed using up. So I threw those in plus the scraping from a jar of chutney. I used one mug of long grain rice, which gave me four ample portions. As a guess, as the tins of peaches, chickpeas and tomatoes are all under 35p each at Aldi, with rice, this cost just over £1 to make. It provided a large supper tonight and a light lunch tomorrow for two adults. That is 25p per portion.

My version

For the rest of my meals today I had porridge with milk, home made soup and two teaswithout milk.

I have not been hungry at all and I came in well below the £1 today.

What is more this is seriously going to change my attitude toward eating more meat free meals.

Cooking with a Girl Called Jack – Soda Bread

This is my first attempt at Soda Bread.Image

 

Looking Good. Thank you Jack.

Cooking with Jack – Sausage and Lentil One Pot Dinner

I often make a sausage casserole loosely based on a recipe from this book.The Student Cookbook

I used to use fresh carrots and potatoes, turning my nose up at tinned veg, until I started to read A Girl Called Jack.

I wanted to make Jack’s recipe as I have a cupboard full of lentils that need to be used. I wasn’t sure that The Gamer would take to lentils so I made both versions. All left overs are used for lunches so, don’t worry, there was no waste.

All my ingredients are from Aldi although I get most of my fresh and dried herbs from a local grower, Urban Herbs. Ingredients gathered

The sausages I used are from the Aldi Specially Selected range and are high in pork content. I will not compromise and buy nasty cheap value range sausages. You may as well just mush up some bread, lard and salt. If I cannot afford good meat I would rather not eat meat.

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I am experimenting with a lot of recipes and noting prices of everything as I am planning for my week of living on a £1 a day for the Live Below the Line Challenge. It was while looking at the recipes suggested by the organisers that I started to write more about food. I was shocked to see how unhealthy some of them were (think of value white bread and sausages) so set out to come up with a healthier way to eat and drink on a pound a day. I wish Jack Monroe had been blogging then!

One of my very early posts was written for Blog Action Day 2011. Written at Heathrow Airport waiting to fly to San Francisco, those taking part had been given a theme to write about, in 2011 we were asked to focus on the many issues related to food, such as health, hunger, quality, culture, farming, access and waste to coincide with World Food Day.

So back to the sausages.

Sausages with baked beans

Student sausages with baked beans

My version uses baked beans instead of lentils and tinned tomatoes with a bit of mustard, tomatoes puree and Worcester Sauce to give it a bit of kick. A bit of flour was added to the sausages and onions before adding the other ingredients to thicken it up.

Sausage and Lentil One Pot Meal

Sausages with Lentils

The lentils in Jack’s recipe absorb the liquid from the stock, which as well as thickening the casserole, give it its texture.

As ever, I decided to tweak the recipe, and added some curry powder to the one with lentils, as I thought it would work. It did. I am sure Jack won’t mind.

The verdict, The Gamer still prefers the original as it is sweeter (that will be the baked beans) but he didn’t hate the lentil version. Vinyl Man loved the lentil version as did I. 2-1 to Jack. And I am at last using those lentils.

Night off tomorrow as The Gamer is cooking.

Cooking with A Girl Called Jack – Pork Kokkinsito

After last nights success with the Mango and Chickpea curry from this book,

A Girl Called Jack

A Girl Called Jack

I asked The Gamer to choose a meal tonight as curry and chickpeas are not his thing.

He chose this. DSCN0754

The only shopping I had to do was to pop to Aldi and choose the pork. I had the option of belly or loin. The cookery snob in me wanted the loin, yet at £5 something for 400g (I think) that seemed a tad expensive, so pork belly it was at £1.99 for 500g. Everything else, bar the wine, I had in the house. I have rosemary growing in the garden.  I don’t need an excuse to buy wine.

