Jack Monroe (born 1988, Southend-on-Sea) is a writer, journalist and activist who has campaigned over poverty issues, particularly hunger relief, and has published a blog and several books of "austerity recipes".
Monroe, whose gender was assigned female at birth, identifies as non-binary transgender and goes by singular they pronouns, rather than "he" or "she".
Early life and career
Monroe was born in Southend-on-Sea to Evelyn (née Beatty), a former nurse, and David Hadjicostas, a British Army soldier, and later fire-fighter, of Greek-Cypriot heritage. Monroe has three siblings.
Described as coming from a working-class background, Monroe passed the 11-plus examinations and attended Westcliff High School for Girls, a grammar school in Westcliff-on-Sea, before leaving at age 16, "bullied and disillusioned", with insufficient GCSEs to progress to A-level (either 4 and a half or 7, according to different sources). Monroe left the family home and began working in a chip shop, before going to work as a call handler for the fire service, a well-paid job which they enjoyed. After having a child, Monroe was unable to arrange the work around childcare responsibilities, and the fire service was unwilling or unable to make adjustments to the working pattern to make continued employment feasible. Monroe resigned the post. It was at this point they changed their name from their birth name to Jack Monroe - 'Jack' being short for "Jack of all trades", their nickname.
Monroe spent the following 18 months looking for work, and moved from relative affluence to poverty and financial hardship. Monroe came to prominence in the media through writing the blog A Girl Called Jack, sharing cheap recipes created as a single parent with a young child, and aiming to provide family meals for less than £10 per week. In December 2015 the blog was renamed to Cooking on a Bootstrap.
In 2012 Monroe became a weekly columnist for The Echo, and in February 2013 was taken on by the same as a trainee reporter - the timing was fortunate, as Monroe was having difficulty affording nursery fees. Monroe was later retained as an unpaid columnist for The Huffington Post, before signing a publishing deal with Penguin Group. The book deal, reported as worth £25,000, resulted in housing benefit being cut off and Monroe came close to being evicted, which led to moving into cheaper accommodation. Despite working every day, Monroe was unable to make ends meet. By January 2014, finances had improved, and Monroe was able to move into a small 2 bedroom flat with their son.
Monroe formerly wrote a twice monthly food and recipe column for The Guardian and additionally contributed a number of political columns, as well as being featured in The New York Times and The New Yorker. Monroe has written several budget cooking recipe books.
Monroe appeared in a Sainsbury's advertising campaign, parting company after a dispute with the columnist Sarah Vine. Monroe donated the fees from the campaign to Oxfam.
Monroe appeared on BBC television's late night political programme This Week in June 2015.
Speaking in 2015, Monroe described life as having "changed beyond recognition", but said that they are still affected by their experience of poverty.
In 2015 Monroe won the Women of the Future Award in the media category. Monroe was "surprised", saying "I'm not sure I'll even be a woman in the future". The award was won after Monroe came out as trans, which created some controversy. It caused a gender debate and angered Monroe who questioned the headlines of some newspapers and said "Because of my trans identity, I'm attacked for accepting a real woman's award."
Campaigning and politics
Monroe has been an active campaigner for a number of causes in the UK, particularly those concerned with poverty and hunger, campaigning alongside organisations such as Unite, The Trussell Trust, Child Poverty Action Group and Oxfam.
Monroe was a supporter of the Labour Party, and appeared in a Labour campaign video in October 2013. Monroe left the party in March 2015 after disagreeing with its rhetoric on immigration, and became a member of the Green Party of England and Wales.
In April 2016 Monroe appeared online supporting the Women's Equality Party.
Monroe, who was assigned female at birth, identifies as non-binary transgender, and has spoken of beginning to identify as trans from an early age. Monroe did not take part in a fire service passing out ceremony in 2008, because protocol would have required them (then living as a woman) to wear a skirt. Monroe kept their birthname while working at the fire service, concerned over "the potential for deadnaming and bullying in a not-particularly-tolerant organisation. Not a great place to be gay, let alone genderqueer." During this period, Monroe also had a brief relationship with a close male friend, which resulted in a son.
On leaving the fire service, Monroe adopted a short haircut and took the gender ambiguous forename of "Jack". They began identifying to friends and family as a lesbian woman, and began a long-term relationship with a woman; the relationship ended shortly after Monroe told their partner they were considering a mastectomy. Monroe was still careful at this point to downplay any suggestions of gender ambiguity, and in an interview in February 2014 described themself as a "lefty, liberal, lezzer cook" who had reassured their parents that they identified as female. "I was like, no, I'm a little bit tomboyish, a little bit butch. But I have no immediate plans to transition." Monroe publicly came out as non-binary in October 2015.
In 2013, Monroe was ranked No. 19 in The Independent on Sunday's Pink List of influential LGBT people in the United Kingdom. In 2014 it was reported that Monroe and their son were living with Monroe's then-girlfriend Allegra McEvedy, and McEvedy's daughter in London; the relationship ended in October 2015.
In 2014, Sarah Vine (wife of the senior Conservative politician Michael Gove) criticised Monroe in the Daily Mail for allegedly choosing a life of poverty and using the death of David Cameron's son for political purposes. The Independent described this as a "caustic attack", and Monroe replied that the column was "homophobic, transphobic, deadnaming [and] ignorant" on Twitter. Monroe denied that Sainsbury's supermarket reportedly ended their relationship with Monroe in light of Monroe's original tweet. Sainsbury's offered comment to The Spectator, stating that "Jack Monroe blogs independently. Sainsbury's is not a political organisation and we certainly don’t share her views." Monroe initiated legal action in 2015 after the Daily Mail claimed that "Jack" was not Monroe's "real" name, and has requested that their birth name not be used by the media.
The University of Essex announced in May 2015 that it would be awarding Monroe an honorary degree. During the same month, Monroe threatened legal action against Katie Hopkins after she posted a tweet in which she appeared to accuse Monroe of vandalising a war memorial. Hopkins subsequently removed the tweet and said she had confused Monroe with the journalist Laurie Penny. Monroe initiated a libel action against Hopkins in January 2016.