So Jamie Oliver had a go at how families on low incomes shouldn't spend their money on massive effing TV sets but rather make a tasty dinner with 25 mussles and pasta for 60p.
And then he defended himself on the One show by saying that he does more good than harm and that it was all a media outrage that wasn't to be taken seriously.
As soon as I read his initial comments, I was deeply unsettled. The main reason for this is that he feeds into already well established perceptions of the poor being to blame for their misfortune. This is neither true nor helpful.
Let's look at the big picture for a moment: The UK is the 4th richest country in the world, yet rife with income inequalities. We are a rich country yet 1 in 4 children grows up in poverty. Apparently the richest earn well over 250 times as much as the poorest. And there is no way that the poor are to blame for this sorry and unnecessary state of affair. It is true however that the it is in the interest of the rich to blame the poor for their own plight, so that they can defend their own position to be one of merit achieved by hard work and strive.
Personally, I don't think any meritocracy can account for 263 times the income of the poorest, to me that's just greed and selfishness, and if you call me a socialist for saying this, feel free.
Anyway, fact is that in an unequal society is that as long as the public opinion blames the poor and justifies the rich, the status quo can be maintained. Jamie Oliver has done just that. And that is deeply wrong, unhelpful and actually works against some of the really good work he does. It particularly pains me because I like the bloke otherwise and think he has indeed done heaps for making cooking be cool, and ensuring that our kids get decent food at school.
His comments were also misled because they were patronising (he offered a hug to the poor, as if they need a hug, that's not bringing any food onto the table last time I checked) and simplistic. A massive TV? Well, maybe that was acquired before the crisis point, or given by a relative, or maybe it's the one and only item of "yes" in a life dominated by "no's" as the Guardian rightly pointed out.
Interestingly, Jamie Oliver also points out that cooking from scratch is so much cheaper and better for you. I wonder why he sells a range of ready made meals then, making a fortune from them. But more to the point I would actually defy that this is the truth. With the price of fruit and veg, and even staples like rice and bread going up while prices of ready meals are going down, it is actually cheaper to get your 10 (horse) burger pack from Farmfoods. If you even want to buy organic or locally produced food, the price tag is unaffordable even for middle income families, because food is the one cost that can be controlled more than others. If you have a bill for rent, that's paid first: eviction is more serious than having rubbish food for a week. Some examples: a can of coke is less than a bottle of water. When I was a student with very little money to live off, I would eat a chocolate bar and a packet of crisps which was and still is cheaper than a sandwich. And where exactly would I pick up the mussels Jamie mentioned? They are not exactly kicking about in Glasgow. Most housing estates are devoid of any decent shops - it's your farmfoods, overpriced newsagent and chippy and that's that. No market, no fresh veg. If you want that, you need a car or an ever increasing bus return fare to get to the nearest supermarket. I'm not sure where Jamie's idea of that market stall comes from, but it's certainly not the average housing estate in Glasgow.
Then there's the cost of cooking. Gas, pots and pans, even a hob are not things that families on low incomes can take for granted. Nevermind the cost of ingredients - it's nice to do it from scratch but herbs are over a pound a glass and you'll need a few of them to get you started, not exactly attractive if you can get cheap convenience food that fills your tum and tastes ok and can be cooked in 3 minutes in the microwave.
Next up is the whole concept that apparently rubbish nutritioun it's a problem of the poor. Rubbish nutrition is a problem of this country, regardless of income. The rich and middle classes have the means and resources to cook well but do they do it? Convenience food is convenient for them too. Making nutrition into a class thing just misses the point. I am middle class and overweight. My diet is not the best (although it's not the worst) and like everyone else it's bloody hard to resist the ever present temptation of sugar, carbs and convenience foods. Cooking from scratch is a daily hard choice that isn't made easier by the conundrums of working family life. Kids are influenced by their peers and demand fish fingers instead of fish, baked beans instead of lentil bake, and sweetened yoghurts instead of natural yoghurt. And when your children once again tell you they hate what you cooked, the fish fingers are more than tempting because you really don't want to be wasting food again.
Should I also mention that Jamie is one of the rich, who has no experience of the reality of being poor and human decency would dictated that he should keep his gob well shut about experiences he is so far removed from that he has no idea what he is actually talking about.
Above all, Jamie's comments have nothing to offer other than alienating audiences and contributing to perpetuating stereotypes that need to be challenged instead. I'm sure he's done his own campaigns more damage than good (although being in the news with patronising comments is probably in the end good for his profile). Instead, he should offer inspiring and fun ways of cooking with limited resources (i.e. that don't necessitate his cook books, utensils and fancy ingredients), and just be what he's best at: contagiously passionate about food.
And then, if he wants to go a bit further, how about tackling the reasons for this country's inequality and campaigning against the shame of this countries poverty statistics, for a fairer society where no child has to go hungry.