Jamie and Jack

So today, everybody is talking about Jamie Oliver and his rant about poor people (did he really say that?) who choose big tellies and chips over mange tout from the market.

I hope his mom has phoned him and given him a proper telling off. He flunked school and if it wasn’t for the fact that he had parents owned a pub and gave him the opportunity and encouragement to follow a food career, he too could be one of those poor people living on a diet of Kyle instead of Kale.

I like Jamie, I really do, he put his head over the parapet and criticised school dinners, got the government to increase the spend on school meals. Turkey Twizzlers were revealed to be made of pink slime and his books improved my husbands cooking.

He is a bit gobby, he gets angry when children are passed burgers through school gates and I genuinely think he cares about the health and diet of young people. Fifteen gives young people employment training. What is not to like about Jamie?

It seems he has some right wing views about poor people that have upset a lot of us, poor or otherwise. Here’s the thing Jamie, not all ‘poor’ people have big tellies and eat chips. Some rich people do. People may be poor because they have a disability and can’t work. People may struggle because their partner died. Some are poor because they got into debt and got ripped off by loan sharks. What is shocking is that many of these loan sharks companies are legal, advertise on the big telly conveying the message is that Wonga will solve all their problems and Brighthouse has everything you need to have a lovely home. All at two zillion percent interest.

What I am certain of is that no one chooses to be poor. People with good jobs can lose their homes if they are made redundant. Three months away from homelessness. I have been there, have lain awake at night and wondered how I can keep my house, buy shoes for the children and have enough money for the prepayment electric meter. I was lucky as parents stepped in and helped us out financially. Not everyone has parents that can or will.

I am also lucky because I can cook. My grandmother had to feed an extended family on a very small budget and I guess by watching her I learned basic techniques. By the time we had cookery lessons at school, I was capable of making beans on toast, (a recent survey claimed that 1 in 10 are not) and I went to uni with a pressure cooker, a Kenwood Mixer and a recipe book. I ate well on a limited student budget and created Beef Daube in bedsit kitchens. I owe that to my mom, her complete inability to cook made learning to cook a matter of survival or else eat soggy cabbage the rest of my life.

I am lucky that I have travelled. It was travelling that changed my cooking. I wrote a post You Never forget your first Moussaka a while ago, as it was my first trip to Greece that really inspired me to experiment more with food. Since travelling in SE Asia I have cooked more with thai basil and lemongrass. I am lucky that I have a local grower that supplies me with these plants so I don’t have to pay silly Waitrose prices for them.

Jamie thinks we all need to go to our local market and buy fresh cheap ingredients. I don’t have a local market. It would cost me £4 in bus fare to go to the market in Birmingham. If I was living on a minimum wage I could not afford to do that. That is equivalent of buying a veg bag from Salop Drive Community Garden. A valuable community resource which  the council may pull funding on, a resource that not only gives people on limited incomes access to affordable healthy food, but also provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to learn gardening skills. A resource that is under threat due to budget cuts.

I can also buy from The Bearwood Pantry a food co op who buy direct from a farmer. Watch this short film to find out more about what they do. Then there is a couple of enterprising butchers who have recently started to sell loose vegetables since the fruit and veg shop shut down (yet punters still complain it is more expensive than Iceland) which I mentioned in The Tesco Footprint post.

Jamie really has no idea what it is like to struggle to bring up a family on a minimum wage, to not have access to a wide range of affordable ingredients and not have the skills to make a pasta sauce without opening a jar. I have ranted before about the Live Below the Line recipes and I would rather not eat a sausage at all than eat one from a value range, as they suggest, basing their meals around frozen veg, plastic bread and cheap sausages.

And yet, his accusing poor people of eating chips and cheese maybe career suicide combined with his affiliation with The Sun. The ad on my big telly promoting his budget cookery was patronising. With his flash diamante shoes and his cheeky chappy manner screaming ‘I am rich and I can show you benefit plebs how to cook with mange tout from your local markets’ made me want to chuck all his cookbooks in the bin. And The Sun, Jamie. Will you let your daughters flick through the pages to find your recipes? How will you explain Page Three to them? I would have admired you so much more if you had told them that you would not work with them while they still have Page Three. You cannot be motivated by the money, surely? You care about family values yet will encourage people to buy this publication for your recipes? Bring a paper into the home which objectifies women. How do you look your wife, your mom and your children in their eyes when they open The Sun and see tits?

Jamie is a millionaire, from a privileged background. He may have struggled at school and he has worked hard, but he doesn’t have a clue about what is like to manage on a limited budget, he doesn not know what it is like to be really hungry.

But Jack does.  A Girl Called Jack really knows what it is like to be broke and cold and hungry and is angry at how the smug rich think all ‘poor’ people choose a telly over mange tout. She uses easily available, cheap ingredients and transforms them into interesting affordable and nutritious meals. She got flak for using tinned potatoes (they are cheaper than fresh) and has accused of being a foodie snob for using chick peas. And, OMG, she used fish paste in a pasta dish. You would have thought the sky had fallen in. Yet she is adapting recipes from Nigel and Nigella and making them simple and affordable. She didn’t feed her son crisps and watch her big telly eating chips when she was unemployed and had less than £6 to feed herself and her child for a week and she doesn’t now she has got a job and a book deal. Because she knows that hunger hurts and her recipes and her campaigning is telling it like it really is.

Expect to see more ‘poor’ people in the country, Jamie, as the bedroom tax hits, as more jobs go in the public sector, as companies out source employee services to Romania. People get made redundant, clever, talented people are losing their jobs. They apply for 10 plus jobs a week get interviews weekly, and rejection letters daily.

We do not need Wonga, we need financial education in schools and more credit unions. A number of library services have blocked access to applying for loans on line and are providing information about managing money and information about credit unions. I just hope that these resources don’t close too.

We shouldn’t need food banks. We need access to affordable food, decent wages and people like Jack.

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