The Naked Chef? More like The Knob-end Chef.
September 3, 2013 7:21 AM   Subscribe

"Oliver suddenly began insulting the very people he was trying to market his new products to, and once he started saying condescending things he couldn’t stop." So many previouslies.
posted by Kitteh (235 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Born on third course, thinks you should eat a salad.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:30 AM on September 3, 2013 [55 favorites]


He's obviously still quite adept at whipping up a plate of free publicity.
posted by chavenet at 7:33 AM on September 3, 2013


Man, I am glad someone put this to words. I can't imagine anyone actually aware of how to help the impoverished resorts to adding their voice to the chorus telling the poor that they're ruining their children/society.
posted by griphus at 7:33 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's outrageous about this is that he's not hectoring the poor about their poor choices in the service of right-wing ideology but in the service of the (perceived) left-wing cause of healthy eating.

If he'd told them they should stop choosing to be poor and just go get a job, nobody would have noticed.

I'm not saying he framed his message well, you understand.
posted by gauche at 7:36 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


You just know that he'll either be running for MP as a Conservative in the 2020 election, or he'll do a Vinny and emigrate to continuously whine about Britain/England from somewhere else.
posted by Wordshore at 7:38 AM on September 3, 2013


Nice use of the whitemalecondescension tag.
posted by 0 at 7:40 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe a less intemperate comment: I think there's always an element of paternalism in trying to teach adults how to do (better) a thing they have already done for years, and it's probably very easy to slip after a while. Like we're talking about over in the Jacobin thread, the very act of education suggests implicitly that people have the power within themselves to improve their lives, which both is and is not the case. It makes it so that we focus on the individual actor and their choices rather than the system in which that actor is making those choices. If you want better choices, you have to change the system just as much as the people.

But it's easy to focus on the people rather than the system. It's not right, but it's very human.
posted by gauche at 7:40 AM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


His comments are offensive and plainly wrong, but they're also only a degree or two worse than parts of some Metafilter threads about diet. The idealized version of how poor Italians eat, especially, read like a Metafilter thread, only we tend to put poor people from Central and South America, living thriftily and healthily on diets of vegetables and beans in that slot.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:41 AM on September 3, 2013 [39 favorites]


I've been to places like rural Guatemala where 'home-cooking' for even really poor families is arguably better than the garbage most Americans eat-- really fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, reasonable, but not excessive portion sizes, not too much meat, not a lot of sugar and salt, etc. But a lot of that is made possible by the fact that women don't generally work outside the home and thus have all day to source the food and prepare a meal. And the health aspect is driven by necessity, not necessarily desire. There is also a market within walking distance of their homes selling reasonably priced fresh food. (Which doesn't have any health or safety regulators. I basically had to pretend I didn't see where the food was coming from when I ate there-- I saw stuff like dogs pissing on produce and some really sad looking live chickens)

Even so, from what I could tell, if there is a McDonald's or a Pollo Campero nearby and they have the money for it, they're as likely to gorge on junk food as anybody else is. The way people eat in Guatemala City is about the same as the way people eat in any big city in the US.
posted by empath at 7:43 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Nice use of the whitemalecondescension tag.

Surely this is a richcondescension thing instead.
posted by DU at 7:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


SAVE US JAMIE OLIVER

SAVE US FROM OURSELVES
posted by edheil at 7:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Surely this is a richcondescension thing instead.

I vote for chefsplaining.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:48 AM on September 3, 2013 [83 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: "His comments are offensive and plainly wrong, but they're also only a degree or two worse than parts of some Metafilter threads about diet. The idealized version of how poor Italians eat, especially, read like a Metafilter thread, only we tend to put poor people from Central and South America, living thriftily and healthily on diets of vegetables and beans in that slot."

So what, you're saying we should buy him an account?
posted by boo_radley at 7:48 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Don't let them eat cake.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:50 AM on September 3, 2013 [49 favorites]


Oooh, I should have totally thought of the "chefsplaining" and "richcondescension" tags. Dammit.
posted by Kitteh at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


How you do it:

http://greenbronxmachine.com/
posted by CrazyJoel at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm putting food/dietary threads into the same category as the recent "cloth diaper" thread where Metafilter attacks the messenger.

We need voices like Jaime's to tell people to start eating better - it's a good balance against the 24-7 advertising blitz of garbage food products.

Y'all can continue wringing your hands over the injustices of the system and how it's completely impossible to not eat McDonalds for every meal.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 7:59 AM on September 3, 2013 [29 favorites]


I think he basically sort of means well but his nice upper-middle class background means he has no idea of the reality of life for the very impoverished.

Having said that, I did my time on the dole and it is very possible to eat properly as long as you don't mind having the same stew/curry or whatever a few days running. You don't have to eat crap.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:00 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


From jscalzi:
Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.
...
Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.
...
Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.
...
Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.
...
Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.
...
Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.
Jaime Oliver should trying being poor for a while. Truly poor. Without a fucking safety net poor. Until then, fuck him and the judgmental asinine horse he rode in on.
posted by zarq at 8:01 AM on September 3, 2013 [101 favorites]


What's more - a focal point of the article is nothing more than pure capitalism: How can Jaime say these things when he's trying to move product at the same time. What about his image?

Clearly he should be kissing the poor people's ass with white lies and a pat on the back saying "good job" while attempting to take their money.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 8:03 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think he basically sort of means well but his nice upper-middle class background means he has no idea of the reality of life for the very impoverished.

IIRC growing up his parents ran a pub and he got his interest in cooking by helping out around the pub. That sounds more like working class than upper middle class.
posted by gyc at 8:03 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


We need voices like Jaime's to tell people to start eating better...

We need voices, certainly. Whether we need voices that grossly misapprehend the circumstances of impoverished people and condescend to them based on this misapprehension is something it looks like we disagree on.
posted by griphus at 8:04 AM on September 3, 2013 [24 favorites]


We need voices like Jaime's to tell people to start eating better - it's a good balance against the 24-7 advertising blitz of garbage food products.

Wouldn't it be better to have a voice who gave that balance without the condescension and blame? Wouldn't it be better to tell people to eat better without resorting to stereotypes about immigrants?

The choice isn't, or shouldn't be, between "I'm Lovin' It" and "you fat lazy people need to be more like the Italians."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:04 AM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


Not even real Italians. Imaginary Italians made up for the purposes of scolding people for not being like said imaginary Italians.
posted by griphus at 8:06 AM on September 3, 2013 [34 favorites]


IIRC growing up his parents ran a pub and he got his interest in cooking by helping out around the pub. That sounds more like working class than upper middle class.

By 'pub' he means multi-room gastro-pub & restaurant in a pricey part of Essex catering to the golf-set, not a spit and sawdust boozer cranking out cheese sandwiches and cuppa-soups. So, no, it's a long way from most British people's idea of working class.
(it does do pretty good food though, so if you're passing through...)
posted by AFII at 8:07 AM on September 3, 2013 [19 favorites]


Whether we need voices that grossly misapprehend the circumstances of impoverished people and condescend to them based on this misapprehension is something it looks like we disagree on.

