Jamie Oliver - cooking up a revolution
Jamie Oliver admits he questions reality when he is centre stage at places like the World Health Assembly giving a speech on global nutrition or in the inner sanctum of British Parliament planning the obesity strategy with the Prime Minister.
“It’s absolutely nuts,” he tells me down the phoneline from the UK. “To make it even worse, everyone listens, but I still feel like the naked chef."
It is admirable, but why him? Why has Jamie felt the need to change the way we eat? Why has he became the flag bearer for the food revolution? Responsibility and right place, right time is only part of it.
Happily married, he and wife Jools have recently welcomed their fifth child, River, into their lives. “It is brilliant and amazing and we are very thankful,” he says of his newborn son. “Sunday, I looked around the table and everyone was around it and I just went, ‘Bloody hell, how did this happen?’ I know how it happened...but you know…”
And there’s the answer. Every parent knows, as does any responsible adult. For Jamie, it's about giving children the nutrition they need to be the best they can be. All this starts with education. Kids, adults, governments; everyone.
Life Changes to Eating
Australia and Britain are up there with the USA in adult obesity rates. How has this happened in just three short decades? “People always find a way to shortcut,” reasons Jamie. “And the minute they find a way to make time on a job, they fill it up with other stuff. Technology has really added to that. Everyone is juggling more things, more money and more responsibilities – life has just changed. “The reality of it is 56% of Aussies are overweight or obese and health problems are shooting through the roof because of it. And this is at the same time we have more knowledge and beautiful produce. But it comes down to two things: knowing how to cook and access to good food.”
Jamie’s plethora of cookbooks and cooking shows is helping solve the first issue. But he’s gone above that, setting up initiatives such as The Ministry of Food, a hands-on community cooking school, The Kitchen Garden Project to introduce growing food and cooking into schools, as well as being part of The Obesity Strategy, Sugar Smart UK, and the list goes on.
Look at What you Serve
The second part of the solution – access to good food – is getting people to look at the produce they eat. In short, it’s about more fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and beans. “I just spent two years going around the world to where people live the longest,” says Jamie. “These places are not rich, they are not scientists or nutritionists – they just happen to be good at cooking food that is delicious and really good for you. And it is pretty much vegetarian. They eat meat and fish, but really only twice a week. “Take Korea, for instance. I sat down at a table where there were 10 plates of noodles, heaps of veg – steamed, stir-fried, pickled, fermented – colour everywhere, and then a plate of meat. By default, that is super balanced, super healthy.”
The thing is, Jamie knows his stuff. Alongside over two decades of cooking, he has been studying nutrition for the past four years. A full diploma. As a consequence, each recipe in his most recent cookbooks has nutritional information such as calories, fats, protein and carbs, plus special sections offering healthy tips and ways to balance your meals. “Nutrition can be very technical, very scientific,” says Jamie. “So I have tried hard to build bridges between science and understanding it in the real world.”
Still the Same Guy
All of this seems far removed from the knockabout chef that burst onto our TV screens all those years ago.“I often think the Naked Chef did well in Aussie because, back in the day, my attitude was all about having a laugh and using food to make cool memories and I think that’s very Australian. To a certain degree, nothing has changed. I am inspired by the same things. The food that made me tick, still makes me tick.
“But I have always been driven by what people want and these days people ask, what is balance? What does ‘good food’ look like? So the point of books like Super Food Family Classics is to create something where every choice is a good choice.
“It isn’t about getting it right all the time. Personally, I try to eat to the principles of the book, Monday to Friday lunch. That’s how I do it. And then, guess what? Friday night, I don’t even think about it – the whisky is out, I am planning the weekend, I am getting amongst it. Everyone will find their own pattern, but that generally puts me in a good place.”