Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food hits our screens

Jamie Oliver’s latest social project television program, Jamie’s Ministry of Food, hits Australian screens tomorrow (Weds 8 Sep) on Ten. I guess Australian commentators will be horrified at scenes of domestic deprivation of sorts, but I expect the stark contrast between the UK and Australia will make it seem a little unreal. I was horrified at the lack of food knowledge and the horrendous diets of so many people when I lived in the UK, not just poor working class. And that was despite functioning produce markets and often well-stocked supermarkets. Unfortunately, the hottest items in the supermarkets were preprepared, microwaveable meals. Sometimes they were quite tasty, but their flabbergasting popularity did nothing for encouraging cooking skills. Lower down the food chain, crap sausages and unspeakable budget-house-brand pork pies did nothing for nourishment.

Most of Australia is a long way from this, despite our regular breast-beating about the state of the nation’s eating habits. Jamie’s Ministry of Food should serve as a warning of a state of affairs which could happen here, but most likely wouldn’t.

There has been a lot of discussion in the UK about Jamie Oliver’s new series. Of course, some of this is gratuitous Jamie-bashing (and he can come across as an ignorant twirp at times), but the various commentators’ positions are quite fascinating… criticising Jamie Oliver for being everything from clueless to egotistical to self-promoting to arrogant to middle-class-arrogant to worthy to… phew!

Felicity Lawrence in the Guardian (01 Oct) — found via Limes&Lycopene
Word of Mouth in the Guardian (01 Oct) — and check out the comments!!
Rob Lyons at Spiked! (01 Oct) — a very different perspective

As misluck would have it, I’ll be working when the first episode screens here… but I guess footage will turn up elsewhere eventually.

7 thoughts on “Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food hits our screens”

  1. I never watched his latest program, I don’t even know they air them her in the States (must check it out)
    I think the U.S is probably has bigger problem then Australia, no?

  2. I actually got to see the first episode of this. What Jamie’s saying is not really unreasonable (I mean, it really should be cheaper and much healthier to cook meals at home using fresh ingredients), but his method seems incredibly flawed. He doesn’t seem to realize that not everyone wants to learn how to cook. Some people LOVE take-away beyond reason. Passing on a few simple recipes tends to pall and there is a considerable loss of fidelity (not to mention skill) with each generation it’s passed. Really uncomfortable to watch, in my opinion. He’s also not really addressing key issues about home economy, which is of primary importance to these families. (He seems to take for granted how complex these problems can be.)

    All in all, not very well-planned and such a disappointment.

  3. It’s a while since I lived in London but compared to NZ, where I had come from, I ate incredibly well. Though I was living in a large, organised household of health food freaks (my english BF called it “the house of food worshipers” but then again he thought eating a marathon/snickers bar for breakfast was good nutrition because it had nuts in it).

    What impressed me about London, was the abundance of local markets. Ours was Dalston (NE London), not dissimilar to the market depicted in “East Enders”. I know the markets are still in swing, not just the fancy Borough market but local temporary ones that are in operation a couple of times a week. You can get fresh food in most neighbourhoods for reasonable prices.

    I think Manggy is onto it with the comment that some people don’t want to cook. I mean, the English culinary heritage is not a huge incentive to master the art. The only good food I ate in England in the ’80s was vegetarian or Indian. Go figure.

  4. Hi AOF. Those markets are great aren’t they! (Though the diversity often isn’t great, at least it’s cheap and fresh.)

    This point about wanting to cook is key, i think, as both Manggy and you have mentioned. The process of cooking is perhaps not enjoyable for lots and lots of people, which makes the result potentially less valuable to them — takeaway or someone else’s cooking becomes much more attractive. There’s analogous behaviour in people with more money, though it’s rarely (ever?) discussed — dining out at any price point is not just about deliciousness or status or convenience-after-a-hard-day… many of those moneyed diners are the same can’t-cook/won’t-cook type. Their food choices are just more varied (or just ‘respectable’).

  5. Hi Duncan, I have just discovered Syrup & Tang tonight. Consider yourself bookmarked, I have enjoyed all of your entries thus far, very much indeed.

    As to what Jamie was trying to achieve, I can only say, I admire his conviction to the cause. I suspect that his efforts will make some smaller difference to a few families, though nothing like what I see he appeared to be aiming for.

    Thank goodness he’s trying though. While I agree with previous comments (and forgive my late comments here please) that some people don’t enjoy cooking, that really isn’t the point. If you are a parent, you have an obligation to cook (mostly) healthy food for your children. Cooking is an important life skill, you need to cook for and with your children wherever possible.

    If you’re single or an adult couple and are happy living on cruddy food, fine, but bring innocents into the equation, and things have to change.

    From a financial point of view, I don’t buy into the suggestion that take away is cheaper. Fresh (maybe not organic) vegetables, legumes, pulses, cheaper cuts of meat (and I mean ‘cheap’ in terms of rump vs fillet here, not sausage mince vs crayfish) will easily give you meals for mere cents compared to dollars. Heck you can even buy Puy style lentils at subparmarkets these days, so you can eat very well on very little.

    Good on Jamie for at the very least, keeping such an important subject in the front of the community’s consciousness.

  6. Welcome Coby:) You bring up a very interesting point about duty to one’s offspring. It’s something which is probably hard to communicate in a positive way to parents who lack good cooking skills, but is a valuable message.

  7. I actually agree, Coby 🙂 But I think the subset of people who are not very interested in cooking is an important point, since it puts a huge dent in the “pass it on” exponential growth. Another interesting tidbit to the assertion that parents have a responsibility to raise their kids on healthy food is that Julie Critchlow, the woman who famously opposed Jamie’s original School Dinners movement by distributing junk to the kids at her son’s school, obviously had a different perspective on Jamie’s mission. I forget what her exact reasoning was, but something along the lines of making kids happy, letting kids be kids, letting them eat what they want, etc. etc. It was shown in the program that she did know how to cook actual home meals, but found Jamie’s insinuations insulting and condescending. Frankly I found Critchlow incredibly close-minded and irritating, but it was a frightening look at what might have been going through the heads of the parents who had no desire to be a part of the movement.

    I did see the final episode– it ended on a very hopeful note, and Critchlow seemed to have been made a believer. Maybe. It’s hard to tell with editing. Also, thanks to the efforts of series hero Natasha, it appears that several other towns might adopt the pass it on program, but I generally distrust politicians (most of all when they have several cameras on them!) and I’ll believe it when I see it.

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