We disagree on the idea that what Jaime's saying is a gross misapprehension - he's proposing nothing impossible and every single thing is implementable.

You think he should be quiet to preserve his marketing base? Or that, once again, poor people simply cannot be expected to do this?
posted by Setec Astronomy at 8:08 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is possible for someone with a day job to do from-scratch cooking, and even canning - I can my own tomatoes to use through the year, and I probably save quite a bit of money that way; $15 in tomatoes, plus maybe a buck or two if I need new lids for the jars I've been using for 5 years now, and I end up with 10 jars of tomatoes and about 3 jars of juice, which is usually enough to last me a year. Simmer up one of those cans with some sauteed onion and I've got pasta sauce, rather than having to buy that too. And I only need to use one weekend to do it - this year, I did the first batch Saturday night, then the rest of them the next day and was pretty much done by about 4 in the afternoon. One weekend a year is do-able.

However - the process also sucks absolute ass. It is usually a humid day because tomatoes grow in summer, and I'm boiling things all day (boil the tomatoes to peel them, boil the tomato meat to blanch it, then boil the jars to vacuum-seal them) so I'm sweaty all day and the steam loosens crap from the grease trap above the stove that I haven't been able to get at and it drips down onto the stove all over everything; I scald myself a lot; I get tomato goodge all over my shirt and the counter and the canisters and every surrounding surface; I always end up with one jar that's got a little too little tomatoes to can and have to shove it in the fridge; and it's not the kind of thing where I can start it and walk away, because there's always some step I have to keep my eye on, but it's not so all-consuming that I have to constantly be there, so it's kind of mind-numbingly busywork; and I have to take about two showers and do a load of laundry after I'm done because tomato goodge everywhere. I mean, the fresh tomatoes all year and the bloody mary I make with the juice when I'm done are worth it, but holy shit it sucks.

So while I do encourage people to look into this kind of cooking/food stuff if they're interested, and can endorse doing so as "not as hard as you may think," I also completely respect the people who do look into it and decide "yeah, sorry, it just won't work for me." I keep it up because I really like the way the food tastes afterward, but the actual process of canning sucks dingo kidneys.

Jam isn't so bad, though, and it's how I use up fruit-that's-getting-too-ripe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on September 3, 2013 [33 favorites]


I don't mean to excuse Jamie (he is being incredibly condescending and classist), but I think this should be an opportunity to have a public discourse on the myths of poverty in Britain. I think his observation of a giant tv for instance, is something commonplace among people who have never experienced poverty for themselves. Growing up, I remember visiting friends in their family's trailer homes and seeing giant TVs among relative squalor. Or the family that couldn't afford to equip their kid for school, but Dad had a tricked out pickup truck.

When I first became aware of this sort of thing as a teen, I reacted much as Jamie has. I thought these people were being foolish with their money and ought to act more like responsible middle class people would. I thought this because I was middle class and was raised with middle class ideas of how money should be managed (which has its own set of myths).

It wasn't until I got older that I learned how the psychology of poverty and other institutional forces put pressures on the poor - pressures that I was always spared from. Through that lens the decisions of my friends' families made a lot more sense.

I guess Jamie hasn't learned any of that yet and he isn't alone. I would guess most people raised outside of poverty haven't given it much thought either. Instead of attacking him and making it all about Jamie, we should be attacking the underlying middle class perceptions of poverty in general. Its not often that there is a national discussion of poverty and the situation should be exploited to educate rather than demonize a silly celebrity chef.
posted by boubelium at 8:09 AM on September 3, 2013 [36 favorites]


What's more - the attacks against Jaime's "Imaginary Italians" are falling prey to the same fallacy that he has: the idea of a Dickensian Poor who are all just one bowl of gruel away from starvation rather than a spectrum of poverty, some of which could actually change themselves for the better.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 8:10 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's a coincidence that this thread seems like a very apt example of Moral Sentimentalism, as currently being discussed in this other thread today.

The way I see it, the moral problem being that the poor tend towards a less nutritious diet, and the sentimental solution being personal responsibility - tell the poor to get it together and learn how to eat proper. The economic solution might be to protect people from the influence of food industry lobbyists by taxing processed foods more heavily and making it easier and cheaper to buy good, nutritious food. Hell, if we're really talking radical change, why not increase import duties on fresh food so that food companies using fresher, locally-produced ingredients get a tax break? I'm not an expert so these are sort of theoretical, but the list of policy changes that could affect this issue would go on and on, yet instead we focus on individual responsibility.

The sad thing is, Oliver's heart is probably in the right place, but he's now going to become a pariah for these comments, rather than the people in power who take fat "donations" from lobbyists in return for letting them market fizzy drinks to kids.
posted by greenish at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


The guy wants people to eat better. He's been saying it for years. He has whole programmes and sponsored franchises devoted to it. He worded this badly but it's not like it's the antithesis of what he's stood for all along. I'm a big fan of tact but let's not get carried away with the stoning here.
posted by h00py at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2013 [47 favorites]


He's attacking traditional, bad cuisine (mostly) rather than people, for mine. Sure, he's not head of the class in understanding life being poor, but he's trying to encourage better eating; he's not calling them fwits. I think he's being a bit stitched up in this piece.
posted by peacay at 8:13 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I know you guys usually hate Cracked articles, but you all should read every article that John Cheese writes about being poor.
So much of what he writes hits home. HE's someone who knows what its like to be poor.

esp this one
posted by ShawnString at 8:16 AM on September 3, 2013 [21 favorites]



Growing up, I remember visiting friends in their family's trailer homes and seeing giant TVs among relative squalor.


The 'Giant TV means you're not poor' meme has to be definitively killed off somehow, but it just keeps going. I could order a brand new 1,000 pound TV on the web right now with a loan and no credit checks, have no payments to make for at least 6 months, then put the outstanding amount onto a credit card and then start paying the credit card instalments using 'payday' shark loans each month, and then get another credit card and then... and then... maybe it gets repossessed, maybe I struggle on... that's what poor people do. Because they can't afford to go out, among a million other reasons. Isn't it obvious?
posted by colie at 8:17 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


[Folks, touchy topic, maybe talk about the article instead of jumping straight to same old "let's argue about poverty" fights?]
posted by jessamyn at 8:18 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


h00py: "The guy wants people to eat better. He's been saying it for years. He has whole programmes and sponsored franchises devoted to it. He worded this badly but it's not like it's the antithesis of what he's stood for all along. I'm a big fan of tact but let's not get carried away with the stoning here"

Agreed. Oliver's one of the few chefs who's actually putting his money where his mouth is and attempting to avoid the whole "poverty tourism" the article accuses him of. Just because he put his foot in his mouth this one time doesn't cancel out his body of work.
posted by mkultra at 8:18 AM on September 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


h00py: "The guy wants people to eat better. He's been saying it for years. He has whole programmes and sponsored franchises devoted to it. He worded this badly but it's not like it's the antithesis of what he's stood for all along. I'm a big fan of tact but let's not get carried away with the stoning here."

He's stupidly, condescendingly and offensively simplifying a complex problem by blaming a group of people who frequently have very little ability to change their circumstances. He's showing that he really doesn't understand what it's like to live in poverty by (in effect) saying people are lazy and dumb for not making better choices.

