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Ethics vs Economics: Choosing free-range.

So, I’ve caused a minor furore with my latest Guardian recipe by using free range sausages at £2.79 for
6. Not as big as the furore I caused by (quelle horreur!) using basic baked beans and rinsing the sauce off them to reveal little white haricot or cannelloni beans underneath (more on that later) but a furore all the same.

I hardly eat meat at all these days, maybe twice a week, and usually sausages or chicken. I tend to get my proteins from beans, pulses, fish and vegetables – I lead a pretty hectic, active lifestyle, and am a healthy size for my height with good general health, so I think I’m doing alright. I do a lot of research into nutrition, and have a permanent mental list of great sources of B vitamins, iron, protein and vitamin C – a lot of which are staples on my shopping list – but I’ll blog that in detail one of these days. The point is, I try to get as much nutrition for my budget as possible. If I didn’t care about nutrition, I’d never have started this in the first place – I’d have carried on feeding SB a third of a ready meal and staring glumly across the table while he ate it.

Times have been bloody hard over the past year, and I bought Basic 80p sausages for my Live Below The Line challenge earlier this year, and £1.09 cooking bacon for everything, because sometimes you just don’t have the choice. I know that, believe me. I was surviving, experimenting, grateful for absolutely anything I could rustle up and blogging the successes.

This past year or so has been a learning journey for me, but something never felt ‘right’ about cheap meat. Beggars can’t be choosers, I know, so I switched the nagging voice off, told it to be quiet, and got stuck in. But…

I’ve tried to adopt a vegan diet a few times since I was a teen, and I guess with so many alternatives out there to eat, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and go free range. It’s a highly personal decision, but unfortunately when you have a recipe column in a national newspaper, there’s no such thing as a personal decision. People get to pick over it and bitch about it and call you names. It’s not the cheapest choice – but it’s my choice. Like whatever chicken and sausages you buy from the supermarket, well, that’s your choice. I’m not going to get all judgey-pants on anyone for choosing to buy three times as many sausages for their buck – as I said, it’s a personal decision, and I’d be a bloody hypocrite if I tried.

So here we go. From now on I’m on a mission to see if it’s possible to eat free range meat on a low budget. My sausage casserole recipe at just under £1 a head says yes it is – but my meat consumption might go down even further as I work this one through. And do you know what? I’m okay with that. And I feel much better about it, to be honest. The jump from former vegan to eating battery chickens was a jump too far for me – most people get to quietly make these choices on their own in their homes and their friends and family are none the wiser – but having been inundated with comments and emails since the recipe was published, I thought I’d set the record straight. I choose free range meat and eggs. And that won’t blow my budget, because I have a massive repertoire of vegetarian alternatives.

Recipes will still work with whatever sausages and chicken your wallet will allow – so use them as a guide, not as a science. I hope people understand why I’ve made the choice I did for myself and my family – and it’s times like this that being in the public eye really truly sucks, when you get abuse from strangers for trying to do the right thing.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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113 replies »

  1. Continue to be true to yourself Jack, I honestly believe you have made a major difference to how people on benefits are viewed and your campaigning is just amazeballs.

    You are an incredibly inspirational young woman

    • Well said Alexis.. And Jack, the tips, tricks and opinion you offer are just that, tips, tricks and opinion! You started a journey out of necessity, you are continuing that journey as your situation improves and good on you for sharing it!

      I am a firm believer that one of the main reasons that battery and factory farming still is exists is because people simply cannot justify the cost of going organic/free range. If however this new stage of your journey helps show that, yes, it can be achievable to not only be “frugal” yet ethical then go for it girl! One thing we all know from following your journey is that you will be brutally honest about what comes from it. Did it work? Is it possible? Was it worth the effort?

      Keep it up lass!

  2. I eat free range eggs too, even though they cost more – couldn’t live with the idea of caged hens. Ad mid range meat, although less of it, the same as you. But if I was on a really tight budget I would buy cheaper meat, and probably wouldn’t eat eggs at all. If people choose to use cheaper or more expensive meat for their recipes that’s their choice – you have every right and are not doing anything wrong by making yours. I respect your honesty whatever you buy, keep it up xxx

  3. Well, I feel bad at times when I have to feed my sons battery, or at least non-welfare chickens, but I have a limited budget so I have to forgo the ethical concerns when I buy. Sometimes I can get two days food from Tesco for under a fiver, if I buy their value sausages, beans, eggs and chips; I am not complaining – filling, non-ethical sources for sure, but when I have two young kids to feed plus I have to get through the week on limited finances (I see my sons every weekend – I am divorced and out of work), then that is the most prior concern for me. Then during the week I can buy a cheap garlic bread, some carrots, a tin of tomatoes/onion/garlic/spuds and feed myself alone on next to nothing. Good post Jack. You can nutritionally feed me cheaply, plus I agree with your sentiments.

  4. I don’t usually comment on blogs but just to balance out the abuse I wanted to cheer you on a bit and say thanks for everything you’re doing to encourage people to eat healthily on a budget. I completely agree that with all the veggie options now available, it definitely makes more sense (for us and the animals) to eat less quantity but better quality meat. I started cooking in 1970 on a budget of £2.00 a week and there were a lot of lentils – i wish your blog had been around then.. (PS your speech on food banks at the conservative conference was terrific too!)

