'What Edwina Currie and I said to each other in real life is unprintable, even for Mumsnet' - when Jack Monroe met MN
The young single mother lifted out of poverty and on to the front line of the national press by her own austerity cooking blog - if you know a little about Jack Monroe, this story may be familiar to you. Or you might have caught Jack locking horns with Edwina Currie on Channel 5's The Big Benefits Row back in February (more of that later).
Either way, a lot of ink has been spilled on the extraordinary story of the 25-year-old from Essex who has been in turn described as "an activist for our time", "a poverty poster-girl for Welfare Britain" and, in her own words, "a lefty, liberal, lezzer cook".
This month Jack releases her first cookbook, named after her blog A Girl Called Jack, and containing "100 budget-busting delicious recipes" - and who better to quiz her about recipes, politics, life and - erm - her favourite Star Wars characters than our very own Mumsnetters. Here's a run-down of what happened when they met Ms Monroe (via webchat) earlier this month...
"I have two small fussy girls so I do struggle a bit to get them to eat kidney beans etc, even though they see me eat all sorts. Any tips on converting kids?"
I try to involve my son in the kitchen as much as possible, from parking him in the corner at a young age and chattering away to him about what I'm doing. Now he's three, I can sit him on the kitchen table and give him a whisk or a wooden spoon, he can add a pinch of salt or some herbs...
Even the fussiest kids are likely to eat something that they feel involved in, or a sense of ownership over. You know those sticky cookies they bring back from nursery, or misshapen cakes they proudly proffer? If they'll eat that they'll eat anything - because they made it, so give it a go.
"How do you take the costs of fuel into account in the costing of your recipes?"
I just try to use my head and a bit of common sense: chickpeas seem to take an absolute age to cook, up to two hours, so I use them canned. Partly for fuel costs - nobody likes that big bill at the end of the quarter - and partly because I don't often have a spare two hours in my day to babysit a pot of chickpeas. I can't work out everyone's fuel costs, because we all have different suppliers and tarriffs, but I generally try to keep my recipes quick and simple to keep costs down.
"What are your favourite herbs, and where do you get them?"
Sainsbury's Basics mixed dried herbs are a godsend at just 30p. For fresh herbs, I use mint liberally, and it's easy to grow - buy a little plant from a garden centre or supermarket - if they can survive with little water under flourescent lighting then they'll live forever at home.
"My family enjoyed your 'bolognon' so much that we've bought the book and I'm trying to decide where to start. What's your favourite recipe out of the ones in the book, and how did you decide which ones to include?"
Soda bread because it's simple, and bread is one of those artisan wanky things that David Cameron makes. And I'm all - 'yeah, I see your £139 bread maker and I raise you my HANDS. Take THAT.'
"How did you learn to cook? Are you self-taught, or did someone teach you?"
Pretty much self-taught - I left home a good few years ago now and experimented with recipes on the BBC good food website and recipe books from charity shops; read the backs of jars and ready meals to see what stuff was made of.
"What is your absolute favourite go-to-when-you-have-just-had-the-day-from-hell comfort food?"
Sweet potato mash with chilli and cheese. I called it 'tragedy mash' in my book.
"Who is your inspiration?"
Food inspirations are Nigel Slater, Allegra McEvedy, Abel and Cole, Denis Cotter and Sarah Raven. Political inspirations are Billy Bragg and Hetty Bower. Go forth and Google, because if I start on reasons why, I will be here all day!
"I quite like the idea of being a sexy, heroic devil incarnate"
"As someone who became famous almost by accident, is all this attention (and dissection) something you would have chosen if it was up to you?"
Absolutely bloomin’ not! I wouldn't wish this level of scrutiny on anyone - I didn't 'choose' fame, or whatever this is, and I've found it extremely difficult to deal with at times. However, I have a great network of supporters and readers who keep my chin up amid all of the death and rape threats and other general bullshit, and I draw my strength from them.
"Do you feel you need to protect your son from all the media attention you get, or are you and his dad fairly laid-back about it?"
I try to protect all of my family as much as possible - but especially my son. He starts school in September so I have put my foot down with the media about taking new photos of him - I want him to be a normal kid at a normal school. I was quite naive in the early days, and of course SB [Small Boy] was very much a part of the story, but I don't think we need to see his sweet face accompanying every newspaper article about me!
"How do you cope with being seen and portrayed so differently by different parts of society and the press? It seems that you're either a hero, a saviour, a sex symbol or the devil incarnate?"