When he does that, he's not helping.
posted by zarq at 8:19 AM on September 3, 2013 [30 favorites]


Possibly more instructive than this was Mario Batali's week on food stamps. Eating healthily on poverty wages is possible, he said, "as a way to live, but certainly not as a way to thrive."
posted by jbickers at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Just because he put his foot in his mouth this one time doesn't cancel out his body of work.
I agree - I personally owe him for almost all of my food interest/ability to cook for my family.
posted by colie at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


‘Poorcraft’ Is Everything Your Parents Never Taught You About Frugal Living

Cooking is a big one, money's use and quality of life wise - if you're living on a budget then its the best possible investment of your time.

Of course that assumes you've got time. If you've got kids I have to assume things become monumentally harder.

Buying a big TV on credit is something you will be presented with endless opportunities to do and almost always a poor life decision.
posted by Artw at 8:23 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hell, if we're really talking radical change, why not increase import duties on fresh food so that food companies using fresher, locally-produced ingredients get a tax break?

That's a completely daft idea in a country that cannot possibly produce enough food, especially fresh vegetables, domestically.
posted by atrazine at 8:24 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I get torn between two ways to feel here: I wish healthy nutritious food was available at the same price point as the pre-packaged dreck he talks about--or hell, any famous chef/author Trying to Do Good talks about--but then even if it were, any strike is simply the amount of time you have to put in. If you're a single parent with kids, or a pair of parents with kids, and you might have to work long-ass hours at one job or multiple, you just don't have the time or energy to make shit from scratch, no matter how much you may want to.

So I understand that, and I understand that I am very lucky, and hope that a better solution can be worked out without condescension.
posted by Kitteh at 8:24 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes people are lazy and dumb, though. Often it's because they haven't been given viable alternatives to what seems easiest. It doesn't mean they are beyond redemption or not good people in any number of ways. I myself am poor and frequently lazy (and sometimes dumb about all kinds of things).

Jamie Oliver appears to want people to realise that frozen chicken nuggets are not the only way to go if you want a quick, cheap meal. Mostly he's pretty good about getting his ideas across. This was a bad interview. I really don't think he hates poor people.
posted by h00py at 8:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


--He's showing that he really doesn't understand what it's like to live in poverty by (in effect) saying people are lazy and dumb for not making better choices.--

Nope zarq; you've decided that that's what his inelegant half-quotes are saying.
posted by peacay at 8:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


There is a certain irony in how certain critics, who have no experience in the topics he's talking about, criticising his knowledge. F

Oliver does get some credit for what he has personally done to tackle the issues he's raising. He has set up an apprentice program (Fifteen) that has turned out a few hundred chefs, a foundation devoted to healthy food, and worked for several years to improve the quality of food served in schools and as a campaigner for teaching people how to cook properly.

I think, an unfair reading of him and the time and effort he has put into the issue that he thinks the problems are simple to solve as if the guy hasn't discovered that from actually working directly to educate people and create menus on the two and sixpence school budgets.

He is a major critic of the supply chain, and his comment about the imaginary italian is not just 'what if the poor could just eat simply' but also 'the supply chain should make this possible'. In the middle of a £1.2m contract with Sainsbury's he criticised the company for peddling junk - Oliver's target is less the 'stupid poor' and more the wider food culture in the UK that means that kids get brought up eating crap and with little knowledge about how to cook, cook on a budget, and cook produce that is cheaper and plentiful in Britain. Oliver would, I suspect, absolutely have a problem that it was harder and more expensive to eat simply and well than to eat crap.

Sure, he lacks tact. But I don't think he's fundamentally wrong nor actually saying what the rentamob have decided he meant. These hit pieces feel like tall poppy syndrome targeted at a guy sufficiently passionate about the topic of good eating and apprenticeships for young British people to have been involved in fixing them for more than 10 years.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:28 AM on September 3, 2013 [34 favorites]


zarq: "He's stupidly, condescendingly and offensively simplifying a complex problem by blaming a group of people who frequently have very little ability to change their circumstances. He's showing that he really doesn't understand what it's like to live in poverty by (in effect) saying people are lazy and dumb for not making better choices."

Please show me the exact spot where he does this, because it seems to me you're doing the exact same brand of "stupidly, condescendingly and offensively simplifying" that you accuse him of.

If you or anyone else really wants to criticize his attitudes toward kids, let's focus on the names he bestowed upon his own:

Poppy Honey Rosie Oliver
Daisy Boo Pamela Oliver
Petal Blossom Rainbow Oliver
Buddy Bear Maurice Oliver

That's the real tragedy.
posted by mkultra at 8:29 AM on September 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


Yeah, in general Jaime has done a lot to help poor people get better food. This one comment of his was pretty much a boner, but I think it's an overstatement to label him History's Bootstrappiest Monster over it.
posted by gauche at 8:29 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have money now and I enjoy cooking, but I still eat at McDonald's and chipotles, etc a lot. I think he's underestimating how easy it is to cook. There is quite an investment of time and money involved before it starts to pay off, and if you weren't taught how to cook by your parents, you probably are never going to learn unless you have a surplus of both time and money. My parents didn't teach me how to cook, and it's only been recently that I've had the money and time to buy a set of pots and pans, and could afford the time and money to fully stock the kitchen, and a lot of times, I waste food because I don't know what to do with the left overs, or I buy stuff and it goes bad before I cook with it. There's a whole system one has to develop to make cooking your own food pay off-- you need to learn how to make your own stock from left over chicken for example, something which I have never managed to do even though I own a crockpot and once baked a chicken with the express purpose of making stock out of it.

Stuff like that I can deal with because cooking fresh food is a luxury I can afford to waste money and time learning how to do. When I was broke, I ate frozen meals and Kraft Mac and cheese constantly because it was a lot cheaper and easier for me to figure out.
posted by empath at 8:31 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Possibly more instructive than this was Mario Batali's week on food stamps

Misread as "Mario Balotelli's week on food stamps", which I have difficulty imagining.
posted by inire at 8:31 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wait, he really called his son "Buddy Bear"?

Am I on acid?
posted by colie at 8:31 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think his intentions are good, but this interview hasn't done his movement to help Britain eat healthier. That said, I'd rather Jamie Oliver have the conversation about poverty than Nigella.
posted by arcticseal at 8:41 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember when he was trying to convince families that they should switch to organic free-range chicken.

He took them to chicken farms and showed battery chickens and free-range chickens and talked with them about animal cruelty and the like.

And many of them were suitably chastised (Thank you, Great Oliver, for showing us the WAY!), but one woman narrowed her eyes and said "Yeah, I know. I can see what's happening. But how am I going to afford a chicken that isn't £3?"

And he never answered her. You could kind of see cogs rolling around in his comically oversized head, trying to understand someone who couldn't afford a free-range chicken. And he couldn't. He just couldn't get it.

