In a recent interview with The Times, Jamie Oliver has claimed disadvantaged families struggle to abide “middle-class logics” that measure fruit and vegetable portions because their primary concern is putting food, in any form, on the table.
It is undeniable that healthier food alternatives come at a much greater expense. For example, sixty-five chicken nuggets from Farm Foods can be purchased for the same price as four organic chicken breast fillets from Tesco.
Furthermore, numbers of cheap, organic food sourcing alternatives, such as allotments, are in rapid decline. At the end of the war there were 1,300,000 allotments in Britain, but a mere 250,000 survive and more are under threat as local councils sell land off for greater profit.
Disadvantaged families, for economic reasons, are being pushed away from healthier alternatives causing growing obesity levels, with 1 in 4 adults now suffering. Oliver’s comments that a disadvantaged parent’s logic is enough food for the day rather than 5-a-day appear accurate.
But the divisive language used in his recent Times interview indicates his detachment from the experience of disadvantaged families. “We can’t judge our equivalent of logic on theirs because they’re in a different gear, almost a different country”.
These sorts of comments are not constructive; they serve only to entrench the exponentially more pervasive class divide that exists in Britain today. Equally, they beg the question: is Oliver in a position to suggest solutions to poorer families without an authentic awareness of their struggles? Do aspects of his work simply patronise those trying to make the most of their means?
Perhaps an individual with greater sensitivity to the obstacles facing poorer families would be in a more suitable position to comment on the struggles of the disadvantaged and offer more insightful solutions to this health crisis.
The Guardian’s Alex Andreou’s denounces Oliver and offers a different perspective that reflects upon the uneasy relationship between food, indulgence and deprivation.
What I had not understood before I found myself in true poverty, and what Oliver probably does not, is that it means living in a world of “no.” […] Ninety-nine per cent of life is answered “no.” Cinema? No. Night out? No. New shoes? No. Birthday? No. So, if the only indulgence that is viable, that is within budget, that will not mean you have to walk to work, is a Styrofoam container of cheesy chips, the answer is a thunderous “YES.”
Considering insights into the obesity crisis gained from experiences such as Andreou’s, as opposed to Oliver’s experience as an upper-class foodie, the issue of obesity needs to be examined through a new lens. This must begin with muting the upper-class prejudice that dominates the discourse on tackling obesity. Only then will more competent and accessible measures be proposed to tackle core issues and create a healthier nation.