  5. We’re vegetarian and very hard up, but I cannot bring myself to buy battery hen eggs. I just can’t do it. Mind you I have noticed many times now that free range eggs have been cheaper than battery ones anyway.

    • Cheapest place for free range eggs is Aldi, 95p for 6 so only 10p more than tesco value (caged) eggs. Think their pack of 12 or 15 works out even cheaper but haven’t bought any recently so can’t check the receipts

  6. Good for you, Jack. I buy a free-range chicken from Lidl at just under £5 and can get 6-8 portions out of it plus stock with the remaining shreds of meat as a basis for soup.

  7. Thanks for blogging about your choice…good, sustainable, well reared, delicious meat once or twice a week only is an option that I think people seem to ignore…in favour of crappy meat all the time and veggie stuff tastes better and is cheaper than that to my mind …each to his own though :-)

  8. Totally agree, if I cannot afford good meat I would rather not have it. Basic sausages 20 for 99p hardly have any meat in anyway. Free range chickens are £4.99 at Aldi and that makes numerous meals throughout the week. I don’t manage free range or organic all the time as very few shops locally stock it, but I have the option of buying via a local food co operative who by direct from the farmer. This was set up as local shops would/could not meet the demands for free range and organic.

  9. I think it’s a great move Jack and applaud you for putting yourself out on a limb on this one, no doubt you will come in for criticism from many. We get free-range eggs ourselves. And while I acknowledge others choices are theirs to make, I simply wouldn’t have anything to do with factory reared meat in the house, those animals live in horrendous conditions and suffer from birth to slaughter. And yes, I do know what it’s like to live on the breadline and I also know that even if you’re really skint, no-one actually needs cheap bacon to survive.

  10. I too have aten cheap sausages when things were tough and I had to streeetch the ,meals.Now I buy better bangers and just eat less of them if you see what I mean.I would rather have one decent sausage that tasted nice than three that didn’t.You carry on doing what you do best Jack I applaud you for all your hard graft.Folk that critisize often have never been in the position that you were in.I eat meat maybe twice or three times a week and the rest of the time I find that veggies are just as nice and easier on my purse.A veggie lasagne tastes just as nice as one with meat also a veggie curry.I have made a chilli with veg and rice and my grandson didn’t even notice that it wasn’t meat.Once mixed with rice and lots of flavours and spices you can often disguise the fact the meat is missing.If your hungry then you will eat what’s on the plate or you can’t be that hungry.

  11. Have been exactly where you are the next problem after free range is the whole organic v gm veg its a fact that we have to eat our budgets only allow so much cutting back but if people Wud be willing to adopt a more portion control ethic and plump out meat dishes with pulses veg ect it is perfectly possible to have the freedom of a lifestyle choice on a very tight budget eg free range organic ect

  12. Dear Jack, whether or not you have a blog, your food choices are still personal. I see what you are doing as a service, even if you have a Guardian column. Am I mistaken in thinking you aren’t really being governed by The Guardian but more by nasty readers? My intention isn’t to be confrontational here; I’m genuinely curious about what happens “behind the scenes.”

    Also, I love ALL your recipes. And a little meat, and free range at that, is a nice treat, which we all need once in a while! Like when people buy/make sweets.

  13. It must be so hard to have every move and decision questioned but you know your friends and supporters respect you for your ” tell it how it is” honesty. My personal choice has been to move away from Supermarket shopping , choosing locally grown and produced foods free from chemicals and hormones, actually it has been very enlightening to find that I can feed us incredibly well on a £12 veg box and a very small amount of superb quality meat…based mostly on wartime rations…nothing faddy or trendy about this decision, just a realisation that my beloved Grandma had the best knowledge about feeding a family healthily on very little…..might be one to explore Jack!….so pleased that things are easier for you now. x

  14. Hi Jack, yes I agree sometimes you can make ethical choices on limited means. We choose higher welfare chicken and free range eggs. I also buy fair traid bannanas and sugar, can’t afford to buy everything ethically, but I choose to do something rather than nothing.

  15. I have been a vegetarian for years on ethical grounds and I can’t bring myself to eat battery chicken eggs. Happily I have discovered you can get 6 large free range eggs from Iceland for £1 which I think is pretty good.

    • Free range is a term interpreted pretty loosely by producers. And some free range production does not give much freedom at all or much that is natural.

      Chickens are a jungle fowl. I take my cue from that. Do they have shrubbery, bushes, soil to range around in freely. Or are hundred and hundreds of them in a barn all close together and accessing outdoors in a limited way only and not foraging in a meaningful way.

      I personally choose not to ever buy meat. I will eat fish, but spending £2.10 on six Clarence Court eggs at Waitrose is only expensive if comparing with cheaper eggs. And the yolks are deep orange yellow and the flavour incredible. You can taste that the bird has had a life worth having. More natural. Welfare makes my choice and I believe that welfare translates as healthier to eat (rightly or wrongly).

      How much is a coffee in a café? Or a pint in a pub?

  16. I too am concerned about ethical standards, and also what is in the food I eat. I applaud your stand to stand up for “good” food – in all senses of the word.

  17. Oh please people use your common sense – if you don’t fancy baked beans use something else. If you’d like some bread/ pasta/ potato/ extra veg add it. I would use sausages from my local butcher but use what you like basic/turkey/veggie whatever. If you don’t like sausages why would you read the recipe anyway?

