If you’ve ever had the misfortune of going to America during Summer, there’s a chance you may have experienced the scourge of the cicada. Every seventeen years these creatures emerge out of their burrows and unleash a “chorus” of extremely loud and annoying buzzing. And, while Britain may not have the cicada, we do have Jamie Oliver. Much like with the cicada, Oliver is thankfully very easy to forget about most of the time. But, every couple of years, Oliver seems intent on crawling out from under the kitchen counter and making himself heard. Whether it be almost causing a diplomatic incident after butchering a national dish or lobbying for puritanical age restrictions on energy drinks, the man cannot help but be annoying.
And so, just in time for the cost of living crisis, Jamie has surfaced to march under a new banner. His latest crusade to end “junk food” ads and promotions, while admittedly somewhat more agreeable than some of his previous work, speaks to an alarming ignorance about the conditions of those currently in abject poverty. True to form, this week Jamie led an “Eton mess” protest (ha ha ha Jamie, no one’s made that joke before) against Boris Johnson’s proposals to delay the introduction of a ban on “junk food” ads and promotions due to the cost of living crisis. While blame for this crisis rests squarely on the government and the Chancellor’s pathetically Kafkaesque excuse for not raising benefits, Jamie’s proposals to make the cheapest food available more expensive would clearly not make matters any better.
Jamie’s Kulturkampf against what he deems “junk food” is nothing new. For almost the entirety of his irritating career, he’s waged war against chicken nuggets. From demonstrating how they’re made in front of laughably unperturbed school children, to teaching kids to make their own “healthier” nuggets, Jamie, after exhausting every possible tactic, is now pushing for the nuclear option to finally win his holy war.
While the intentions of this war may be benign, Jamie has never grasped the fact that what he dismisses as “junk food” may be all a working family has time and money to prepare. It’s all well and good for Jamie, a multi-millionaire, to be able to afford both the money and mainly time to prepare a home-cooked, healthy meal. But, to not only expect but actively mandate that others do the same through increasing prices is simply classist.
And, this is just scratching the tip of Jamie’s ugly classism. His beef (sorry) with chicken nuggets stems not from principled convictions about the welfare of factory farm animals or exploited abattoir workers, but simply from aesthetic considerations. Is it a bit grim that cheap chicken nuggets are made from reconstituted meat? Absolutely. But it would be inconsistent to condemn just nuggies for this when a whole host of other foods are made with a similar process. Both Haggis and black pudding are made with similar, unappealing ingredients and methods, yet no one, not least Jamie, bats an eyelid. This is simply old fashioned, irrational snobbery.
What Jamie does get right, is identifying that chicken nuggets and other “junk foods” are unhealthy and are in large part contributing to rising obesity among children. But, predictably, his solution to this is entirely flawed. Jamie sees chicken nugget dinners as a result of ignorance and a lack of culinary skills, not as a result of material conditions. His books, the primary source of his millions, put this idea front and centre — suggesting that you can save up to £3000 a year and cook healthier meals if you simply follow his recipes. What Jamie neglects to mention is the inordinate amount of time preparing meals from scratch takes. If you have one family member staying at home, then Jamie’s solution is somewhat more feasible, but as of 2019 both parents were in some form of employment in almost three-quarters of families. Stagnating wages, rising living costs, and dwindling benefits have forced more and more parents into work. And it is this Jamie should be addressing, not some perceived culinary ignorance.
This week then, I decided that Jamie had to be put in his place. So, after spending an afternoon reading A. A. Gill’s greatest hits, I headed to Jamie’s Italian in Cambridge to give it a review. As I live quite far out from Market Square, the walk down the hill gave me plenty of time to reminisce.
In 2005, “Jamie’s School Dinners” aired for the first time. It was a hit, shining a light on the dire state of school meals in Britain. Cue slimy, grey burger patties, bright orange Turkey Twizzlers, and, of course, the dreaded chicken nugget. It was the perfect fodder for the Outraged of Tunbridge Wells, and predictably sparked a thoroughly bourgeois revolt, forcing changes to school meals. And while these changes were positive, this Mumsnet mutiny was, again, not driven by concern for the material conditions of the worst off in society, but a simple aesthetic revulsion at this school food. If Jamie was genuinely concerned about food poverty, why wasn’t he chirping up during Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals?
One of my schoolmates dated one of Jamie Oliver’s daughters while he was in Lower Sixth. We, quite rightly, teased him mercilessly for it. The focus of this terrible “chat” tended to be on the, let’s say creative names, of Jamie Oliver’s children. And as much as I would love to relive the sixth form glory days and resurrect some of this banter, I am now an adult so I will leave bullying children for their names to Katie Hopkins.
As I reached the door of Jamie’s Italian, I realised something was amiss. Where Jamie’s Italian had been was now a Giggling Squid. I checked my phone to see whether there were any other Jamie’s I could do my hit piece on within Uber range. And then, a tear of joy welled in my eye as I realised Jamie’s Italian had gone into administration in 2019. I walked back home overjoyed and ready to tuck into my supper of £1.95 Lidl nuggets. Did I feel stupid? A bit maybe, but anytime I do now, I just remember Jamie Oliver exists.