I quite like the idea of being a sexy, heroic, devil incarnate. Phwoarrrrrr. But all things in context, I know that people with different political allegiances or views will like or hate me - and you have to figure out what someone's agenda is before you figure out how seriously to take their comments. The rape threats and abuse tend to come from people whose Twitter bios say 'conservative' or 'Thatcherite'...
"How do you get past twatty comments? Do you constantly have the rage?"
Oh no, life is too short to let pedants and arseholes make you cross. The government makes me cross. Being asked where a 2p stock cube comes from makes me roll my eyes (20p for 10, Sainsbury's Basics).
"Hi Jack, I wanted to thank you for articulating so eloquently the issues that can lead to anyone falling into poverty. I've struggled to explain why benefit bashing is wrong to friends, to family, who all seem convinced that it must be the fault of the person on benefits that they're in that situation - how do you change attitudes when the media seems hell-bent on portraying the feckless poor stereotype?"
Just keep challenging the rhetoric and stereotypes with the truth and facts. An Ipsos Mori poll recently showed that the public thought 23% of benefits were claimed fraudulently. The actual figure is 0.7%. You need to find the facts and shout them as loudly and as often as you can - with social media and blogs and the internet now, we all have an equal platform to inspire change - don't let certain newspapers or politicians tell you what to think!
"I'd like to ask if you got the chance to speak to Ms Currie off air? Or any of the other participants in The Big Benefits Row?"
Yes, and what Ms Currie and I said to each other is unprintable, even for Mumsnet.
"I was horrified at the rudeness of Edwina Currie towards you on The Big Benefits Row. Just how hard would you like to slap that woman?!"
I don't believe slapping is the answer. I think she needs a cuddle. A biiiiiig cuddle. There, there...shhhh....
"No regrets. I'm proud of who I am!"
"Thanks for being out, it makes a difference."
Yeah it took a while, but I got to a point where everyone seemed to know everything else about me apart from one of the most important things - I love women (one, specifically...). I started writing that post about gay pride and it was only before I hit publish that I realised it would be my coming out post. No regrets. I'm proud of who I am!
I think it's important that people should be allowed to be exactly who they are in the public eye. I'm no less myself just because people are watching. Loud and proud lady lover, mmhmm.
"TV execs are too interested in poverty porn - I just want to cook on telly"
"Have you been offered your own Bake Off/Masterchef/The Taste type TV show yet?
Is it something you'd be interested in?"
Yes, several, and no, not yet.
"Where do you see your career going? Given that part of what you do is about cooking and part is about the politics and budgeting etc, could you see yourself doing a TV show where you show people how to cook good value dishes step by step? Like Jamie - but actually good value and not just pretending to be?! I'd watch!"
'AAARGGGHHH TELLLYYY!!!' tends to be my response, but I'm warming to the idea. I'm okay to roll onto a news sofa and rant and rage about politics, but the idea of a TV series makes me want to weep. You know that 40-second Sainsbury's ad was about 12 hours filming to make? If the right thing comes along, and I can throw my heart and soul into it - like a good basic budget cooking programme - then I'd do it - but TV execs are too interested in poverty porn and multi-layering and they don't really seem to fit with my principles and values. I just want to cook on telly. When they'll let me do that, I'm in.
"What's your favourite biscuit?"
I have five in front of me at the moment and it's impossible to choose! Errr viennese whirl? They're yummy.
"I know you post on Mumsnet from time to time as I've seen you pop up on a thread about you to defend yourself. What was your favourite Mumsnet thread?"
The one about the bedside cup...!
"Feel free to ignore this question but you said in your blog that the bolognon was created for Someone Very Special. Did she enjoy it?"
Yes, she did, and I don't know if it was the bolognon or not but we are Extremely Happy.
"What sorts of thongs do you and your son do for cheap entertainment?"
Thongs?! THONGS?!?! Gosh. I'm not really that sort of girl.
But we tend to lounge about in front of our massive fucking telly with our cheesy chips in styrofoam containers, naturally...or go to the park, read, paint, draw, bake, make a general mess in the kitchen....
"Love your blog and recipes, now for the serious question...who is your favourite, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia?"
Princess Leia, natch. Coz she's a hottie.
"Congratulations on your fab book. What are your hopes for your son and yourself for the future?"
To be safe and secure, emotionally and financially. Which we are, just, now, so huzzah.