  18. Guess the same goes for veggie sausages.
    Sometimes I need a quick and easy way to inject a bit of protein into my diet, but veggie sausages tend to vary in quality. If you’re vegan Quorn is out, but McCartneys ooze fat. Supermarket’s own is almost russian roulette taste wise. Also, I love tofu, but quality varies and you’ve gotta be prepared to (timewise) work at putting the flavour in.

      • Wicken Fen are to die for. Not that easy to find in my area these days. Maybe in Holland and Barrett? They are fabulous. So many taste cardboard. Liking the sound of your tofu and chestnut sausages, Jack. Remember how you did it? Recipe here? Sounds useful for Christmas/winter.

      • Ooh yes please share your sausage recipe! I’m vegan and rarely buy ready made sausages so would love to try them. Almost the perfect season for chestnuts too!

      • Tofu (or white beans) and chestnut does sound good. And if you happen to live near any sweet chestnut trees then you can get the chestnuts for free right now! In fact I have a pound of them in my pantry that we gathered at the weekend!

    • Unless they are homemade, I dont eat veggie burgers or sausages. They are to over processed. We dont eat tofu or soya products either because of the health risks.

    • Quorn is vegan in the USA… You could write to them and encourage them to make them vegan in the UK as well.
      We have found that the McCartneys Red onion and rosemary sausages are much better than the plain ones (and you can quite often get 2 packs of 6 for £2 in our local supermarket)

      • Us too! We often get them when they’re on offer. However I usually find ASDA’s meat-free sausage mix genuinely better in texture and flavour than the frozen veggie sausages, and at £1 a go, it’s a real bargain too. I’m getting repetitive about these!

  19. Very interesting to hear about the free-range chickens in Aldi ! – I wonder if there will be any left by the time I get there tomorrow?
    As to choices – even on my tight bdget I buy organic milk. Cooking bacon is another of my favourites- I thought it was because the bacon didn’t come in nice neat slices that it is so cheap. I confess to cheap eggs – but I cannot be persuaded to buy sausages (even reduced). My criteria are a little different to your- the less my food is handled before it gets to me, the better.
    But I did have an interesting afternoon when my Dad objected to my buying a live crab for cooking. Don’t ! he said- ‘it’ll shriek!’

  20. I keep my own hens so know that my eggs are okay. I realise this is only an option for those who have a bit of garden. You should be free to do what you think is right for you and yours.

  21. Yes, I generally scan the comments on the Guardian (have defended you once or twice, too!) – they’re giving you a hard time, Jack. Amazing how some people behave when they think no one knows about it. Don’t take it to heart – think of it as a pretty unpleasant story some very bad authors are writing … you don’t need to read drivel.

    With very little money, when my kids were little, I always chose organic dairy (milk, eggs, cheese), because they had such a lot of it and, even though things aren’t as bad here as they are in the States, still, non organic dairy is full of antibiotics and puss (yuk). Everything else was what I could manage, just as it was for you.

    Keep up the good work!

      • Actually, they’re pretty hard on *all* the cooks, in all the quality newspapers.

        In the old days of unmoderated newsgroups new members would be treated to this kind of thing for a few weeks, just to test their mettle … after a while they’d be part of the furniture. It’ll die down when you neither respond, nor retreat, weeping.

        The other, right wing, quality paper is even worse!

  22. Well said and well done. Read this week that there is some science saying eating bacon affects mens fertility….I’m sure all the drugs pumped into intensively farmed animals affects more than that when the bodies are harvested, chopped up and sold for human consumption.

    I have been a decades long vegetarian, a full-on vegan for over 10 years and now a fish, veg and Clarence Court from Waitrose eggs eater. I won’t support farmed fish production and only eat wild caught. Even that is dodgy as they die from suffocation. I would not touch milk (do people know about the mastitis situation and what is allowable in milk?) and try not to be Miss Perfect in an imperfect world.

    Just to take on board Bodyshop founder’s wise words. We can only try to reduce the damage our presence here inflicts. And stay healthy.

      • Not sure what Waitrose soya milk is about but Alpro used to brag that they don’t use GM soya beans. I just hate their flavour these days. I use Waitrose own brand and use it bit of one bit of the other with KOKO coconut milk for a lovely improvement on soya in tea and coffee.

        It would be interesting to know what firms are GM free on the soya front…..

      • All organic soya milk is GM free, as our organic standards in the UK don’t allow GM. I usually get ASDA’s own brand UHT organic, it is more expensive than their Smartprice soya milk (which is only 59p a litre and also GM free according to ASDA’s non GM policy!) but it’s got a good clean flavour and only has a tiny amount of ingredients (unlike some more well-known brands who stuff all kinds of flavourings and sweeteners in). If I’m on more of a tight-wad week I get ASDA’s Smartprice soya milk, which is still perfectly good, and as said, GM free to boot.

  23. I totally agree with your logic. I buy one huge free range chicken for £5 from Liedl and we get so many meals from it – the roast dinner treat, then cold with baked spuds, veg and left over gravy, sandwiches… Then I boil up the bones for stock and make minestrone and risotto. One chicken – with a few added vegetable ingredients can feed us for most of a week. Tomorrow I’m making pumpkin soup with the stock.

