Jamie Oliver on health, wealth and better eating habits

The Naked Chef discusses healthy eating and his new TV show



Jamie Oliver isn’t on a budget, but he wants to help those who are. His new TV show has a focus on diminishing food waste, while his new book talks about shopping smart for groceries.

The two biggest obstacles preventing poor people from eating well are, according to the celebrity chef, “access and knowledge.” He says access to fresh food can be very difficult for some communities while many people unfortunately don’t know how to cook.

“It should be illegal in First World countries to not make it compulsory for every child to be to walk out knowing how to cook,” Oliver said in Toronto earlier this week, where he was promoting a new book and TV show (Save with Jamie), as well as his partnership with the grocery chain, Sobeys. “Because we know the path of what happens with social care and young parents and how hard it is.”

Beloved by his fans, the “Naked Chef”—who gave himself that moniker to reflect his belief in easy, uncomplicated food—is never one shy from voicing his opinion. He stirred up controversy a few months ago in England with his comments in the Radio Times, saying: “The fascinating thing for me is that seven times out of 10, the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families. The ready meals, the convenience foods.” He talked about meeting poor Sicilian street cleaners who make the best pasta using relatively few ingredients.

In Toronto, Oliver didn’t shy away from addressing the furor set off by his comments. “If you can cook and if food is important to you, you know that class or wealth is not a measure of how well your family eats,” he said.

But there is a point where people simply don’t have the money to buy food, according to Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional science at the University of Toronto. “Many people could benefit from having more cooking skills or more nutrition knowledge, but that isn’t the privilege of the poor in Canada,” she says. They have to afford food in the first place to be able to cook it. “And it doesn’t matter if they’re really clever and stretch a dollar.”

A 2011 study co-authored by Tarasuk found close to one in eight households dealing with problems surrounding food insecurity. This amounted to 1.6 million homes, where everyone under the roof didn’t always have access to enough safe, nutritious food for a healthy lifestyle. And while Nunavut was the hardest hit part of Canada, where more than 36 per cent of households dealt with food insecurity, the same study found that Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. also didn’t have their bellies full: 85 per cent of Canada’s food insecure population could be found in those four provinces.

Even in Oliver’s native England, more and more people are relying on food banks to get through the day, though there has been a silver lining in the resurgence of farmers’ markets.

“The recession at the moment is throwing up some really unusual quirky oddities,” Oliver says. “There’s a rise of the artisan fishmongers, butchers and people making jam. Craft is through the roof. Cheese has never been in better shape.

“Where the stuff needs to be sorted out is in industrial farming and mass production.”

It’s to help address this that Oliver says he’s teaming up with Sobeys. He wants to bring better ingredients to grocery shelves, and he isn’t afraid to address the oddity of supporting a company that sells the ready-made foods he lobbies against.

“I genuinely and 100 per cent swear the reason that I’m working with Sobeys isn’t because it’s a cute job and I get a bundle load of cash,” he says. “Yes, of course, they’re still going to sell Coca-Cola because you want to go and buy your Coca-Cola, but how can you readdress that balance?”

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Jamie Oliver on health, wealth and better eating habits

  1. People like Valerie Tarasuk rely on buzzwords like “food insecurity” to promote themselves and the organizations they represent. Oliver is right. A lot of people just don’t know how to cook. How much does a bag of pasta, and some vegetables off the dead and dying table cost? You used to be able to get fish heads for free at the market. People have lost their survival skills and rely on social workers and anti-poverty activists to get food when it is right there in front of them. You make dinner out of what you can scrounge at the grocery store that day, and that isn’t shameful, that was a way of life for a lot of people after WWII. My grandmother used to make barley soup and vegetables with a meat bone from the butchers.

    • Now you’ll get the lecture about how that was “so last century” and “we should expect better than that today”. Those same people will then throw some processed crap into the microwave for lunch.

      • All this bantering about ‘food insecurity’ is a bunch of hype. You can make a meal with a few ingredients but the thing is you have to take the time and effort to do so and many of the people that Jamie Oliver talks about fit into exactly that category. They are living on fixed incomes and yet they can go out and buy pizza, McD’s, KFC and all kinds of processed foods when they could make some of those things for much less and it would be healthier for their families as well.

        • Exactly right. I’m guilty as charged, except for the fixed income part. But I am trying to change that. The effort should be worth it in terms of longer life expectancy, at least that’s what I’m hoping.

    • “How much does a bag of pasta, and some vegetables off the dead and dying table cost?”

      I could not agree with you more. Many times I buy bags and bags of tomatoes that have a few bruises or bad spots on them for a fraction of the price that they would normally sell for. I do not have to buy these tomatoes but I choose to because I can make a huge pot of tomato sauce from these tomatoes and put the containers in the freezer to be used in the near future for a meal requiring tomato sauce.

      The same can be said for making your own baby foods. I never used that ‘stuff’ in the jars called baby food. I made my own and it was much cheaper and better for my kids.

  2. Don’t stop at “walking out the door knowing how to cook”. You can add cleaning and laundry to that list and make sure it’s not gender specific.

  3. Foodie Fairy Tales to make a Fortune.

  4. I’d love to see Jamie visit, work with and promote food insecurity in Nunavut.

    • Yup, not all not all first nations have good grocery stores with fresh foods.
      And not all who reside on reserves have a lot of money to afford food. Don’t forget, early european settlers fawned on natives as savages so they attempted to assimilate them. All in all, the poor will never be so healthy.

  5. It’s really funny… I think ” poor Sicilian street cleaners who make the best pasta using relatively few ingredients” use better ingredients (the quality), better oil of olive, better pasta, better cheese which are cheaper then e.g. in Poland. I mean: The poorest Italian pasta is much more better than Polish pasta.


  6. Okay, Jamie, you seem to have all the answers, but one. Where are we supposed to buy healthy food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg…..if you are all for better food, show me where it is. You cannot hide the fact that the food that is in supermarkets today is very harmful to our health….just because you can add some herbs and spices to make it taste good, does not make it fit for human consumption…..our food chain is broken, and there does not seem to be anyone who can fix it….we have growth hormones and antibiotics in our meats, milk, cheese, yogurt, ice-cream, etc, etc…. and we have herbicides and pesticides in our fruits and vegetables, and we have genetically modified in our wheat, rice, pasta, and who knows what else, as the powers that be do not have to label that there are harmful ingredients in what we are eating, as we no longer live in a democratic country, Who is going to fix our food chain before mental illness (that’s right….our food chain is making us mentally ill) takes over the whole world. Whoever can fix our food chain should rule the world…lol…..all kidding aside, I would vote for someone to fix it!

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