Jamie Oliver attacks the poor, but was he right?

I want to start off by saying I always liked Jamie Oliver; his attitude towards school dinners and his battle with the UK government resonated with me, and parents nationwide. His stance on McDonalds and the way they prepare their meat for burgers was also another brownie point for the Naked Chef, but things have soured recently, with Mr O attacking the poor, and specifically, what they eat.

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery

Mr Oliver has made some pretty far reaching assumptions of the poor, for example, he assumes we all have a ‘massive f**king television’ in our living rooms, and that we all eat either junk food, or ready meals.

Now, I’m all for constructive criticism, but when it comes to speaking about a class of people, surely if you want to make assumptions you should have at least some idea of what it is like to inhabit that class? Unless millionaire Mr O (make that 150 million) has given all his money away to charity, I don’t think he has the slightest idea of what it is like to have on feed your family on a very small budget.

But Mr O thinks he does, and gives this example: “I meet people who say, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like.’ I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta.”

Photo by REUTERS/Russell Boyce

Photo by REUTERS/Russell Boyce

And herein lies the problem that Mr O will probably never understand. When you are poor, and I mean, living below the poverty line for many years, you live day to day having to deny yourself what most other people take for granted. The trips to a cinema, a meal out to a fairly decent restaurant, a short holiday for your family. Plus you have to feed children, who these days are a lot more fussy about what they eat than kids of 40 year ago were. Plonk a pasta dish made with mussels and cherry tomatoes and your kids are more than likely to go hungry.

As you are constantly denying yourself these ‘treats’, there is one thing that can give you a slight bit of comfort, and that is food, but not healthy food, I’m talking about fattening, tasty and filling food. Big bags of chips, ready meals loaded with carbohydrates, take-aways with highly spiced and flavored dishes. These all make us feel better about the constant denial we have to face within our everyday lives.

And there is another reason that Mr O will not be able to comprehend why poorer families don’t cook from scratch, and that is the invisible add ons of store cupboard ingredients that actually make the basic food taste delicious.

Can you imagine making a shepherds pie with no stock cubes, no Lea & Perrins sauce, no herbs or tomato paste? Or how about a spaghetti bolognese with no herbs, no tomato passatta and leaving out the important splash of wine? When you have been living under the poverty line for many years, store cupboard ingredients go out of the window. People who are poor don’t have the essential ‘extra’ ingredients to make the basic rations of food taste spectacular.

And as for the huge massive televisions, well I have a huge one in my living room, and no doubt Mr O would class me as getting my priorities all wrong. But my TV was given to me by a family member for free.

So next time you feel like poor bashing Mr Oliver, consider what a difference 150 million pounds has in the bank makes, and how about reducing the cost of your overpriced ready meals? Now that would be something to shout about.

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