  24. Sadly on my budget, we can’t afford free range meat. Asda does 750g of basic mince which enables me tho get approx 12-16 portions of mince & onions, bolegnese or chilli and we get 20 frozen thick pork sausages for £2. While I hate buying cheap meat, I will while it’s available. However I do insist on buying free range eggs (Asda – £1 for 6). Sometimes I can’t afford to have principles, but at the same time, no matter how skint I am, my conscience won’t allow me to buy battery eggs and chickens. I’d rather do without. (And yes, I know it’s a contradiction lol).

    Having said that, there’s no way I’d go off the deep end on seeing you list a free range item in an ingredients. If I want to make for example, the sausage casserole, I have enough intelligence to know I can use the sausages I CAN afford.

    Don’t let the ignorant get you down. They’re envious of the fact that you’ve made a success of yourself. The bitter will always hate success stories.

  25. Like you I would rather have less of good meat so have lots of veggie dishes but tomorrow i have a friend round for a meal and will be making a meat and potato pie with organic beef – the first meat for a week and it won’t be a huge quantity just for 2 however I don’t criticise people feeding families day in day out who make other choices. I will be looking at those Aldi/Lidl chickens as well.

  26. Thanks for writing about this. I struggle with wanting to consider animal welfare, healthy alternatives and the environment without having an insane grocery bill. I was wondering what you were going to do now money is not so tight.

    Surprisingly, Abel and Cole free range sausages work out quite good value (£2.25 for 6) as is their bacon I think. I also use the Clean Fifteen list to check for the worst offenders pesticides-wise, and buy a couple of organic items from it, with the rest budget. The shop normally comes to £60 a week for 2 adults, 4 kids, so not too bad.

    You’re doing a brilliant job :)

  27. I am currently dairy free as I am breastfeeding my dairy intolerant 3 month old and I love your recipes because on the whole I CAN EAT THEM! Milk alternatives can be expensive and some of them scare me a bit so I just use basic soya milk in my tea and go without otherwise.

    We keep our own (very happy, friendly) hens so eggs are abundant luckily. On the other meat front we tend to buy better when we can and just buy less and bulk it out but if we are desperate for a meaty fix and budgets are tight then we will by cheaper.

    Just keep doing what you’re doing. Haters are going to find something to nag about no matter what you do!

    Thank you for all your recipes. This weeks meal plan is mainly based on meals from this blog. And I am excited to try them!

  28. I’m lucky enough not to be in the financial circumstances you were recently in, but I find you very inspiring. Thank you for your fiery blogs, your interesting recipes, and your campaigning. Don’t let negative criticism get to you: I think you’re doing a great job!

  29. Sheesh. Some folk will bitch at anything, won’t they? You hardly need to be a Mensa member to figure out that if a recipe states free range sausages and your budget won’t go that far, you just use cheaper ones.

    My budget is modest, so much as I’d like to, I can’t afford free range very often. I always buy free range eggs because the price is hardly any different. I’ve been toying with the idea of going exclusively free range for meat and just cutting down on how much we have. We usually have meat of some kind about 4 nights a week but we could use less.

  30. I commend you for your choices here. I honestly think I would give up eggs than buy battery farmed ones, luckily I have not been in that position. But with 7 of us to feed on one wage and several serious food intolerances to deal with, I can’t be as fussy as I would like to be with my meat purchases.

    I say, if you can buy these within your budgets then go for it.

  31. Theres really no such thing as free range eggs or meat Im afraid, I understand the point you are trying to make, but many animals in so called free range farms such as the RSPCA freedom farms suffer horribly. Also, free range eggs, the hens just get living maybe a year or so longer and in slightly better conditions before they are killed. If you look at a site called viva, they will be able to give you some facts and figures and some reports about how some so called farmers who treat their free range animals well, really dont. The company called the happy egg for example, an expose was done on them and hens were kept in terrible conditions. Delamare I think the company is that does goats milk and cheese, ditto. I do respect peoples right to eat what they like, meat, dairy, fish and if they buy cheap they buy cheap and if they buy more expensive so be it. But “free range” is just a label to convince consumers that the animal in question has had a better life, I would guess more often than not, that really isnt the case. I used to buy free range eggs thinking I was doing good. Now I dont buy eggs at all. Its really the only way, for me anyway. Unless you have an animal and you rear it yourself from birth to slaughter, you wont know. Also, no matter what life its had, its going to have a horrible and painful death. The only way not to be cruel to animals, its not to eat them at all.

  32. Ethics and economics – they should not be mutually exclusive. I know I’m lucky to live in an area with a butcher but if you are, too, buy free range eggs there – they have in my experience always been cheaper than in any supermarket and, to make it even more pleasing, usually from a named and nearby farm so you are buying local too. Another tip on price, I buy free range chicken with the skin on and take it off myself – it works out much cheaper than buying ready-skinned chicken. And I always buy thighs – cheaper than breast with more meat on the bones and much more flavour. The free range chicken is often cheaper in a butcher, too.

  33. Ethics and economics is a good combination. I know I am lucky to live in an area with a butcher but, if you do too, buy your free range eggs from there. In my experience, they are always cheaper than in supermarkets and, in my case, come from local farms (what passes for local, in London) so you can tick that box too. I also find that free range chicken is cheaper at the butcher but, wherever I buy it, I buy it skinned and take the skin off myself (or keep it on – depends on what I’m cooking); this is much cheaper than buying pre-skinned chicken (and, yes, I do mean by post-skinned weight). I also always buy thighs – cheaper, meatier and far more flavourful. Plus, and here’s another debate to wind people up with … if it comes from a decent butcher, it comes without all that unnecessary plastic packaging that comes from supermarkets.

