Off the Shelf review: From grating Spam to stockpiling for Brexit in candid Jack Monroe talk
“I don’t write cookbooks”, said Jack Monroe in her talk to Sheffield’s Off the Shelf literary festival last night.“I write manuals for people in difficult situations.”
Tin Can Cook – the book Jack was in Sheffield to speak about – is certainly that, a collection of 75 recipes from store cupboard ingredients that could be a real lifeline.
Writer and campaigner Jack joked of how she wanted to do for tinned food what Kerry Katona had done for frozen food in an engaging talk that was at times, hilarious, at others emotional and always eye-opening.
“It’s really weird in this country that we view cans as something for emergencies”, she said.
“In Italy and France there are whole aisles of tinned fish that costs a day’s wages.”
But the evening covered so much more than the book.
From the varieties of flavoured Spam in Korea, and grating the stuff for recipes, the embarrassing story behind a tinned peaches recipe, to the number of tins she opened for the book (about 2,000) , the audience was captivated and never more so than by Jack’s personal story.
Her experience as a single mum struggling to survive on food bank donations shaped a blog that led to her change in career, from firefighter to journalist, then author and campaigner.
She appeared moved recalling those tough times and revealed how she now gets emails from people at 2am asking for help to feed their family.
“I do try to help people”, she said.
“I’m only here because people helped me.”
BBC Radio Sheffield presenter Paulette Edwards expertly led the discussion, throwing in games where Jack had to come up with meals from random ingredients and see if she had eaten some of the weirdest ingredients preserved in cans.
She also answered questions from Sheffield fans on everything from a racily named recipe to stockpiling for Brexit (her advice, get some tins in) as well as what to buy to donate to food banks.
“I always tell people to buy posh biscuits for food banks”, she said, recalling the time she received a packet of upmarket shortbread in her food parcel.
“It was a little reminder that I was a human being and I could have nice things.”
Off the Shelf continues until October 26.