Meanwhile, I keep on buying fast food because after an hour and a half on public transportation, the last thing I want to do is stand in front of the stove. I just want to sleep, not spend over 30 minutes on making dinner.
posted by Katemonkey at 8:41 AM on September 3, 2013 [17 favorites]


He also said working class kids were lazy for not working 90-100 hours per week in a hot kitchen, as he did when he was in his 20s.
posted by marienbad at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


h00py: "This was a bad interview. I really don't think he hates poor people."

I'm not saying he hates poor people. There's no evidence of that. However, it's certainly possible to do more harm than good no matter how good one's intentions may be, by perpetuating stereotypes about the poor making bad monetary choices. Such as the one referred to in the linked article where he mentioned a family 'owning a large tv while living on cheese fries.' Does he know where they got the tv? Does he know how they paid for it? Does he know if perhaps it's a remnant of a life when they perhaps did have money? Or if they're paying it off in installments over time? Or leasing the darn thing? No: he sees a tv and decides they're making lazy, uninformed choices.

And it's a shitty, counterproductive attitude. Firstly, it puts people on the defensive. Secondly, it tells us that he's not really aware of what sacrifices they're making in their lives -- he's simply making an assumption.

Sometimes people are lazy and dumb, though. Often it's because they haven't been given viable alternatives to what seems easiest.

Yes. But one does not need to call people lazy and dumb to teach them. Not directly nor by implication.

There is nothing wrong with saying, "this is a healthier choice, preparation is not time consuming and it's just as inexpensive." If that's what he was doing, I'd have no objection. I do find fault with him judging the people themselves for making bad choices.

Jamie Oliver appears to want people to realise that frozen chicken nuggets are not the only way to go if you want a quick, cheap meal. Mostly he's pretty good about getting his ideas across.

I agree. IMO, he failed pretty badly here.

The last thing we need is yet another celebrity indulging in uninformed stereotypes about poor people and vilifying them for it.
posted by zarq at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


mkultra: " Please show me the exact spot where he does this, because it seems to me you're doing the exact same brand of "stupidly, condescendingly and offensively simplifying" that you accuse him of."

I mention it here.
posted by zarq at 8:43 AM on September 3, 2013


There is nothing wrong with saying, "this is a healthier choice, preparation is not time consuming and it's just as inexpensive." If that's what he was doing, I'd have no objection.

That's what he has been doing. A bad interview where he revealed some personal prejudices about large screen tvs and wasting money (I'm poor and I waste money - if I didn't waste my money I wouldn't be as poor but I'd still be poor. That's just a fact of life) shouldn't negate what he's said and done in the past or how he really feels, which appears to be that he considers everyone to be up for comment, including the apparently terribly touchy poor people.
posted by h00py at 8:49 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


But do the recipes taste good?
posted by furtive at 8:50 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Empress: freeze the tomatoes whole,* unskinned -- and months later you can pulled them out of the freezer, run them under lukewarm water, and the skins roll right off. Then you pop them in your sauce or chilli or whatever.

*You do want to cut the stem out of the top and wash, obviously. But it's so little work to skin tomatoes after freezing.
posted by jb at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


IIRC growing up his parents ran a pub and he got his interest in cooking by helping out around the pub. That sounds more like working class than upper middle class.

Pub? Luxury.
posted by lumpenprole at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


He also said working class kids were lazy for not working 90-100 hours per week in a hot kitchen, as he did when he was in his 20s.

Yes. He also said "But the EU regulation now is 48 hours, which is half a week's work for me. And they still whinge about it!"

48 hours of work a week = 6 x 8 hour days or 5 x 9.6 hour days - which sounds like a quite a lot to me, actually.

It is doubtful that he actually worked 80-100 hours per week, even some weeks, when he was younger.

Also, his comments are interesting in the light of recent studies of how much "workaholics" actually work:

"A study published in the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review that compared estimated workweeks with time diaries reported that people who claimed their “usual” workweeks were longer than 75 hours were off, on average, by about 25 hours. You can guess in which direction. Those who claimed that a “usual” workweek was 65–74 hours were off by close to 20 hours. Those claiming a 55–64-hour workweek were still about 10 hours north of the truth. Subtracting these errors, you can see that most people top out at fewer than 60 work hours per week. Many professionals in so-called extreme jobs work about 45–55 hours a week. Those are numbers I can attest to from time logs I’ve seen over the years."

See here.

This whole Jamie Oliver issue seems like an excellent way to get people to fight over something fairly trivial ("millionaire celebrity says something a bit out of touch that can be interpreted as either condescending or sensible!")
posted by lucien_reeve at 8:53 AM on September 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


Possibly more instructive than this was Mario Batali's week on food stamps. Eating healthily on poverty wages is possible, he said, "as a way to live, but certainly not as a way to thrive."

Yeah, I'm sure that Mario Batali's poverty tourism is way more useful than Jamie Oliver's decade long work on improving the quality of food that ordinary Britons eat.

Jamie Oliver has also managed to bully the government into spending hundreds of millions more on good quality food for school children and lobbied vigorously for the expansion of free school meal provision. That is probably also because he hates poor people.
posted by atrazine at 8:54 AM on September 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


Empress: freeze the tomatoes whole,* unskinned -- and months later you can pulled them out of the freezer, run them under lukewarm water, and the skins roll right off. Then you pop them in your sauce or chilli or whatever.

Oh, yeah, I know and I do that too sometimes, but my freezer is a comically-undersized New York one and I wouldn't have enough room in it for all my tomato supply. I've frozen a couple pints of cherry tomatoes this year, and last year I hit a wall after two-thirds of my tomatoes and just said "fuck it" and froze the rest, but my freezer space is sadly limited....that's how I looked into canning, actually, was because it didn't involve space in my freezer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


People in radically different life circumstances than me who do things differently than I think they should do them are willfully lazy assholes who deserve what they get!

I'm pretty sure that's not what he thinks.

Bottom line, this is an identifiable type of empty calorie page filler that Slate does to get themselves talked about. We get these from time to time. Find someone who everybody likes and admires, wait for them to jabber with more emotion than caution, then haul out the big guns and shoot that butterfly! Both writer and reader can make themselves feel wiser and more sensitive than the target, which is a big win. But it's pretty thin gruel.

Speaking for myself, I've not done a fraction of the good Jamie Oliver has done for promoting good eating and calling out bad. Don't know what L.V. Anderson has done. (I mean to say, this is someone who writes about pepper mills without even mentioning why the big ones are called Rubirosas.)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:58 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


"But how am I going to afford a chicken that isn't £3?"

When it comes to persuading people to eat less cheap meat, I think his way of doing it there (and in the new book) is about as good as he can do, being a chef and not a corporation/politician/radical activist. He's got to inspire people to think a bit different - I grew up poor and there were certainly people around who were so damaged and hopeless from it all, that they were kind of looking for a reason to say 'I can't change'.

If you are lucky enough to be one of those people with enough time/energy/resources to cook: get a chicken that costs more than your usual 3 quid, joint it, use it for 3 meals, etc - Jamie is right on that.
posted by colie at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


h00py: " That's what he has been doing.

This is not in question. I have already acknowledged this.