This is a doddle to cook, all in one pan, browned off the pork, added the onions to sweat and then chuck everything else in. I did add a bit of flour in to absorb the fat and to thicken the sauce, before adding the wine and tomatoes, but I always tweak recipes. That is what I do, control freak that I am. DSCN0755

It says it serves four, but with a generous portion of mashed potatoes it served three adults tonight and there is enough for two lunches tomorrow.  DSCN0756

Not only delicious, jolly good value too.

Thanks, Jack.

Cooking with Jack – Peach and Chickpea Curry

I finally managed to get my hands on this book!

A Girl Called Jack

A Girl Called Jack

As I am not buying books as part of my year of Not Buying It, I borrowed it from Sandwell Libraries. I checked today and I have 22 books on loan. Imagine how much I have saved already by not buying books. Many of them are cook books!

So back to my attempt to recreate this.

Peach and Chickpea Curry

Peach and Chickpea Curry

The good news was that I didn’t have to go shopping to make this. I had all the ingredients in already. Almost. I didn’t have peaches but I did have a tin of mangoes. I didn’t have a chilli either. So I used sweet chilli sauce instead. See where I am going? Substitute and tweak the recipe to make it my own. Based on what is in the cupboard.

I also added in the chickpeas before the simmering stage as I have a bit of an aversion to chickpeas. I know, bear with me here. You see I had made the Chickpea and Chorizo Burgers,

Chickpea and Chorizo Burger

Chickpea and Chorizo Burger

not in this book but the recipe is on her blog, A Girl Called Jack and loved it as the chickpeas had been mashed up. So I reckoned that they may be a bit more mushy if I cooked them for longer. Yup ignoring the recipe again.

A simmering curry

A simmering curry

Then I forgot to add the coriander so sprinkled it on at the end.

Mango and Chickpea Curry

Mango and Chickpea Curry

And I used one of the retro Tupperware rice cookers I inherited from my lovely mom Retro Joy. I have three of them.

Retro Tupperware

Retro Tupperware

Mom was a bit of a hoarder. I am really rubbish at cooking rice in a saucepan, using one of these I get lovely rice.

The recipe says it served 2 with enough for a lunch of left overs the next day. Two hungry adults delved in, and yes there is loads left for lunch tomorrow! This sort of food is not only incredibly cheap but very filling. And very very delicious.

Cooking with A Girl Called Jack – Chickpea and Chorizo Burgers

Continuing to try out some more of the recipes from one of my food heroes, A Girl Called Jack. Today these burgers worried me as I am not a big fan of chickpeas.

The haul from Aldi

I tweaked the recipe and whizzed the chickpeas, breadcrumbs, egg and the sliced spicy meats I had in a food processor, and added them to the onion, garlic and carrot I had fried in a pan. I managed to make 8  burgers, the current lodger, The Tax Man, came in and remarked how good they looked, so let him have one.

Chickpea and Chorizo Burgers cooking nicely

My shopping bill today, Chick peas, 39p from Aldi,  as I had all of the other ingredients in. I did buy some chorizo but then discovered we had so left over spicy sliced meat from when we made pizza on Saturday, I had some breadcrumbs in the freezer I had made from the last bits of bread that was a bit stale, and already had eggs and vegetable and the spices I needed.

Verdict?

Another A Girl Called Jack recipe success

Absolutely nom.

I will make a veggie version for my daughter and pop them in the freezer.

And my chickpea aversion? Mushed up they are lovely. I wonder if this could solve my hatred of red kidney beans? Mmmm.

You can find the recipe here.

Cooking with A Girl Called Jack – Spinach and lentil daal

My son The Gamer is a ‘super taster’ which makes meal planning difficult. I am not complaining as he prefers my homemade lasagna to a more expensive one in Carluccio’s.

As I cook for The Gamer, the Mobile Library Man as well as for myself most nights, meals are based around pasta, tinned tomatoes and peppers. This week though, The Gamer is away climbing mountains and paddling canoes and generally getting cold and wet in The Countryside. He has to cook for the group on one night and not surprisingly has copied his favourite recipe for a spaghetti sauce (from this book)Favourite spag bol recipe comes from this book

into an app on his iPod. At least he can cook. He also washes his own clothes and knows how to use a vacuum cleaner. I have trained him well.