  34. The really odd thing is that so many Guardian commenters bitch about portion sizes. One from today’s column said, ’1.5 sausages per person, plus beans and tomatoes, isn’t enough, my three year old has more than that for his dinner’.

    My portion sizes have gone up in recent years (due to husband-related peer pressure and improved finances) – and guess what, we’re both piling on the pounds. When I was single I ate the types of portions you specify, Jack, and I was reasonably svelte. Maybe a Guardian article is needed on quality over quantity?

    • I know! I worked it out on today’s meals and we get around 1700 calories each in my house (adults). She goes to the gym at work most days to run, walks an hour a day and has a fairly active job – and is almost 6 feet tall.
      I walk for two hours a day (school run) and run/home yoga/home weights on alternate days – as well as run around after a 3 year old! We’re both healthy adults with a diet based round veg, fruit, pulses, protein and some carbs- so guess what – maybe some people eat too much!! I considered a blog post for a ‘three days in the life’ meals but it would just give people more to bitch about so at the moment I’m reluctant to. Jesus, people can eat as much as they like, my recipes are just suggestions… I think some people bitch for the sake of bitching…

    • I think portion sizes generally have gone up in recent years, as activity has gone down! I know the plates my mum used to use when we were kids were much smaller than dinner plates tend to be today! A point though, 1 1/2 free range sausages are probably the same as 2 cheaper sausages in size. Most supermarket premium sausages are 6 to a pack and their standard ones are 8 to a pack, but both pack sizes tend to be around 450g. So the portion sizes are fine I think, unless you are doing heavy manual work. But you’d adjust accordingly the wouldn’t you.

  35. Jack, stop feeding the trolls. You may not save any money but you’ll save time and mental energy. It really doesn’t matter what they think. I’ve found your articles really helpful.

    • I wasn’t, I was explaining just in case any of my loyal readers wondered why I was using ‘expensive’ meat – I care more about them than some anonymous bitching on the Internet. I ignore 99% of the endless abuse, otherwise I’d be a mess…

  36. Oh, Koukla,

    Stop apologizing for your success.

    Anyone with a functioning brain knows that meat is the filthiest thing we eat. If you’re gonna budget your hard earned money, I am 100% with you – I would rather have a smaller portion of a cleaner, higher quality, and possibly more nutritious product than be able to fill my cart up with the cheapest on offer in the meat section.

    My parents did something similar, as most of our veggies were grown,by my immigrant mama, back when growing one’s food was viewed as backwards. Trying to explain this kind of triaging to people who have.experienced nothing but uninterrupted prosperity is never going to be easy.

  37. I have thought your portions of some recipes have looked on the small side compared to what I would eat, but like you say you can adjust the recipe for your own needs.

    Can I just point out that the recommended calorie intake for a woman is 2000, so your 1700 seems fairly low. This is not a critcism at all, if you are happy and healthy eating that amount then carry on, you know your own body and what it needs. I would lose weight at 1700, especially if I was also active.

    Yes, a lot of people, including myself, eat too much a lot of the time and I think a lot of people have lost count of a healthy portion.

    • It’s pretty alright for me and her indoors, but that was only one day that I worked out just to see if i was on track. 700 calories i’d have been worried about, 1700 not so much, especially considering the sources are veg, fruit and lean protein sources. I imagine it varies – and also that it’s gone down slightly since I changed toast and jam for breakfast to happy healthy porridge instead… Each to their own, if my jeans are a little loose, I just have more porridge and rice, but until I buy whole grain carbs I’m reluctant to eat too much starchy white stuff as my blood sugars tend to be either astronomical or crashing and burning… Whoa, longer reply than I expected…

      • Re: wholegrain carbs. Jack, if you’re interested in exploring wholefood options for your readers, I’d like to recommend you look at bulk buying. I get most of my wholefoods in 3kg bags from an online source, not all of them are pennies, but some come in at well under a fiver a 3kg bag like oats, split peas, wheat berries, pearl barley and brown lentils. Obviously shopping this way means you have to plan ahead, so it’s not necessarily a useful approach for people suddenly deep in the shit, but it is a useful approach for folks like me who are on a regular low income.

      • Thankyou! I’ve started experimenting with pearl barley for risottos and salads – its slightly more expensive than basic rice but cheaper than own-brand rice, and I need far less of it as its really filling! Buying oats in bulk sounds like a good idea – I’m getting through 2 bowls of porridge a day at the moment! :)

  38. Morning Jack.

    The above comment has ‘hit the nail on the head’. It is probably your success, rather than you using Free Range Sausages, that has irritated some people. You are supposed to be poor and on benefits, you are clearly getting above your station making a choice to eat quality produce. We have two local Aldi stores (within a couple of walking miles) and are lucky they always have the Free Range Chicken at £4.99. The also have a newer Beef range (since the Horsemeat scandal) and whilst it does not claim to be Free Range it is British, Quality, Farm Assured and very tasty if people want a treat.

    My Mum used to say ‘If you’ve got nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all’.

    Keep up the good work Jack.