A bad interview where he revealed some personal prejudices about large screen tvs and wasting money (I'm poor and I waste money - if I didn't waste my money I wouldn't be as poor but I'd still be poor. That's just a fact of life)

I've been poor. Seriously poor. Like one step away from being homeless were it not for the kindness of friends, living as an only child with a single parent on ~$8000 income for both of us for the whole year, poor. I think you would agree that your experience and mine are not representative of all poor people. The situation is more complex than that. Yes?

All people probably waste money when they don't have to. Not just poor people. And they probably make the wrong choices sometimes. He should stick to educating and not judging. He's good at it.

The last two graphs of the Radio Times article:
Imran Hussain, head of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, said: "Jamie Oliver is right to say that healthy food doesn't always have to be expensive … but for many families it's low income which gets in the way of healthy eating."

Hussain added: "As official statistics show, parents of poor children are much less likely to be able to afford fresh fruit for their children. We also know from the evidence that as the incomes of poor families rise, they spend more on things like healthy food and children's clothes.


It's important to acknowledge this.

...shouldn't negate what he's said and done in the past or how he really feels, which appears to be that he considers everyone to be up for comment, including the apparently terribly touchy poor people."

Again, I'm addressing what he's said in this interview. I've already said that he's done a lot of good educating the masses about positive dietary choices.
posted by zarq at 9:08 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, I guess what I'm saying is that maybe your judgement about Jamie Oliver, and you are making one, should be based on his body of work and not on this one particularly poor article. You judge, he judges. Piffle to it all. It's what he's actually doing, not his ill-considered words in an article, that counts. And what he's doing shouldn't be disregarded.
posted by h00py at 9:18 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
posted by chavenet at 9:23 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This whole Jamie Oliver issue seems like an excellent way to get people to fight over something fairly trivial ("millionaire celebrity says something a bit out of touch that can be interpreted as either condescending or sensible!")

This isn't trivial. The UK government and others have been engaging in a process of vilifying the poor, the unemployed and the disabled for the last three years. Oliver's misjudged comments were made in that social context and that is why he is getting it in the neck.
posted by biffa at 9:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


biffa: "This isn't trivial. The UK government and others have been engaging in a process of vilifying the poor, the unemployed and the disabled for the last three years. Oliver's misjudged comments were made in that social context and that is why he is getting it in the neck."

Draw a line between Oliver's neck and the UK government?
posted by boo_radley at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


The situation with people eating too much cheap meat - however poor or not they are - also isn't at all trivial...
posted by colie at 9:27 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's particularly galling to hear someone with no personal experience of poverty lecture the poor when there are so many stories out there Jamie Oliver could have learned from, had he wanted to learn and not just lecture.

If you want cooking by someone who has been genuinely poor (and isn't that well off yet, either), I can't recommend A Girl Called Jack enough. Reading her story and her recipes has been truly eye-opening for me. I wish people would just ignore Jamie, and go back to talking to Jack and people like her instead.
posted by harujion at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oooh, I love A Girl Called Jack! Yeah, seconding that suggestion.
posted by Kitteh at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2013


h00py: "Well, I guess what I'm saying is that maybe your judgement about Jamie Oliver, and you are making one, should be based on his body of work and not on this one particularly poor article. You judge, he judges. Piffle to it all. It's what he's actually doing, not his ill-considered words in an article, that counts. And what he's doing shouldn't be disregarded."

You are making a fairly obvious false equivalency here.

His "ill-considered words" matter. He's not simply a celebrity chef. He's quite high profile. He worked closely with the previous Labour government, and one of the initiatives he worked with them on was over changing the menus at UK schools. He's written multiple cookbooks and hosted several tv shows that have aired on several networks. Etc., etc. Dude judges poor people and the rest of the world think he's speaking from a position of knowledge and authority.

Even when he's not.

Let's take for example the comment he made about the way people eat in Italy and Spain. He said, "You go to Italy or Spain and they eat well on not much money. We've missed out on that in Britain, somehow."

And yet...
This vision of the Mediterranean poor, making delicious soup, salads and desserts with left over bread and eating simple cheap fresh food is deeply engrained in the Anglo food fan's mind. The desirability of cocina povera, authentic peasant food made by poor people who show great ingenuity with access to not very much but are able to create delicious meals out of three cheap ingredients has spawned a multi-million pound UK and US industry of "authentic" Spanish and Italian food books, TV programmes and chains of restaurants. They offer the food of the deserving poor, the ones who manage well on very little. They have very little but look how desirable their lifestyle is, the story goes, we middle classes want to be them, what has happened to our poor? Why can't they be more like, say, the Spanish?

The poor are already being far more like the Spanish than we realise. In 2010 in the province of Barcelona, an area with a population of less than five million, more than 100,000 people were forced to use food banks for basics like rice, oil, tins of tomatoes, baby milk and other staples from one of three charitable food bank groups.

To get to the Spanish 2010 level of food bank use, we'd need to have three times more users than we have at the moment, at least one million more working poor would need to access food banks to make us more like Spain. Recent reports of an ever increasing in the use of food banks may enable us to get those extra million users.

Churches and civic centres have also opened "social dining rooms" to give people in their neighbourhoods the chance of a hot meal at lunchtime. People who can't afford to heat food, or have had their electricity and gas cut off as they haven't been able to pay their bills turn up between 12 and 2pm to eat the only hot meal they will get that day. In 2012 380,737 meals were served to 10,423 users in Barcelona, a city with a population of 3 million.


He does best when he sticks to what he knows. And yeah, to repeat myself, when he doesn't he's not helping.
posted by zarq at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


this isn't just an issue that slate invented to get clicks - there are lots and lots of articles taking jamie oliver to task for what he said here (and what he's said about the work ethic of the poor youth in his country).

on preview - the one zarq posted is a great one.
posted by nadawi at 9:34 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This one is particularly good (thanks, harujion!).
posted by Kitteh at 9:36 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


On one hand, the "big-screen TV" comment is an idiotic thing to say and he certainly should know better to be so simplistic.

On the other hand, let's not pretend that the only two choices are a bag of Cheetos or a meal requiring 10 hours of prep labor.
posted by desuetude at 9:36 AM on September 3, 2013


sure, and while we're at it, lets not pretend that poor people are eating cheetos for dinner in any meaningful numbers. it's almost like this whole thing started (by oliver) over a broad brush and false equivalencies.
posted by nadawi at 9:44 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


This editorial is also interesting: "Credit to Jamie where it's due, but he doesn't understand food poverty"
Take the fact that most people entitled to benefits are actually in underpaid employment. Some people are working so hard that trying to think of what to make for dinner at the end of a long, busy day is just a mental step too far. As a study this week revealed, some people expend so much energy on immediate problems such as paying bills, and feel so much anxiety, it impairs their ability to deal with more complex tasks. As anyone who's been seriously skint will tell you, you don't always feel like bish, bash, boshing up a bechamel. Sometimes you don't feel like doing much of anything at all.

When I was on the dole in London, I put on a stone. In the city, the supermarkets are small and expensive, and there's less that you can afford to do outside of the house. Jamie is wrong about all junk food being dear, though – there aren't many other countries where you can buy a box of cakes for less than a quid, as you can here. The trip to the shops for Mr Kipling was the high point of my despondent little day, probably much like those cheesy chips were for that mum and child.

