The remarks by Baroness Jenkin of Kennington that the poor are hungry because they can’t cook has put porridge in the news recently.

She pointed out she had eaten a large bowl of porridge for breakfast and that porridge costs much less than cereal.

She later said she meant to highlight that home-cooked food is cheaper, as well as more nutritious, and apologised for her ill-chosen words.

But her comments revealed a patronising and judgmental attitude towards those much less privileged than herself, while her use of the term “the poor” revealed more about her and the privileged circles she inhabits than anything else.

The idea that there is an identifiable community of people who can be labelled “the poor” and then deemed to have certain common characteristics that are partly to blame for their poverty is a well-used one by those who look down from privilege. It labels people on low income, it defines their poverty as a personal failure rather than a result of inequality, lack of opportunity or bad policy. But it also ring-fences poverty. It makes it ‘over there’, affecting ‘those people’ whose lives wouldn’t really be so bad if only they had the wisdom of privileged wealthy people like Baroness Jenkin.

Sorry, but my blood is boiling. I remember once being told by someone about a similar lecture given to ‘slum kids’ at a school in the 1930s. These children were being told of the nutritious possibilities of a fish head, all that their parents were expected to afford when buying fish. All sorts of things could be made from the fish’s head, they were told.

When asked if there were any questions, one child put up his hand and enquired: “Please Miss, where did the rest of the fish go?” Every year as Christmas approaches we have a debate about homelessness and poverty. The rampant consumerism that has become the dominant Christmas message pricks our senses about the poverty in the midst of all this glitz. Porridge is what my children go to school on in winter, but knowing how to make it is not the answer to the hunger stalking our land these days – just as making fish head soup wasn’t the answer to poverty in the 1930s.

Most people on low income could probably teach the likes of Baroness Jenkin a thing or two about balancing budgets, as well as making meals on very little. That’s the real culinary skill.

And here is a story we should all know and share with our children, not just at Christmas. It’s one of the most simple and re-told tales, with a message that could change the world. Here is my version: ‘There was once a kingdom in which a rich and powerful king lived in a big castle. His cellars were full of food, which his men collected from the people every year. As a result, his people, who worked hard to bring in the crops and raised the livestock, often feared the onset of winter.

“Oh, I hope we will have enough food to keep us till spring,” they would think.

One winter, the food began to run out even before Christmas. That year, the king had taken extra for his party, so his people had to live on very little. The castle resounded to music and laughing as the king and his friends had a great time, but down in the village it was a different matter.

People had so little that they kept their doors shut and kept what they had to themselves. It wasn’t that they were not generous, because they were. But this winter they simply didn’t have anything to spare. And so their Christmas was going to be a very frugal one.

Then, on Christmas Eve, someone arrived in the village. People peered out of their windows. It was the traveller who would often come at this time and usually he was immediately offered a place to stay and have a Christmas meal. But this year people felt differently. They would like to share but their children were already hungry, so it made them reluctant to open their doors to the traveller as they had done in years past.

But the children remembered him and his stories and so as he built a camp fire on the village green they all came out of their homes to welcome him and sit with him a while in the hope he might share some more tales.

“Where are your parents and grandparents?” asked the traveller. “Why do they not come out for the stories like last year?” The children were silent, but then one spoke.

“This year, the king took so much that nobody has any food to spare,” said a wee boy.

“Well, go tell your parents that doesn’t matter. I have my pot here and I’m making some delicious broth. There is plenty to share,” said the traveller.

The children rushed back to their homes and soon their parents appeared and welcomed the traveller. The entire village was sat round the fire, just as in the previous year, but this time the atmosphere was different.

“We feel ashamed that we have no food to offer you this Christmas,” said one ,with head bowed. She continued: “We have so little that our children go hungry every day now, and we must save what we have for the dark months before spring arrives.” The traveller nodded his head.

“I totally understand,” he said, “ you have been kind to me in years past and now I come to share with you what I have. I have many tales to share, and here,” he pointed to the pot on the fire, “I have broth we can all share.” He lifted the lid, and smelt the boiling water.

“What type of broth is it? asked a young girl.

“It is stone soup,” said the traveller.

There was a deathly silence broken only by the distant sound of partying at the castle on the hill.

Finally, another wee boy spoke.

“Stone soup? What does that taste like?” he asked.

The traveller smiled and shook his head. “I’m not sure what the stone I put in will taste like. Let’s see.” He carefully lifted the lid, took out his wooden spoon, dipped it into the boiling water and held the spoon to his lips as he blew to cool the soup. Then he slurped it.

Everyone studied his face, hopefully. The traveller put his spoon down and looked at the boy who’d asked the question.

“Well,” said the traveller, “it’s alright, but it would taste better with something else, just a little something.” There was silence again, but suddenly the boy ran into his house and returned with a turnip.

“Oh, thank you,” said the traveller, “this will definitely make the soup taste better!” But then the wee boy’s mother called out, “No, that is all we have left.” Everyone turned and stared at her.

The traveller held the turnip for a moment, then nodded his head. “Of course, I understand,” he said, and handed the turnip back to the mother. She took it and held it for a moment, then looked at the traveller and held her hands out, offering the turnip back to the traveller.

“Take it,” she said, “it’ll taste better in your soup anyway.” The traveller smiled and took the turnip. He carefully sliced it and added it to the soup. Soon the smell was drifting over everyone.

And then something happened. The children began to peel away and run into their homes. They all returned to the fireside holding their precious last vegetables. The traveller cut them up and added them to the broth.

It now smelt tasty, and so much was shared that more than one pot was made. The traveller told stories all evening as the villagers slurped on their “stone soup”.

Towards the end of the evening, as people warmed themselves by the fire, the wee boy asked another question.

“Do you think the King would like to try some of our stone soup?” He didn’t understand why everyone was laughing. Everyone except the traveller. When the laughter died down, the traveller looked at the boy and said: “Well, I think that is a good idea. Let’s go and take him a bowl.” So the traveller put the last of the stone soup in a bowl and started walking towards the castle. The wee boy asked if he could come as well, and so the traveller agreed.

They all watched as the traveller and wee boy climbed the hill to the castle. They waited with baited breath as the door opened. They could hear music and the smell of a great feast began to hit their nostrils. The servant who answered the door took the bowl and closed the door. The traveller and boy waited.

“The bowl is being taken to the king,” said one of the villagers.

“I wonder what he will think of it,” said another.

Soon the door opened and the bowl was given back. Then the traveller and boy began to return, as the great door of the castle closed behind them.

When they arrived back at the village everyone was keen to know what the king had said.

“Did he try it?” they asked “Oh yes, he tasted it,” said the traveller.

“And?” asked one of the children.

“Well,” said the traveller, “his servant said that whoever made this doesn’t know how to cook.” “But that’s not true,” said the wee boy. “We do know how to cook, the trouble is the king doesn’t know how to share.”