When Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, a member of the House of Lords Refreshment Committee that spent £250,000 on champagne since David Cameron entered Number 10, said recently that the rise of hunger and food bank use in the UK was because “poor people don’t know how to cook”, there was understandable uproar, but she has since apologised, and some people think that should be an end to it.
But was her apology sincere?
“I made a mistake” she said. “Obviously I was stupidly speaking unscripted.
“What I meant was as a society we have lost our ability to cook, or that no longer seems to be handed down in the way that it was in previously in previous generations.
“Life is considerably cheaper if you are able to cook.”
Most of that was fine. As a society, we tend to rely more on pre-prepared food than earlier generations, but that is at least as true of well-off people as it is of those with very limited means.
In fact, it is people with plenty of money that are likeliest to eat, by choice, food prepared by others, whether they eat at restaurants or they employ a cook.
Poorer people have less choice, because they have less money, and the very poorest have the least choice. If they eat junk food, and don’t cook, it may well be that they can’t afford the gas or electricity. They might – just – manage to heat a ready meal, but not a meal from scratch. Some people haven’t even the money for that, and there are reports of foodbank recipients giving food back for that reason.
The part of the Baroness’s apology that was, for me, the most telling was the line “Obviously I was stupidly speaking unscripted.” Now that did look scripted, as if she’s been told off for letting the cat out of the bag! Disdain for the poor is common in the Conservative party, but they’re normally careful to shroud it in weasel words, and leave it to their friends in the press to wage a campaign against them.
That’s the script that Jenkins failed to follow. An odd mistake for a former public relations consultant.
See also this excellent post by the inestimable Johnny Void.
Some of the comments make valid points too, such as having a freezer and the money to run it making eating cheaply easier. One or two commenters have criticised the post for getting some prices wrong. While that was a valid point, owned up to quickly by Johnny, it does accurately portray a dilemma faced by someone with only loose change left to feed themselves for several days. If the item on your shopping list, the cheapest cous cous for example, is not available, and the next price up is out of your reach, it throws your whole plan off, and you have to search for other cheap staples. Sudden increases in price can have just as devastating an effect.
Of course, if you are financially buffered against such things, you can pontificate about poor people’s lack of culinary skills until the organic grass-fed cows come home.