So Jamie Oliver, multimillionaire, has decided that we should get rid of BOGOF offers on foods high in sugar and fat. It seems silly, when you look into it, that a man who serves food with an extremely high fat content in his own restaurants should continue to make judgements about other people consuming fatty food. On the surface, it looks like a noble goal – to make Britain healthier – but when you specifically target cheap junk food and promote expensive junk food, it becomes clear that this is nothing more than an attack on working class people.
Before I go on, I want to state that I wholeheartedly believe in healthy eating. As someone who has suffered with both Anorexia and Bulimia for years, I am passionate about other people eating as well as possible, and not going down the same routes as me. I want to promote health but this is by no means the way to do it.
Jamie Oliver once ran a campaign for Sainsbury’s called ‘feed your family for a fiver’. This was a way to show that you can eat well on a budget. However, as a person who grew up in legitimate poverty, I can tell you that this campaign would only have been successful for middle class families. Five pounds, per meal, per day. Plus it often expected you to have lots of extra ingredients in your cupboards, like herbs and seasoning. That’s thirty five pounds minimum per week on dinner alone, for a family of four. When you add in breakfast, packed lunches, tea, snacks, etc you more than surpass the budgets of many poor families. This is just one example to highlight just how out of touch this man is in regards to eating healthily on a budget.
Growing up poor, in an incredibly turbulent household, with a mentally ill single parent who worked full time, I can tell you it’s not easy to be healthy on a budget. Not only could we not afford quinoa and avocado – we couldn’t afford fruit and vegetables. When you’re in that situation, you do what you can, and I absolutely believe my father is a hero for having got us through that time without us suffering any significant health problems caused by poor diet. We took multivitamins to make up for the lack of nutrients, and there were whole days where we would eat round after round of toast on cheap white bread to avoid going to bed hungry. Yes, tinned vegetables are cheap, but to prepare an entire meal from scratch when everything in your life is exhausting you is incredibly difficult. It’s by no means just my family who endured this – almost every working class family I know is well and truly shattered from the stress of trying to pay bills/take care of kids/struggling with disability/caring for disabled children/intense and often violent situations involving ex partners. To come home at the end of a long day and immediately put together a time consuming healthy meal is much more difficult than it sounds to someone who’s never been in that situation - not to mention that the gas and electric used to cook food can be too expensive for worse off families.
Do I think everyone should eat pizza every night? Absolutely not. But that’s not what these takeaway deals are about. People aren’t taking advantage of those deals to have two pizzas for themselves, they’re using those deals to be able to actually afford to treat their kids to a takeaway for the first time in months. To suggest that these families should cut down on their fat intake, while maintaining that it is perfectly acceptable for middle class people to chow down on sugar, fat and salt at Jamie’s restaurants is obviously classism.
If there had been taxes/higher prices on ‘unhealthy’ food when I was a kid, I would have gone to bed hungry. And I’m not alone. There are plenty of families living on whatever they can afford. There’s many things we can ask the government to do to help stop this: increase the minimum wage so people can live on it, stop unfairly cutting disabled people’s benefits, introduce more social housing, lower the prices on fruit and veg, bring back breakfast clubs and free school meals, make said school meals more nutritionally balanced – all ideas that would greatly benefit the entire country in terms of health and wellbeing. So if your goal is to genuinely save our diets, Jamie, maybe focus on the inequalities and factors that lead people down the path of food poverty and spend less time worrying about the working class families who are treating themselves to pizza for a night.