Dinner at Islington’s Fuel, with Jack Monroe; The Harrowing Poverty Truth This Winter

There is no denying it – I am *incredibly* privileged here at TwoMenAboutTown; from trips to Dubai, to beautiful hotel stays and sampling the finest gastronomic delights up and down the UK, I get to do some very cool stuff. When the invite came through to attend London’s newest pop-up, Fuel by celebrity-chef Jack Monroe, you would correctly assume that I was looking forward to an evening of gluttonous consumption before lazily sneaking off into the night in a food-based coma.

I was therefore not prepared for an evening that would open my eyes and leave me aghast of a crisis of epidemic proportions, with a lasting impression of wanting to do more to help and put my privilege and platform to use. There’s no such thing as a free meal, after all, right?

Fuel by Jack Monroe

Based at Chapel Market in Islington, Fuel is the latest London pop-up, launched by Jack Monroe, in association with Npower.

Fuel by Jack Monroe

The restaurant was absolutely Baltic upon arrival, the air-conditioning set to chill, which on a cold evening in October made for a rather uncomfortable dining experience. However, events would take a further turn for the bizarre and unexpected. Once seated, the first course arrived under silver cloches; a carefully choreographed reveal across the communal table left my fellow diners and I, to our bemusement, presented with three tinned-food products each.

Tinned goods at Fuel

Jack and her serving team watched as the assembled guests and I awkwardly perused the tinned goods; beans, sweetcorn, spam and soup were some of the tins on offer. Some of my fellow diners even began tucking into their cold tomato soup.

After several minutes of confusion had elapsed, Jack explained that hadn’t (to our delight) been invited to eat cold tinned soup at her pop-up, however along with the freezing temperatures that we had been subjected to instead represented the concept behind Fuel, bringing to light the conditions of living in fuel poverty (more on this shortly). Additionally, the ingredients used in the three-course meal that would follow would be those from tinned items typically found at a food bank. Wow.

The meal was kicked off by a mushy pea soup with deep fried Spam fritter croutons, followed by a main of Spam Bolognese. This was rounded off by a chocolate sponge cake with oozy orange marmalade sauce, a budget take on one of the most gorgeous food pairings, chocolate orange. I must credit Jack and her team for preparing such a wonderful and tasty menu based on the tinned food-bank items.

Pea and ham soup

Bolognese by Jack Monroe

Chocolate orange dessert by Jack Monroe

Admittedly, the food wasn’t the main focus of the evening – no, a far greater and important message was the main takeaway of the night. Fuel was there to serve a purpose, to carry a message, to raise awareness. It’s one that really hit home to me.

The harsh realities of fuel poverty

Imagine having to make the difficult choice between either choosing to heat your home, or finding nourishment from the cold with a hot meal. The health and ultimately lives of children, the elderly and the financially vulnerable in-between are at immense risk. It’s simply harrowing that 1 in 3 adults are making that choice this winter.

Sadly, the facts speak for themselves. Food banks up and down the UK are handing out ‘cold boxes’, full of tinned beans, meat and soups that can be eaten cold as many can no longer heat their food. In a YouGov poll, 52% of retirees said that they would be taking fewer hot baths and showers this winter due to money worries. In the words of Jack herself, 1 in 10 unemployed people have already ‘self-disconnected’, the cosy industry term for going without light and heat and hot meals. Staggering, hugely frightening and so eye-opening that this is taking place at such scale right under our noses, to people we call neighbours, colleagues and friends from all walks of life.

What really caught me most, and inevitably left a lasting impression, was a powerful and emotive talk that Jack gave between courses about the nature of living in poverty and the realities of it impacting her physical and mental health, using her own experiences to champion awareness. Hearing her story first-hand left me not only with a lump in my throat but a desire to want to do something about this abysmal epidemic and huge social injustice.

If like me, you feel inspired to make a difference and want to help, a donation to the good people at The Trussell Trust could make a significant impact – starting with stopping a family, possibly in your neighbourhood, going hungry this evening. Npower have made available at the trust’s foodbanks – regardless of energy supplier – an emergency top-up of £49 to those who need it most, enough to give a family warmth for two whole weeks. Amazing. You can donate to the Npower Foundation (registered charity) and help heat the home of the financially vulnerable for a small donation.

Thought-provoking, hard-hitting and eye-opening, Jack Monroe’s Fuel is certainly an experience that will stay for me for some time – and has profoundly impacted me and how emotive I now feel about poverty in the United Kingdom. For that reason alone, surely Fuel is a huge success in food and fuel-poverty activism.

Bravo Jack, NPower and The Trussell Trust.

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