Sticking Up For Jamie Oliver
Eliane Glaser has just published a book called ‘Get Real’. It’s partly about the illusions behind many food marketing campaigns and uncovers the various disguises many supposedly ‘small’ companies don, when they are really super huge multi-nationals trying to snaffle some extra organic/ethical/local dollars from your pocket. The book looks amazing and I am definitely going to buy it. Transparency and ethics are a big deal to me (and probably to you too) and I like to KNOW the choice I am making when I am making it. I am not into the cloak and dagger corporate masquerade thing so much. I don’t always make perfect choices, but I do like to know the facts so I can weigh them up at the checkout.
Eliane also wrote a piece for The Guardian which was published on Friday. She’s aimed her tell-it-like-it-is bow at the new ‘Food Revolution’ and she’s got some interesting things to say. I am not sure I agree with a lot of them, but I think it’s super cool to talk about this stuff and work out where you stand. So let’s do that.
Here are some quotes from the piece (you should really have a read of the whole article to get the proper context for these snippets!)
The spectacle of Jamie Oliver a cheeky lad from Essex, tearing basil leaves on to spaghetti was in some ways a step forward for equality, but in other ways it was a sneaky step back – because it made it that much harder to notice the dodgy doublespeak that has come to dominate the way we talk about food.
Or there’s this, from Jamie At Home: “Like most people these days, with a busy family life and a hectic working schedule, I began to struggle with finding a balance between the two. I seem to have evened things up a bit now, and it’s all thanks to my veg garden.” That would be the veg garden that enjoys the attentions of a personal gardener.
I guess that Eliane is talking about the magic of TV and marketing spin here? The fact that Jamie’s built himself a bit of an empire, with a lot of hard work, and that the every-dude persona we’re served up on our screens may not ring completely true? I guess that is true. I am thinking if you are touring the world promoting good eating, home cooking, your huge range of cookbooks and spruiking your telly shows and DVDS you might not have time to compost your carrots…? But is Mr Oliver REALLY creating the illusion of the every-dude anyway? We totally know that he’s not at home every night, watching Eastenders with Jools and chatting about whipping up a new flowery named kidlet. We know that. Don’t we? We’re okay with it, yes?
source : news.com.au
Perhaps Eliane’s talking about the liberal tossing of basil or sprinkling of sea salt or the no-holds-barred chugging of the very best quality Olive Oil. These ingredients are in many pantries across Australia but are definitely not accessible to all and not always available or affordable. I totally get that. Yep. I do. But the thing is that these shows are, like most cookbooks, not only practical but aspirational. We love to watch them from the comfort of our couch while we eat take-away. We also love to watch them and then print out the recipe from some blog or some foodie site, trot down to the shops to get the ingredients and then bound home to try and replicate their apparent deliciousness. Horses for courses. Or something.
For me, my eyes are wide open. There is no double speak or fakery involved at all. Unless Jamie is REALLY A LADY, I don’t think he’s pulling one over on me. I’m cool with him. We’re good.
There’s a much bigger story here than Jamie Oliver’s tarragon or Nigella and her poussin, obviously. There are many stories, really. Big companies pretending to be little companies. Huge corporations spruiking their ‘local, homey, neighbourly’ franchises. Organic food farming swallowing up huge amounts of resources and being transported all over the world. Conventional food farming swallowing up huge amounts of resources and being transported all over the world. Expensive ingredients we don’t need or want filling the shelves of supermarkets and delis across the globe. Famous chef’s wives putting out badly written books that no one should read. Chefs putting out badly written books that no one should read. Food labeling. Genetically modified food. The damage caused by pesticides. The lack of support for small producers. The list goes on and I think it’s super important to be aware of these issues and address them in your own way, in your own life. For SURE. Buy Eliane’s book.
But I reckon that taking aim at Jamie is probably a bit misguided (although totally clever in terms of getting your new book noticed!) Jamie seems to be very aware of the issues at stake and a veritable ambassador against many of these foodie wrongs. I think it’s a bit rich to say he’s part of the problem.
Here, Eliane talks about the class divide in cooking shows and how apparent it is on shows like Jamie’s ‘Ministry of Food’.
Jamie’s ‘Ministry of Food’ claimed to bring home cooking to the ordinary British family, but the series was riddled with undeclared class dynamics. Those mothers who passed chips through the fence at Rawmarsh school in South Yorkshire after it started serving Jamie’s healthy school dinners were protesting against paternalism. As one of them explained, “This isn’t about us against healthy food, like they’ve been saying… It’s about how people change the rules.” I believe Jamie’s gastronomical good intentions, but his outrage at seeing mothers bottle-feeding Coke to their babies has a class dimension that is never explicitly addressed.
Surely there are more than good intentions at play here? And is there ever a time to stop talking about how to eat well and how to cook for ourselves? Is it ever socially inappropriate? I think when we can go too far, for sure, especially if we’re talking truffle oil on our Wednesday night spaghetti bolognese, but surely encouraging people to feed their kids less chips and more vegies is not insensitive. Is it? Or is it? And is trying to encourage better eating really paternalistic?
A lot of what we love about Jamie, Nigella, Hugh and the like is that they really DO present life, food and home cooking in a way that’s generally achievable, inspiring and entertaining. We know that there are sets involved. We get that their version of lazy, rustic is really carefully considered. We know that they edit some bits out. We’re totally on to the fact that the food stylist whizzes in and corrects the odd drizzle here and there. But we are generally pretty happy with the result of all that. That’s not to say that ‘reality’ foodie shows such as ‘Come Dine With Me’ are not awesome too, but it just means that given the choice most of us would probably prefer a bit of magic over reality. Dinner with Jamie, rather than Bert from Brighton, if you know what I mean.
Despite their high-sprinkling salty antics and their pomegranate whacking, Jamie and Nigella are the foot soldiers for this new awareness about food. They make us care about the things we put on the table and they create conversations about where those things might have come from and whether we want to buy into it (or indeed BITE into it!) Without their fresh, relatable approach we might all still be measuring scones to a height of one inch a la the cookery manuals (and Delia!), opening lots of tins, whisking white sauce with furrowed brows or approaching artichokes with unbridled fear. They’ve put the fun back into food, making foodie shows almost as popular as SPORT on the telly. Whodathunkit?!
I think we should aim our bourgie brulee blow-torches a little higher, at those further up the chain, or those who are doing real damage.
I think we should recognize Jamie and Nigella as the foodie heroes that they really are. Let’s not shoot the messenger.
What do you think?
PS : Jamie’s in Australia at the moment. You can see him in Melbourne tomorrow. Or Google about a bit to find out where else he’ll be.