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


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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