  39. Even when deeply skint I always used free range eggs. Partly for ethical reasons and partly practical – in my experience, caged hen’s eggs are terrible for anything that requires the properties of the egg – baking etc
    I’m currently trying to get my family to adopt a much lower meat intake because I’d much prefer to eat less meat but be sure the impact of what I did eat was the least it could be in my situation.
    The point of your recipes has always been to eat well, cheaply. A pack of free range sausages is a cheaper than most other options for free range meat.
    Furthermore, value sausages can be as little as 30% meat – from the point of view of actually getting meat, the high end ones aren’t necessarily poor value.

    Stick to your guns Jack.

  40. We all have our own version of “being true to ourselves” and I always get free-range eggs myself – battery ones were starting to “stick in my gullet” too much and I made a decision I had to still feel like “Me” iyswim and “Me” doesn’t agree with battery eggs. I wouldn’t eat a lot of the items on your suggested foodbank list personally because I’ve ruled some out as unhealthy (ie the processed cereals) and others because I don’t like them (ie instant coffee/UHT milk/soya milk) so I would have very slim pickings indeed if ever I needed to use a foodbank. Fingers crossed I never get to be in a position where I have to eat food I dislike and/or know isn’t healthy enough….but I do adapt some of your recipes to suit my own personal parameters. That’s my version of “being true to myself”.

  41. One of the Discount shops in Southend sells(under 99p shop) sells Birds Free Range eggs… I was delighted to find them at such a price.

    Also,thanks to your Blogs I have discovered that the meat counter in Sainsbuys advertises ‘ outdoor Bred or Reared’ in front of its’ bacon,sausages etc where applicable. It is possible to buy one rasher of bacon and one sausage which is so useful if on a tight budget, A pair ofscissors can make one rasher of bacon seem like two or three ,if added to pasta etc. Nobody knows!

  42. I made an ethical choice to be sure any meat I ate was as welfare friendly as it could be many years ago when I was still working and could easily afford to – when I grew old and finacial circumstances changed I had to think a little about the affordability of holding to my ethical stand – the result was I found I could not not be untrue to self by throwing ethics out of the window the minute it got difficult. I still source meat, free range or organic or welfare, still check miles from fields to abbatoir, i still eat it but i eat it less and am heading to the vegetable is the main and meat is the side. on the menu 3-4 times most week some weeks the money doesnt streach and goodness me how many vegs can be bought for a tenner:) and my sister and I eat like kings on it.

    Carry on Jack to oldies such as me it is a positive to know youngsters care

  43. One of my cheats to avoid using bacon altogether but con my husband (hope he’s not reading this) into thinking it’s in there, is to use smoked paprika. Morrison’s own brand is around £1 a jar and it’s very tasty. Added to anything – especially at the end, it gives a lovely smokey hue that is reminiscent of something that’s been flavoured with bacon or ham (after all – it’s the smoke that you taste when you use it as a flavouring). I’ve fooled himself on loads of occasions with that trick.

  44. I’ve been only buying free range pork, chicken and eggs for a couple of years now, at a time when our family budget was hard hit by a year of unpaid maternity leave and then return to work extremely part time. I had to switch supermarkets to make it work. (Supermarket names won’t help you, I’m in New Zealand). My usual supermarket never discounted the free range meat and didn’t have much variety. But I discovered that another supermarket had heaps more variety, ran regular specials on free range chicken, pork & sausages, and I only buy it when it is either reduced to clear or the magic combo, on offer and then reduced to clear, booyah! That is why I don’t menu plan: I buy whatever ingredients are reduced (multiples if a good buy), decide what to do with it that week, freeze some for later weeks etc.

  45. Cheap vs expensive meat and especially sausages. That is a tricky area. With carrots or lentils you can pretty much see what you are buying and just get the cheapest. With meat it can be a lot trickier and sausages are an extreme example – some cheap sausages are not worth eating, especially when you add in food hygiene and animal welfare issues to the equation of trying to get the best possible food on a very limited budget. Your objective is to make good meals for <£1/portion and your recipe shows you can do that with £2.75 free range sausages. Noting to be apologetic about there – but are you allowed to give more commentary on your meals in the Guardian column? It might pre-empt some of the issues

    • I wondered that too. You shouldn’t have to explain your food choices but some of the people reading the column may never have seen your blog and the commentary may help some people in their own choices, and would definitely be food for thought. Wouldn’t stop all negative comments though unfortunately i suppose.

  46. I agree with you. I am vegetarian but my children eat meat so I do buy it. I think that we don’t have the right to mistreat animals just because we want to save money. If we can’t afford free range meat then we shouldn’t eat meat! Much better to eat it occasionally and have good meat. There are all sorts of other health reasons that this makes sense too, not just because of animal welfare, the stuff that goes in cheap meat isn’t always nice!

    • Amen!

      Nobody ever died from passing too much gas, at least not if the room was properly ventilated.

      Meat should flavor a meal; it should not be the meal in of itself. Folks eat tofu and soy hecause they think the Japanese are long-lived because of it, but any other kind of bean will provide the same health bennies, and Japanese don’t gorge on plates of meat, and they are certainly more ritualistic in their dining habits (eat more slowly, generally consume less food per meal, stay trim, live longer).

  47. I can’t manage free range or organic meat on my budget. It’s a dilemma for me because from a previous job I learned a lot about what goes into factory chicken (I was involved in an investigation into what’s added into chicken).

  48. They’re only giving abuse because they are either too ignorant or lazy to bother reading around your recipe – they probably don’t know your story, your background, your choices or your approach. Don’t worry about it Jack. Those that do read, know.