The upside of him being away is that I can cook new and different things.  Free from the shackles of pasta, pasta or pasta for four nights I want to eat what I like.

And I am going to cook only recipes from the A Girl Called Jack blog. I have shared her tweets and blogs for ages, shouted at the telly when Eggwina Currie was vile to her yet have only ever cooked one of her recipes, the Creamy Salmon Pasta. There it is, pasta again.

I have had lentils lurking in the store cupboard for far to long, spinach that needed using up and plenty of spices etc in my collection so all I had to buy today was some yoghurt at 45p and pita at 49p for dinner tonight. Both from Aldi (no surprise there).

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I forgot to rinse the lentils, and I bought low fat yoghurt which I won’t do again and added a little bit more water, and used sweet chilli sauce n place of fresh chillies as I like spicy but not hot food. And it was nom. The Mobile Library Man had seconds, and saved some for his lunch tomorrow. Jack says this serves two. So for two read four. And we like our food in this house.

Now what shall I cook tomorrow?

Suggestions please.

Jamie and Jack

Aside

As Jack gets flak for having a job and still writing about food poverty….

travellingcoral

So today, everybody is talking about Jamie Oliver and his rant about poor people (did he really say that?) who choose big tellies and chips over mange tout from the market.

I hope his mom has phoned him and given him a proper telling off. He flunked school and if it wasn’t for the fact that he had parents owned a pub and gave him the opportunity and encouragement to follow a food career, he too could be one of those poor people living on a diet of Kyle instead of Kale.

I like Jamie, I really do, he put his head over the parapet and criticised school dinners, got the government to increase the spend on school meals. Turkey Twizzlers were revealed to be made of pink slime and his books improved my husbands cooking.

He is a bit gobby, he gets angry when children are passed burgers…

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Jamie and Jack

Aside

So today, everybody is talking about Jamie Oliver and his rant about poor people (did he really say that?) who choose big tellies and chips over mange tout from the market.

I hope his mom has phoned him and given him a proper telling off. He flunked school and if it wasn’t for the fact that he had parents owned a pub and gave him the opportunity and encouragement to follow a food career, he too could be one of those poor people living on a diet of Kyle instead of Kale.

I like Jamie, I really do, he put his head over the parapet and criticised school dinners, got the government to increase the spend on school meals. Turkey Twizzlers were revealed to be made of pink slime and his books improved my husbands cooking.

He is a bit gobby, he gets angry when children are passed burgers through school gates and I genuinely think he cares about the health and diet of young people. Fifteen gives young people employment training. What is not to like about Jamie?

It seems he has some right wing views about poor people that have upset a lot of us, poor or otherwise. Here’s the thing Jamie, not all ‘poor’ people have big tellies and eat chips. Some rich people do. People may be poor because they have a disability and can’t work. People may struggle because their partner died. Some are poor because they got into debt and got ripped off by loan sharks. What is shocking is that many of these loan sharks companies are legal, advertise on the big telly conveying the message is that Wonga will solve all their problems and Brighthouse has everything you need to have a lovely home. All at two zillion percent interest.

What I am certain of is that no one chooses to be poor. People with good jobs can lose their homes if they are made redundant. Three months away from homelessness. I have been there, have lain awake at night and wondered how I can keep my house, buy shoes for the children and have enough money for the prepayment electric meter. I was lucky as parents stepped in and helped us out financially. Not everyone has parents that can or will.

I am also lucky because I can cook. My grandmother had to feed an extended family on a very small budget and I guess by watching her I learned basic techniques. By the time we had cookery lessons at school, I was capable of making beans on toast, (a recent survey claimed that 1 in 10 are not) and I went to uni with a pressure cooker, a Kenwood Mixer and a recipe book. I ate well on a limited student budget and created Beef Daube in bedsit kitchens. I owe that to my mom, her complete inability to cook made learning to cook a matter of survival or else eat soggy cabbage the rest of my life.

