The Guardian carries a comment piece by the blogger Jack Monroe today.
In it she defends her decision to star in adverts for Sainsbury.
For those of you who don’t know the name - Jack writes a blog about cooking on the (very) cheap as a struggling mother in austerity Britain.
She was picked up by The Guardian and was something of a darling for them (she was even bizarrely put forward as a person of the year candidate alongside Edward Snowden and members of the Artic 30 who I think have risked a tiny bit more than Jack and her heroic cookery blog!)
Initially her articles for The Guardian were just about food and gave her a platform to post recipes and handy hints for what we might loosely call ‘Foodbank Britain’ - but before long she was also given a platform to be a spokesperson for a generation being screwed by austerity and the politicians implementing it.
Jack’s provocative taglines included:
“Poverty in the UK is no cosy frugality – I have been there. This state is sending its children to school, to bed and to work hungry”
“It’s hard to say to a nation that hates benefit claimants: ‘Your perception is wrong. The system is flawed”
“Why not stick those politicians claiming housing expenses while voting for the bedroom tax in a block of studio flats in central London?”
“Some British people can’t afford to heat their food. Aren’t we ashamed?”
But we now learn that’s she is doing adverts for Sainsbury.
Predictably those on the receiving end of the boot of corporate power in the neoliberal age feel a tad let down that her moral outrage has been so easily co-opted by Sainsbury and converted into PR ads for a huge supermarket chain.
Equally predictably, the hyper connectivity, distance and anonymity of the internet has facilitated a blizzard of disapproval some of which will be reliably poisonous and hateful.
While the Haze regrets that the seething collective that we call ‘the internet’ is utterly incapable of reasoned debate with Jack Monroe (she certainly deserves much better than hate mail) – we cannot agree with her self diagnosis that she is not a sell out.
Why does Jack think that Sainsburys are prepared to spend time and money putting her face on national TV? They are a huge profit making company whose public image translates into very serious amounts of money for the board and its shareholders.
All of the big supermarkets are bullying cheerleaders and tank drivers of neoliberal practices right across the world. A quick glance at say the website for ’War on Want’ reminds us that:
Supermarkets today wield unprecedented power on a global scale. From Bangladesh to South Africa, supermarkets dictate the terms at which overseas producers are forced to sell their goods. With threats to find new suppliers, they force prices down around the world.
But the workers who produce those goods – from fruit and vegetables to flowers, wine, cheap clothes and tea – feel their devastating impact every day. Working in factories or on plantations, they face long hours, terrible working conditions and little or no trade union rights. Despite working 80 hours a week, many workers are not able to earn a living wage.
The big four supermarkets – ASDA, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – control 75% of the grocery market in the UK and aim to keep their prices low and their profits high. They use their enormous size and influence to put their suppliers under immense pressure to produce goods as cheaply as possible. As well as squeezing their suppliers on price, they dictate terms and agreements, like forcing them to take on costs for discounts and promotions. These pressures then get passed on to the people who grow, pick and pack our food in low wages, long hours and poor working conditions.
Does Jack not know this? Or does she simply not care?
I wouldn’t appear on an advert for Sainsbury because I think their business practices and impact on the world are abhorrent. Not so for Jack who breezily informs us in her article that she turned down other supermarkets to work exclusively with Sainsbury.
If a celebrity chef in the making wants to do adverts for Sainsbury, Harrods or anyone else then who cares? But if someone is given the opportunity to speak via a major media portal on behalf of the dispossessed and the hungry then I hope at least for a certain degree of joined up thinking – some call this integrity.
If Jack Monroe cannot understand the link between the globalised neoliberal operations and power of a company like Sainsbury and the impoverishment both here and aboard of ordinary people then I implore her to stop opining about the unequal society in which we live and leave the space for someone that does.