  49. i’m in ireland and local pastured beef is a good bit cheaper and easier to get than local, pastured pork or chicken. what i do get a lot of, free from my little butcher, is beef bones for stock. stock adds immense value to a meal. i have the bones barely simmering for days and end up with jelly as well as lard. try making a veg soup sometime with and without stock. you’ll find the one with stock very filling.

  50. I don’t know if it’s possible where you are, but in the States, many of the free-range ranchers will sell their meat directly to the consumer. I find a few other people to go in with, and we share a lamb, pig, cow, whatever. It takes a lot of people to share a cow! This only works if you have freezer space, and of course you have to have enough money up front to pay for it all. I know that’s a non-starter for most people, but if it can be done, the meat is a LOT cheaper overall, and you know it’s been raised on organic pasture and never fed corn or even perhaps scraps from other animals. Even if you can’t arrange to share an animal, some ranchers will sell a chicken or eggs. Of course, I don’t know if that is allowed in the UK, but it’s something to check into.

    Also, it’s much cheaper to buy a whole chicken, rather than pieces. I know it’s a hassle to cut up – I avoid that step myself as much as possible, but it’s not really difficult. I prefer to roast the chicken whole (or cook it in the slow cooker all day with a few vegetables (no liquid) – it turns out sooooo good). Again, you can freeze the leftovers if you won’t use it within a few days. Nothing needs to go to waste. Plus you can make chicken stock from the bones. Again – freeze it in small portions to use as needed. Saves money!

  51. Your not alone with issues around meats, I choose organic when finances allows but I’ve given up red meat entirely, Organic fruit and veg as well especially when I shop for my 2 yr old nephews meals, if I had plenty of money I’d have a organic box of meats veg etc delivered to my front door, can’t quite work out what is wrong with trying to look after yourself and family the best way you can and if for you that means organic foods then so be it! X

  52. Much rather eat meat once in a while and for it to be ethical. God bless the Aldi free range chicken breasts 2 for £3.50 makes a casserole for 4 if you pad it out with veg

  53. Better quality sausages and less of them is perfectly fine, if that is your choice, I find the value ones are just nasty and don’t cook as well; no point in cooking something only to waste it because no-one will eat it. The amount of fat that comes out of value sausages of any brand, or value mince for that matter, shows that they are providing a lot less meat than the more expensive ones. If you could work out their price based on the actual amount of meat present and not their overall weight including the low nutritional fillers, I suspect thet better quality sausages would cost the same, if not less. Good quality meat doesn’t shrink and therefore goes further, so ends up being a better buy.

    Doesn’t anyone remember Jamie Oliver showing school children what went into chicken nuggets (or who could forget those curly turkey things)? I suspect value sausages are much the same and tinned hot dog sausages certainly contain a lot of rubbish, just read the label. Those whingers who complain about you choosing free range sausages probably think nothing of getting a takeaway pizza – do they realise how low quality the ham is on those things? Most of it is made from turkey for religious reasons and isn’t actually ham at all.

    Keep going Jack, the truth hurts for some people and their bitching shows they have no insight into what its like for many, many people in the real world

  54. Sitting outside in my little garden reading all the comments here got me thinking back when I was hungry 3 days out of 7 by the time I got money to buy food again I was just hungry i couldn’t think about nothing else but eating something and how horribly depressing and stressfull it was to go buy food and having to pick and choose not to spend over my budget cause bills etc oh and children all the food money went on them I got a little sick of toast but I was happy to have that, not real filling as a main meal when you’ve eaten it for lunch and breakfast . Anyway thanks to you jack my plain rice now tastes better than takeaway Indian food lol you got me onto all the herbs and spices I have a nice collection of different ones now my homemade pizza after I’ve put the tomatoe paste on the base I sprinkle with herbs etc then on goes other stuff it’s unreal :) I was just reminded also while reading here my income will drop by couple hundred dollars in 4 weeks must find some more shifts when they come available who knows how long that will take . You take care x

  55. I don’t understand why everyone has to eat so much meat. We only have a meat dish once a fortnight but we buy good quality, free range, ethically sound products. It’s a personal and financial choice and EVERYONE is different. It amazes me how people lose common sense and start with the vitriol as soon as someone shares an opinion. Your blog has saved me and my partner from facing a lot of nights going hungry. Haters will always hate Jack but you’ve been a Godsend.

  56. I don’t see why people are belittling you for choosing the welfare of the animal who was sacrificed for your enjoyment and thus only having the budget to eat meat occasionally.

    Growing up with a vegetarian mum and a meat loving dad I always had a mix of meals. As a teen, when I started questioning where my food came from & seeing some of the conditions animals were kept in I realised that I didn’t want cheap meat. By that time my parents had progressed in their careers and could afford to choose quality meat so it wasnt a real issue for me. When I went to university my budget was a little tight so I also opted for going without meat when I couldnt afford it. Now I’m unable to work due to my disabilities (and thus have a very tight budget) this way of thinking still remains and I was very grateful to find a lot of your meals were vegetarian or vegan. As my mum is vegetarian I was already used to using grains, pulses etc but only in quite a basic way, your blog opened up new & creative ideas for the store cupboard foods I already used regularly. Due to my variable condition I’m never sure if I am going to be well enough to cook so I’ve actually found if I can afford meat I can generally afford quorn (and supermarket own brand versions) which is frozen & means there’s no pressure to cook something on any day because it will go off soon.