Also, the difference between rural and urban poverty is vast. We were poor when I was growing up, but I had a healthy diet not only because my mother (and her mother before her) had been taught to cook, but because we lived in the countryside. Local vegetables were cheap – cheaper than the £4 my mum would have spent on petrol to get to Tesco's. And she had the time to make the stew. My friends, whose turkey dinosaurs and tinned spaghetti hoops I desperately envied, mostly had working mums. It's no coincidence that the rise of the microwave meal overlapped with women entering the workplace. Why not try redressing the balance of domestic labour, or introducing proper childcare, before you tell women (it's almost always women) that they're not cooking properly? That they don't take enough joy from cooking?

Politicians and public figures invested in the narratives of scroungers and feckless single mums always fail to grasp the fluctuating nature of poverty. The poverty line may be a straight one, but people will dip above and below it depending on their circumstances, the level of basic comfort that they experience undulating like a wave, up and down, and up again. A couple of days on the job? Suddenly things seem that little bit brighter. Maybe we'll even buy a telly on credit! Housing benefit short? No tea for the kids, and we'll have to leave topping up the leccy for another night. And down again. It's called the "poverty trap" for a reason.

posted by zarq at 9:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


It's like he's never heard of a food desert before.

The fact is that shitty, processed high-calorie food is cheap and readily available. Healthier options are more expensive and often not available in poorer neighborhoods. Not to mention you probably don't feel like cooking after working at a soul-crushing minimum-wage job all day. I wonder: has anyone ever looked for a relationship between the rise of dual-income households and the growth of obesity?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dear poor people: try eating my metafilter comments about Jamie Oliver.*


*Ketchup? Really??
posted by Teakettle at 9:58 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see a few references here to "cheetos for dinner". When the artlcle says "cheese and chips" they mean deep fried potatoes -- basically french fries but typically thicker and more irregular -- with cheese, from a chip shop. Basically a fattier, cheaper and even greasier order than fish and chips, since bulk cheese is way cheaper than fresh fish.

Besides, cheetos are actually really expensive, particularly by weight.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:06 AM on September 3, 2013


Jamie always loses me at the point in his cooking shows where he says "Go to your butcher and ask him for this special cut". You know, the one he doesn't do for anyone other than Jamie Oliver.

If I ask my butcher for a special cut his response will be either a surly "Nope" or a "Call ahead by 48 hours so I can bring a new side to carve up just for you, Sir Snowflake". Neither of which really fit into my lifestyle and I am the kind of person with the wherewithal and leisure to do that stuff.
posted by srboisvert at 10:13 AM on September 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


Yeah, this is the quintessential example of how societal problems are being recast as personal responsibility and moral choice, as per.

Both in the myths the mockney muppet spreads about an Italy peasantry that has never existed and in the idea that eating healthy is a moral choice in the first place and that the main problem for the poor is not being poor, but not able to eat healthy while poor (rightwing foodies: because they're too lazy; leftwing foodies, because they don't have the time/money/knowledge). In either case, poor people must have their food purchases monitored and judged.

Yet the idea of healthy, good food is very much a middle class, bourgeois fantasy, an aspirational dream in which we can all be as healthy as Jamie or hot as Nigella but still gorge ourselves on "good food", which somehow isn't fattening because it's organic and locally sourced. All those food scolds are just the 21st century equivalent of salvation army busybodies and Temperance fanatics, alwayts busy telling the poor how to live their lives better.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:18 AM on September 3, 2013 [14 favorites]


Location, Loca... Sorry, no.
Availability, cheapness, availability, cheanpness.

Junk food is junk food, Jamiie or not, but in moderate amounts will not harm or kill you.

Yet, when all you can get is junk food, or when most of the food offered to you is junk food,
it's no big surprise people consume too much junk food, because the odd they end up consuming non-junk food are decreased.

Solution? Not an easy simplistic one. Jamie is part of the solution, so long as he keeps on preaching that alternative, better food IS available.

Other than that, publicity stunt.
posted by elpapacito at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2013


Jamie always loses me at the point in his cooking shows where he says "Go to your butcher"

Hah - I have always been enraged by recipes that include the deceptively innocent-sounding words 'ask your butcher to...'

As if any of us have a speaking relationship with any human along the entire food production and consumption chain any more!

Most of us can't even use the phrase 'my doctor' with any meaning behind it (you get who you get when you crawl into the surgery or casualty) - let alone 'my butcher', 'my fishmonger', 'my baker' etc.
posted by colie at 10:24 AM on September 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


alwayts busy telling the poor how to live their lives better

Knocking that off would leave me with just, like, polo, paragliding, and my tea ceremony lessons. Be reasonable.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I ask my butcher for a special cut his response will be either a surly "Nope" or a "Call ahead by 48 hours so I can bring a new side to carve up just for you, Sir Snowflake".

You know, that's also a really good point - and it's not just butchers and it's not just special cuts of meat. I once asked a fish shop near me if they had any bones or heads or junk I could take to make fish stock from, and they looked at me funny - they just throw that out. And the butcher in my local cheap supermarket would probably also look at me funny if I asked for spare bones and crap to make beef stock out of.

Maybe it once was the case where you could get fish scraps or beef bones at the local supermarket, or at least that the people there knew that other people used them, but people stopped asking for them, and so in stores today the guy in the back carving things up hasn't had the experience of anyone asking for them, so they get thrown out now. And yet a ton of cookbooks all advocate asking for them.

grr.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or sometimes they aren't even in the shop in the first place! Increasingly, supermarkets -- particularly the smaller ones you'll find in the cities -- don't even have a butcher on site, they just get the meat already parted out and vac-packed, shipped to them in reefer trucks.
posted by KathrynT at 10:27 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Most of us can't even use the phrase 'my doctor' with any meaning behind it (you get who you get when you crawl into the surgery or casualty) - let alone 'my butcher', 'my fishmonger', 'my baker' etc.

I'm reminded of a scene from Frasier:
Cam: Fine. I will arrange an introduction to my sweater weaver.
Frasier: Good. Thank you.
Cam: But, then I must insist on the formula to your bath blend.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:28 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


You guys just aren't living in the right village in EEETALY! * exuberant hand gestures *
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2013


(and I will confess to making a noise that's somewhere between a giggle, a sigh, and a sob that following my first-grade daughter's newly diagnosed whackadoodle food issues, the much-maligned "cheesy chips" are now the only safe thing her school cafeteria can reliably prepare for her to eat.)
posted by KathrynT at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2013


I once asked a fish shop near me if they had any bones or heads or junk I could take to make fish stock from

Some years back as a tourist I strolled into a fish market in Cornwall to try and buy fish and honestly an old fisherman guy told me to fuck off.
posted by colie at 10:30 AM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


I buy stuff and it goes bad before I cook with it

This has been my first CSA experience, in spades! Plus I took a full-time class for five weeks, so I'd get home at 10:30 two nights a week, and think, oh jeez there's [chard/zucchini/beets] going bad, but I'm so tiiiiiiired. When I can get around to making stuff right away, it's so good*, but not having the energy means I've thrown out an embarrassing amount of veggies. Can't imagine trying to do that with kids, or multiple jobs, or a more physically strenuous job.

