Stop chucking Twizzlers at Jamie Oliver – he’s still a class act | Rebecca Nicholson

The campaigning chef was accused of patronising poor families but healthy eating is an urgent issue

The words “controversial comments” are now as joined to Jamie Oliver as: “There’s no way you can make that casserole in 15 minutes mate” and: “Bosh a bit of balsamic glaze on that ciabatta.” And he has stayed true to form at the launch of a report on obesity. “What you see is parents who aren’t even thinking about five fruit and veg a day. They’re thinking about enough food for the day,” he told the Times. “Willpower is a very unique personal thing… We can’t judge our equivalent of logic on theirs because they’re in a different gear, almost in a different country.”

I can understand bristling at the clumsy, patronising wording, at the idea that people living in poverty are somehow not the same as “us”, whoever “we” are. But Oliver’s intentions are good, as they almost always are, and any attempts to skew his meaning seem to me to be at best cynical and at worst a deliberate desire to misunderstand what he’s saying.

I took his point as an attack on middle-class assumptions, rather than on working-class eating habits; he’s saying that if you are hungry, making sure you eat healthily is always going to be less of a priority than making sure you eat full stop. And any guidelines with a hope of being effective surely need to understand that.

Food and poverty and health are all tied up in a complicated mess, but with the most recent Trussell Trust statistics indicating that the charity’s food banks gave out 208,956 emergency food supplies to children between April and September 2017, it is a complicated mess that should shame the government and needs addressing with more urgency than ever. There is a deep sensitivity, still, to talking about class and class divisions in this country, but for continuing to talk about it, knowing that he’ll have the metaphorical Turkey Twizzlers thrown at him if he does, Oliver should be admired, not strung up.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

Contributor

Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jamie Oliver deserves more than ladlefuls of gleeful scorn | Barbara Ellen
Critics of the chef who are enjoying his company’s financial troubles should remember his championing of healthy eating

Barbara Ellen

25, Feb, 2018 @12:03 AM

Article image
Jamie Oliver's brain food crusade runs aground as school dinners hit £2.60
Healthy meals mean better grades, insists television's top chef Jamie Oliver, but price rises put progress at risk

Daniel Boffey, policy editor

02, Apr, 2011 @7:05 PM

Article image
James Middleton (and Ella the dog): no need to mooch with a pooch for companionship | Rebecca Nicholson
Pippa Middleton’s brother has been eloquent about his experience of depression and how pets can help

Rebecca Nicholson

07, Sep, 2019 @2:30 PM

Article image
So now it's seven a day? Here's my easy alternative: just stop eating rubbish | Alex Renton
Alex Renton: Nanny Britain's fruit and veg regime will never work while the list includes fruitcake and sugar-laden drinks

Alex Renton

06, Apr, 2014 @5:14 AM

Article image
Jamie Oliver: 'No one understands me. No one'

The TV chef and campaigner explains why nothing will deter him in his fight to improve school dinners

Decca Aitkenhead

11, Oct, 2010 @7:00 AM

Article image
Jamie Oliver condemns Theresa May for scrapping free lunches
Prime minister ‘will regret’ move to slash number of primary school children eligible for free meals, says chef

Kevin Rawlinson

19, May, 2017 @8:57 PM

Article image
Jamie Oliver, still stirring it up | Observer editorial
Observer editorial: We should treasure the TV chef, agitator and self-confessed geek

Observer editorial

21, Jun, 2014 @11:05 PM

Article image
Gove's school food inquiry gets roasting from Jamie Oliver

Celebrity chef condemns education secretary's plan to investigate school dinners as unnecessary and a waste of time

Denis Campbell

04, Jul, 2012 @6:46 PM

Article image
Sugar is now enemy number one in the western diet | Aseem Malhotra

Aseem Mahotra: Action on Sugar is keen to make the public aware of the dangers and for manufacturers to face regulation

Aseem Malhotra

11, Jan, 2014 @9:03 PM

Jamie Oliver: The chef's can-do attitude in a weary world is an inspiration | Observer editorial
Observer editorial: Whether tackling educational underachievement or Turkey Twizzlers, Jamie Oliver insists that people can change, if given the right support

Editorial

13, Feb, 2011 @12:08 AM