    I saw some reduced chicken breast in the supermarket the other day, it was very cheap & could have made a lot of meals but it was the value range. I just couldnt bring myself to buy it knowing what conditions the chickens would have lived in. I am thankful that the level of benefits I receive mean I am able to make that choice. I think the key is to educate people in to animal welfare issues, I think most people who earn a living wage would choose free range meat if they were educated about living conditions in battery farms etc. However, this does not mean I am ok about judging other people for the choices they make, if they feel they cannot afford more expensive meat then that is a failure of society & this government, not of the individual themselves.

    - @fp_em

  57. Hi Jack. I am always completely stupefied at comments made by some of the readers of your recipes….that they seemingly don’t have the intelligence to take them, as you say, as a guide, and tweak them to their own preferences just floors me. Along with assuming other folk will do exactly the same for themselves. Have they really not got anything better to do than nit pick to the extreme?

    I can completely understand why you say it sucks at the times when you’re getting hammered but I hope you can focus on the people who appreciate your time and see you for what you are: someone who’s been there, got through the worst of it and is now actually doing something helpful and non judgemental for those who still need the assistance.

    Seriously, the haters should just go f**k themselves. And if anyone thinks that sentence is unconstructive and unhelpful, well, that’s pretty much on par with bitching about whether you rinse baked beans or not.

    On a final note: Aldis are trialling chick peas & cannellini beans at the moment for 39p a tin which is the cheapest I have seen them. Their kidney beans are about 21p a can. Also if it helps (it was mentioned in a post somewhere months ago) they also do a “stew” vegetable pack for I think £1.09 which has potatoes, carrots, a turnip, a parsnip and possibly one other veg. I just noticed in passing the other day but this might be of interest to you or others.

    All the best Jack, keep going and don’t let the narrow minded ones get you down. I’d like to see exactly what they’re doing to make the country a better place.

    x

  58. I think that all these choices we make are about levels of hunger. And truly in the UK although we may be hungry at times it is not the same sort of hunger as the one experienced by some, hunger that means rickets, stunted growth and so on. then the concepts of animal welfare, vegetarian or vegan are completely irrelevant. Then, the ability to eat animal versus plant protein might mean the difference between normal life and a life of disability. While I myself experienced the first world hunger I still feel blessed that I have the ‘luxury’ of making ethical choices. I believe that you are doing a great job in sticking to what you believe in and showing us that we can live according to our values even if we struggle financially.

  59. It’s a shame that free range doesn’t mean an awful lot; it’s not a legal term. There are useful amounts of protein in most plant foods, and plenty in nuts, beans and seeds, so it can absolutely be cheap and nutritious to be vegetarian or vegan. Most of us eat too much protein, so powerful is the marketing message we’ve all grown up with. I applaud any attempts to buy more ethically and have massive respect for Jack, but I maintain that the only way to give animals a good deal is not to eat them. Bog-standard, free range or organic animals all face the slaughterhouse needlessly, while we can be adequately nourished and work to a tight budget without eating them.

  60. Here here Jack! I only buy free range or freedom food at a push, but don’t eat meat very often! Ignore those idiots!

  61. I know how this will sound, but it’s true, so I’m going to say it: the ONLY ethical choice is to not consume any animal products. I was vegetarian for 5 years before removing all animal products from my diet, so I know first hand how easy it is to fool ourselves in to thinking eggs and dairy is not as bad as meat. It only takes a few days to adjust to a vegan diet and you soon realise you have much more choice than you could possibly imagine. Shopping gets a lot easier if you go the whole way and opt for a plant-based diet over a vegan one.

    • Hi there
      I just want to echo all the grateful comments here, I only just found your blog and all about you when someone on my Twitter feed congratulated you on The Guardian job. Well done there too!
      But I also wanted to add something. As a mum of five, I once wrote to Sainsbury’s complaining that all their ‘targeted at poorer families’ basics meat products were more fat than meat and that we were effectively being given a worse deal – paying in weight for a part that we either don’t eat or give to our children knowing it is bad for them. They never replied. With regards to free range eggs why don’t the government enciurage

    • Hi there
      I just want to echo all the grateful comments here, I only just found your blog and all about you when someone on my Twitter feed congratulated you on The Guardian job. Well done there too!
      But I also wanted to add something. As a mum of five, I once wrote to Sainsbury’s complaining that all their ‘targeted at poorer families’ basics meat products were more fat than meat and that we were effectively being given a worse deal – paying in weight for a part that we either don’t eat or give to our children knowing it is bad for them. They never replied. With regards to free range eggs/organic produce etc, I wonder why susidies aren’t given to encourage communities to grow their own veg and keep chickens etc. I tried to grow some things for the first time this year but it was a bit of a disaster as I’m not a great gardener. But paying £2 for a swede this year (yes I did Sainsbury’s) has made me determined to keep trying. I just wish our village would start a community garden projct. That’s what we all need to do, fight bqck by growing/ rearing our own

  62. Getting abuse from strangers for “doing the right thing” would indeed suck, but going vegetarian, vegan, free range, organic or high welfare is not “the right thing”. It’s a thing. Just a thing. Not right or wrong. It on its own isn’t deserving of abuse, but inflicting the choice to go vegetarian or vegan on a child IS.

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