I had high hopes when I came across the Great British Budget Menu. I thought that finally celebrity chefs will look at food poverty, come up with cheap, simple nutritious meals that could be made in a jiffy and my life would be simple.
Wrong on all counts. The budget is £1.66 per person which is less than we currently have (£1.9) so the recipes should be do-able but they are not. They forget that the £12 per week includes drinks (cheapest tea and coffee plus milk) and at least two other meals (unless your subsist on dry cornflakes), not to mention restocking your cupboard. You might only use 8p worth of flour in your dish but you still have to buy the 45p bag.
Our main meals average 70p per person and there is no way we could afford meat or fish on a weekly basis. It is very telling that while our food cupboard and freezer are well stocked because we do all our cooking from scratch, we only had all the ingredients for one recipe (gnocchi). We also tried another one (sweetcorn fritters but without the bacon and tomatoes obviously) – reviews to follow.
The recipes utilise the economies of scale – I would like to see more recipes for singletons. We could easily multiply them by the required number of people. Scaling the recipe down is not so simple: if you use one egg in batter for four people, what do you do if it’s just one portion? What do you do with the four egg whites left over from your carbonara? Don’t mention meringues as my oven does not believe in them. As this is a menu and not a meal plan, I would be left with loads of partially used packets. I am always tempted to dump it all in the pot but that increases the calorific value and the price of my meal. At the same time, there is too little left to make the recipe again.
It would be nice if the chefs’ tricks were left out – a sprig of rosemary here (80p and you’ll have to be eating it all week or it goes to waste), half a pack of pancetta there (you have to pay £1.6) or two quid worth of gruyere and your budget is blown. I haven’t bought any of these luxurious items in my time on benefits. I do not lack the imagination or cooking skills, I simply lack the money.
The problem of the stocked cupboard is not resolved either – it takes ages if you are just starting out and the contents needs replaced on a regular basis. By their own admission, a basic cupboard costs about £18. Ours is probably worth about 30 quid but then I do bake my own bread and sometimes even cakes. Especially spice prices are horrendous – yes, they do last a long time but you have to fork out about a quid for every jar. I wish the chefs would leave London behind – I do not have access to a cheap butcher, veggie market or Asian supermarkets to help me slash my food bill.
While the chefs were saying how impossible it is to survive on this kind of money and something needs to change, they sort of proved that it actually is possible (even though their meals are unaffordable if you really suffer from food poverty). They also require a lot of cooking (fry this, boil this and chuck it all in the oven) which is unmanageable if you suffer from fuel poverty as well. Unfortunately, what the general public and the government hear is that people are managing just fine so more cuts can be made.
When faced with having to come up with a meal instantly (and, come on, they did have plenty of warning), the chefs end up unapologetically blowing their budgets with one of them even opting for fresh salmon. This is not the reality faced by the paupers in the 21st century Britain.
What really got me, though, is the naive question about what happens when you are at the till and have no money to pay for all your shopping. What do you expect to happen? The fanfares sound, balloons are released and the people behind you in the queue start cheering. In fact, you will never have to pay for your shopping in that store again. Because you will be too ashamed to go back.