Kudos to Jamie Oliver

Thursday, November 6, 2008 2 comments
Chef Jamie Oliver
(Photo credit: Scandic Hotels/Flickr)**
Chef Jamie Oliver, who used his celebrity status to focus attention on the nutritional quality (or lack thereof) in British school meals, has now expanded the scope of his campaign to encourage healthier eating on all levels. Addressing a parliamentary health committee yesterday, Oliver warned that the rate of obesity in the UK will continue to rise, due in large part to the lack of simple cookery skills for making nutritious meals at home. As a result, people increasingly are turning to fast food for their dietary needs.

"[T]his is the first time in British history where you haven't got most of the population able to cook and you can statistically see where people are spending their money now and fast food options are up," he said.
Among his proposed solutions, Oliver wants to see cooking classes added to the regular primary school curriculum and the appointment of a 'Food Minister' to oversee public policy. (Read the full articles at Reuters UKand the Scotsman.)

I say, "Bravo, Jamie!" Developing cooking skills is like making soup - starting with a basic stock and adding ingredients as you like, you may end up with a simple noodle broth or a more complex bouillabaisse. Likewise, a young child who learns how to cook at an early age may grow up to become the next celebrity chef or, at least, will know how to prepare spaghetti alia e olio instead of ordering takeout. The important thing is that he or she will have the fundamentals of cookery on which to build more skills and knowledge throughout their lives.

Elementary school children have classes in art, physical education and music but home economics (do they still call it that?) are sadly lacking. I didn't have a home econ class until junior high and that was bundled with sewing, woodworking and auto mechanics. Fortunately, a lot of what I now know, I learned at home from my mother and our housekeeper, Teresita. This kind of learning is all but disappearing in Britain, according to Oliver, because more women are working outside of the home and are not passing down the culinary skill they may have learned from their own mothers. 

If I have a critique of Oliver's words, this is it. Aside from his constant use of 'girls' to refer to adult women, his testimony assumes that the transfer of cooking knowledge is solely a matrilineal process, passed down from mother to daughter. By extension, his assessment that the widespread lack of these skills in young people is an underlying factor of unhealthy eating inadvertently indicts women who choose to enter the workforce. In justifying his call for publicly-funded cooking programs, Oliver basically says the government must step in where many women are no longer found - in the kitchen. As traditional gender roles continue to be re-written and re-interpreted, this view has become archaic and unfair. The popularity of cooking shows, books and blogs among men shows that a love of culinary arts is gender neutral (Oliver himself was introduced to cookery in his father's pub-restaurant). Hopefully, the notion that handing down such skills and interests is a woman's thing will be relegated to history.

The increasing rates of obesity around the globe can be attributed to myriad causes, not the least of which is the ubiquity of fast food, but I think Oliver has hit on one aspect that is overlooked among the calls to ban trans-fats or to restrict the opening of fast food restaurants in inner-city neighborhoods. Ultimately, our health depends on our choices so the more knowledge we have, the more informed - and hopefully, the more healthy - those decisions will be. Notwithstanding my nitpicking over his choice of words, I agree with the Naked Chef that our children should be taught the fundamentals of nutrition just as they are taught writing and mathematics, whether it is at school or at home. So to all classically-trained chefs, humble home cooks, and every manner of fervent foodies, I implore, "Cook, eat, and teach!"

**Updated 3/15/2012: In the original post published on 11/6/08, I used a photograph of Chef Jamie Oliver which I credited to the source but did not actually have permission from the photographer to use. The new photo that replaces it above is used under a Creative Commons license.


  • Anonymous said...

    Yes! I've seen him talk about this before. I agree that it's hard to make nutritious food for the family because 1)there isn't enough time in my schedule and 2)it's hard to convince the kids that nutritious food can TASTE good, well, maybe it's my cooking skills that's not doing good food justice.


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