* How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is a fantastic -- and fantastically useful -- book.
posted by epersonae at 10:32 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Perhaps some of you have seen the image (/Pinterest pin / meme / etc) of the sobbing woman with her hands to her forehead, "headache thisssss big"-style? The caption perfectly sums up many people's CSA experience: "There's no food! There's just ingredients to make food!"

I had a big garden again this year. We had a crap year for tomatoes and what can only be called "Squash Goes Wild!" instead. I have a big chest freezer. I know how to can/etc. I work for myself and have a flexible schedule. We STILL eat takeout or go out a minimum of 2x per week. Jamie Oliver can stuff it. He's good in theory here but misses the mark a bit much on this particular topic for me to take him seriously.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:39 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


I used to be able to get special cuts from my butcher. It is closed now an there is a Pinkberry in its place.

.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:40 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


MuffinMan: "He is a major critic of the supply chain, and his comment about the imaginary italian is not just 'what if the poor could just eat simply' but also 'the supply chain should make this possible'. In the middle of a £1.2m contract with Sainsbury's he criticised the company for peddling junk - Oliver's target is less the 'stupid poor' and more the wider food culture in the UK that means that kids get brought up eating crap and with little knowledge about how to cook, cook on a budget, and cook produce that is cheaper and plentiful in Britain. Oliver would, I suspect, absolutely have a problem that it was harder and more expensive to eat simply and well than to eat crap. "

This was in the back of my mind while I was reading this article too.

A lot of people here are conflating poverty, class, and food culture in the UK with their equivalents in the US (or, even with each other). I'd posit that there are some important distinctions that make direct comparisons rather problematic.

I have lived on a shoestring budget in Britain, so I feel like I'm mildly qualified to talk about this for a bit.

Food is expensive in the UK. Prepared food can often be outlandishly expensive, even if we're just talking about frozen dinners. I only had (easy) access to a Tesco Metro, which meant that the selection of groceries that I could buy was limited and often unnecessarily expensive. I'm not sure that I'd qualify this as a "food desert," but the conditions do seem awfully similar.

Minor derail: British food deserts aren't great, but they do seem to be several notches above the several urban/rural American food deserts that I've witnessed, largely thanks to better urban planning. For the first two years that I lived in DC, this hellhole was the only grocery store within two miles of my house, and we were lucky to have it. Almost everything sold in the store was artificial, frozen, expensive, and often expired. No fresh veggies, but 20 varieties of frozen fried chicken. The shitty Tesco Metro in my old village in Britain looked like an artisnal farmers market by comparison.

Packaged foods at the low-end of the spectrum also tends to be expensive and extremely unhealthy. For this reason, the barrier to entry for learning to cook can be somewhat high, especially when the payoff is minimal, compared to buying something that's already prepared.

If you eat out, the price gap between a box of chips, and a "real" meal is often huge (even a meal at McDonald's is healthy and expensive compared to the chipshop). If you're poor and don't have time to cook, this can be a big problem. However, the vast majority of Britain's lower classes didn't seem to be quite this poor or overworked (especially compared to the US).

I can't say that I ate well while living in Britain, but I did eventually discover techniques to be a savvy shopper, and prepare reasonably healthy meals that fit within the constraints of my time, budget, and grocery store. I made a lot of rice pilaf, because it was easy to cook, and was tolerable even if you only added a very small quantity of meat and fresh veggies. I can see some value in what Jamie Oliver does, because it's not at all obvious or apparent that fresh/healthy meals can be easy and affordable. Britain's supermarket-industrial complex certainly seems to be conspiring to hide this reality.... The supply chain is definitely a huge part of the problem.

Then there's the culture bit (this is where Oliver gets in trouble for being a classist asshole). That styrofoam box of chips is most certainly a lower-class status symbol. A bit of a splurge, but still somewhat within budget. I met more than a few Britons who used their diet as a point of identity, and felt that eating unhealthily was, in a way, sticking it to the man. When Oliver started trying to force healthy meals into schools, parents lined up around the school's perimeter to hand their kids boxes of chips during recess. This isn't a symptom of grinding poverty -- it's a symptom of a food culture that's managed to run off of the rails.

You could say much of the same thing about the American South. Yes, the South's obesity rates can (and should) be blamed on poor urban planning, food deserts, and poverty. However, I don't think that it should be inappropriate to also point out that traditional southern cooking is crazy unhealthy. Somewhere along the line, there needs to be a culture shift that breaks this pattern.

Unfortunately, Jamie Oliver's credibility is rather questionable, given that he's a wealthy TV personality telling poor people how to "responsibly" live their lives. Yes, many people eat poorly because of generations of cyclical poverty and an evil supply chain that's been engineered to peddle unhealthy processed foods. Yes, many of Oliver's suggestions are condescending, classist, and impractical. However, I do think that there's room for somebody to point out that the poor people of Britain might actually have more eating options than they think the do, or to lobby the government to give them even more options.
posted by schmod at 10:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [19 favorites]


"There's no food! There's just ingredients to make food!"

Yes, exactly. I work a regular 9-5 desk job with a 10 minute commute and I still have agony and despair at the thought of cooking a thing when I get home. Like I would legit rather lay facedown on the floor under the couch. I can't imagine what it must be like for someone working a physical job or with a long commute or more than one job. I just wanna order bareburger online with a minimum of fuss and human contact.

also my kitchen is a hellpit
posted by elizardbits at 10:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


Also it's just really hard to take people seriously - people who cook for a living and obviously love it enormously and want you to share that love - when they tell you how easy it is for you to also have these skills that they've spent a lifetime developing. Like when my firefox keeps crashing and someone's response in my AskMe is to tell me to build my own operating system. NO.
posted by elizardbits at 10:47 AM on September 3, 2013 [40 favorites]


i'm a housewife with a husband who works at home and no kids. i have to make an incredibly detailed menu every week just to make sure the ingredients get used and don't go bad - and still i find that i just can't get to the end of the celery or bags of carrots or lettuce. i have bags of diced fruit in my freezer for smoothies. i plan out the week based on what prep i'm doing when - what has to be prepped right after the csa box (ok, bountiful basket, since i can't get a real csa in what is traditionally thought of as the farmland part of the nation) or shopping trip, what can wait a day, and what can wait 3 days. today i've already balled a melon for freezing and later i'm roasting hatch chilies.

even though i was taught to cook, and come from the sort of poverty where you start with ingredients and make a week's worth of stew or whatever, it's still hard! and even with the advantages i have, we still have a few box meals and take out a week because sometimes i just can't dice another fucking pepper and remember to marinate the chicken in time.
posted by nadawi at 10:47 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is it that different in the UK? Because here in the US, people like Jamie Oliver are basically trying to sell a lie. A noble one, maybe, but a lie, nonetheless: "With minimal skills and equipment, you can make healthy food for no more cost or effort than eating unhealthy food, and it will be just as tasty." I think their hearts are mostly in the right place, and they want it to be true, and maybe they've even convinced themselves that it is, but it's just not so, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
posted by tyllwin at 10:53 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


srboisvert: "Jamie always loses me at the point in his cooking shows where he says "Go to your butcher and ask him for this special cut". You know, the one he doesn't do for anyone other than Jamie Oliver."

