I absolutely adore Jack Monroe. She’s one of my personal heroes, and her recipes have saved me a great deal of stress, time and money during a period of my life when all of those resources were severely taxed. Sometimes, though, even our heroes get it wrong – and I honestly think that her latest post is an example of just that. I’ve worried in the past – thankfully without actual evidence – that Jack is perhaps not entirely on the side of light when it comes to weight, fat and obesity, and was saddened when this post turned out to prove it.
“Don’t blame poverty for your child’s obesity”, she says, explaining that “your kids aren’t fat because you’re poor. I could make your kids thinner and you financially better off, but you have to be willing to make the effort to learn.”
First of all, of course, there’s barely any chance at all that she really could “make your kids thinner” – because nobody knows how to make a fat person thin. But we’ll gloss over that for now; it’s a bigger topic than such a brief comment really warrants. What’s really bothersome here is the ‘fat shaming’ – the quiet undertone of ‘being fat is a Terrible Bad Thing and you should be Ashamed Of Yourselves’ that this post is full of.
It’s all so simple – and maybe if, as a nation, we stopped buying the plastic boxes that you stab and put in the microwave, maybe if we made a commitment to feeding our children good, nutritious food instead of the inedible equivalent of factory floor sweepings, then maybe we wouldn’t have a nation of obese children.
Would that it were so simple, Jack. Sadly, there’s no way that it is – no way that it can be. And in precisely what way are we helping those ‘obese children’ (of whom I was one, incidentally – and a very severely bullied one at that) by sending them the message that they ought not to exist?
It’s not just fat people who Jack seems to think need to be shamed into repentance, either. There’s also the way that she doesn’t seem to understand how some of our society’s strictures affect the likelihood of her suggestions being carried out – many people have never been taught how to cook, for example, and it may not even have occurred to them that they could in all seriousness learn. Poverty is strongly associated with the kinds of physical and mental health problems that can make it nigh on impossible to spend time shopping for and cooking the kind of food Jack makes so well, but she doesn’t seem willing to accept that that might be the case. In London, pretty much everyone has a large supermarket within easy reach of their home – but in other parts of the country it might not be possible to get to one without paying for public transport or petrol. The icing on the cheap-yet-fattening cake is that those who are ‘cash poor’ are very likely to also be ‘time poor’ – meaning that after a long day of hard work for little pay they simply don’t have the energy to then cook a ‘proper’ meal.
I said at the start of this post that I absolutely adore Jack, and I do. I’ll be eating a modified version of her ridiculously delicious Best Ever Chilli for dinner later tonight (oh my god you guys it is SO GOOD) while watching a film on the £4.99-per-month Netflix subscription that I can only afford because of all the money that she’s saved me. I just wish I could shake this sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t approve of me, or my body, or the days when my brain, health and energy levels mean that ‘a full complement of cheap healthy meals’ turns into ‘three bags of crisps from the corner shop and half a tub of Tesco Value ice cream’.