I am lucky that I have travelled. It was travelling that changed my cooking. I wrote a post You Never forget your first Moussaka a while ago, as it was my first trip to Greece that really inspired me to experiment more with food. Since travelling in SE Asia I have cooked more with thai basil and lemongrass. I am lucky that I have a local grower that supplies me with these plants so I don’t have to pay silly Waitrose prices for them.

Jamie thinks we all need to go to our local market and buy fresh cheap ingredients. I don’t have a local market. It would cost me £4 in bus fare to go to the market in Birmingham. If I was living on a minimum wage I could not afford to do that. That is equivalent of buying a veg bag from Salop Drive Community Garden. A valuable community resource which  the council may pull funding on, a resource that not only gives people on limited incomes access to affordable healthy food, but also provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to learn gardening skills. A resource that is under threat due to budget cuts.

I can also buy from The Bearwood Pantry a food co op who buy direct from a farmer. Watch this short film to find out more about what they do. Then there is a couple of enterprising butchers who have recently started to sell loose vegetables since the fruit and veg shop shut down (yet punters still complain it is more expensive than Iceland) which I mentioned in The Tesco Footprint post.

Jamie really has no idea what it is like to struggle to bring up a family on a minimum wage, to not have access to a wide range of affordable ingredients and not have the skills to make a pasta sauce without opening a jar. I have ranted before about the Live Below the Line recipes and I would rather not eat a sausage at all than eat one from a value range, as they suggest, basing their meals around frozen veg, plastic bread and cheap sausages.

And yet, his accusing poor people of eating chips and cheese maybe career suicide combined with his affiliation with The Sun. The ad on my big telly promoting his budget cookery was patronising. With his flash diamante shoes and his cheeky chappy manner screaming ‘I am rich and I can show you benefit plebs how to cook with mange tout from your local markets’ made me want to chuck all his cookbooks in the bin. And The Sun, Jamie. Will you let your daughters flick through the pages to find your recipes? How will you explain Page Three to them? I would have admired you so much more if you had told them that you would not work with them while they still have Page Three. You cannot be motivated by the money, surely? You care about family values yet will encourage people to buy this publication for your recipes? Bring a paper into the home which objectifies women. How do you look your wife, your mom and your children in their eyes when they open The Sun and see tits?

Jamie is a millionaire, from a privileged background. He may have struggled at school and he has worked hard, but he doesn’t have a clue about what is like to manage on a limited budget, he doesn not know what it is like to be really hungry.

But Jack does.  A Girl Called Jack really knows what it is like to be broke and cold and hungry and is angry at how the smug rich think all ‘poor’ people choose a telly over mange tout. She uses easily available, cheap ingredients and transforms them into interesting affordable and nutritious meals. She got flak for using tinned potatoes (they are cheaper than fresh) and has accused of being a foodie snob for using chick peas. And, OMG, she used fish paste in a pasta dish. You would have thought the sky had fallen in. Yet she is adapting recipes from Nigel and Nigella and making them simple and affordable. She didn’t feed her son crisps and watch her big telly eating chips when she was unemployed and had less than £6 to feed herself and her child for a week and she doesn’t now she has got a job and a book deal. Because she knows that hunger hurts and her recipes and her campaigning is telling it like it really is.

Expect to see more ‘poor’ people in the country, Jamie, as the bedroom tax hits, as more jobs go in the public sector, as companies out source employee services to Romania. People get made redundant, clever, talented people are losing their jobs. They apply for 10 plus jobs a week get interviews weekly, and rejection letters daily.

We do not need Wonga, we need financial education in schools and more credit unions. A number of library services have blocked access to applying for loans on line and are providing information about managing money and information about credit unions. I just hope that these resources don’t close too.

We shouldn’t need food banks. We need access to affordable food, decent wages and people like Jack.