This past Saturday morning, a local chef was doing a cooking segment on Today in New York Weekend, showing viewers his tips and tricks for making the tastiest mini-hamburgers for a Labor Day barbecue. The anchor, Pat Battle, was asking questions.

Chef: "So what you want to do, is make small patties like this. *demonstrates*
PB: "Is there a particular type of ground beef we should use?"
Chef: "A butcher makes this special for me."
PB: "OK, what cut of meat is it?"
Chef: "It's a three part blend of short rib meat, ground sirloin and brisket."
PB: *oohs and ahhs*
Chef: "I go through a butcher in Brooklyn. He makes them for me with 24 hour notice."
PB: *oohs and ahhs*
Chef: "And then you can create a sort of buffet of toppings, like this. But instead of doing bacon, I like to offer bacon jam to my..."
PB: "BACON. JAM. I LOVE BACON. Where do you buy bacon JAM?"
Chef: "Well, I have the guys in my restaurant make it. It's slow cooked over 24 hours. Bacon and onions and vinegar and dark brown sugar and coffee..."
PB: *oohs and ahhs*

Chef wanted to teach us all how to make tasty mini burgers with exclusive ingredients that aren't easily accessible to the average schmo (like me) watching "Today in New York."

On the other hand, there IS a recipe online for slow-cooked Bacon Jam....
posted by zarq at 10:56 AM on September 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


I know how he feels.

I feel the same about applications. Why do I see people using Excel to track expenses when it is so easy to write your own application. I meet people who say, "You don't know what it is like" I just want to hug them and teleport them to my Ukrainian dev team, they crank out 12 expense tracking apps, 3 iOS games, and a CRM app for 30p.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:57 AM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Maybe it once was the case where you could get fish scraps or beef bones at the local supermarket, or at least that the people there knew that other people used them, but people stopped asking for them, and so in stores today the guy in the back carving things up hasn't had the experience of anyone asking for them, so they get thrown out now."

For beef and chicken scraps, in all seriousness, have you tried a good kosher butcher? They typically save gizzards, giblets, pupiks, bones, etc., because those things are used in traditional, heart-clogging Eastern European (ashkenazi) Jewish cooking.
posted by zarq at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, there IS a recipe online for slow-cooked Bacon Jam....

I... I love you.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Britons who used their diet as a point of identity, and felt that eating unhealthily was, in a way, sticking it to the man.

I'm British and I recognise that in myself and others.

Don't forget that England had a terrifyingly spartan (but ironically quite healthy) diet controlled by government rationing for years: meat and sugar were still rationed until 1953! This must have something to do with it.
posted by colie at 11:01 AM on September 3, 2013


A noble one, maybe, but a lie, nonetheless: "With minimal skills and equipment, you can make healthy food for no more cost or effort than eating unhealthy food, and it will be just as tasty."

I am not entirely sure how this is untrue?
posted by Artw at 11:02 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


entropicamericana: " I... I love you."

:)

The irony is... I can't cook it (at least not at my house,) because I keep kosher. :P
posted by zarq at 11:02 AM on September 3, 2013


With regards to getting beef scraps, a butcher will often look at you funny the first time, since it's not a request they get a lot. You will stick out. This is a good thing. Because if you make a habit of it, they might start setting aside some of the scraps for you, if you come in regularly.

I worked in butcher shop, and we always had bones, always. Come in and ask for some bones for your dog and they will wrap up some for you with beaming smiles on their faces.
posted by LN at 11:03 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because here in the US, people like Jamie Oliver are basically trying to sell a lie. A noble one, maybe, but a lie, nonetheless: "With minimal skills and equipment, you can make healthy food for no more cost or effort than eating unhealthy food, and it will be just as tasty."

Well, there is some truth to this notion. I never in my childhood had Hamburger Helper, and got a box recently on a whim to see what it was like. I decided to get all experimental about it and picked a flavor that was based on something I'd made from scratch on my own (beef stroganoff).

Honest to God, for something that's meant to be faster than from-scratch, it took exactly the same amount of time. The discrete steps were slightly different - I had to measure out a couple extra ingredients with the from-scratch, as opposed to just opening a packet and dumping into a skillet - but I still had to brown the beef and a chopped onion in both instances. And while it took a couple extra steps with the from-scratch, those steps were just a matter of "measure x amount of salt, y amount of paprika and z amount of sour cream", rather than anything fiddly like "reduce the sauce until it is thick enough to blah blah blah". And yeah, it was tastier than Hamburger Helper.

But. I grew up feeling comfortable enough in a kitchen, and with enough support and guidance from my mother, to try making beef stroganoff from scratch myself in the first place. Before I looked into the recipe, though, I thought - based on how fancy the name sounded - that it was far more complicated. In fact, the first time I looked at the recipe, I actually said out loud, "that's it??" Without having had that grounding in kitchens and cooking, though, I would have still been intimidated to try that recipe at all.

So it isn't quite a lie that "with minimal skills and equipment, you can make healthy food for no more cost and effort than eating unhealthy food". However, it's a truth that assumes something about the chef themselves - namely, that they're also comfortable in a kitchen to begin with, and have access to good ingredients.

For beef and chicken scraps, in all seriousness, have you tried a good kosher butcher?

I haven't tried making beef stock yet, actually - as for chicken stock, I usually get a chicken and use that. My local supermarket also used to package things like chicken feet and livers and gizzards separately, so I'd round a carcass out with a couple packs of feet or something. But good tip on the kosher butcher for the beef - I was gonna go with oxtail if I ever wanted to try.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


When Britain had its beef crisis and you could no longer sell beef on the bone, my mum's local butcher sold beef on the bone labeled as dog food. It was still premium priced. He had a a steady stream of customers coming in to enquire about the lovely ribs of beef in the window. Each back and forth in the conversation was punctuated as follows:

"That's a fine looking rib of beef in the window."

"Yes, would you like to buy some? For the dog."

"Oh yes. I'd like a couple of ribs please."

"For the dog."

"Yes, of course. For the dog."
posted by MuffinMan at 11:10 AM on September 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


Actually meat was rationed until July 1954 in the UK...
posted by colie at 11:12 AM on September 3, 2013


"feeling comfortable in the kitchen" is part of the training that makes the statement "with minimal training" so silly - yes, if you're privileged enough to grow up around food and learning how to turn ingredients into meals (and how easy it is once you get a hang of it) you can pick up a few new skills and cook cheaply and quickly - but if you don't have that bedrock, there's a lot of roadblocks to getting fluent about cooking.
posted by nadawi at 11:15 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are other issues beyond availability and cost.

Some people don't want to eat "poor people" food no matter how cheap or nutritious it is. My mother would never have let me eat anything like chicken feet, gizzards, backs or necks because she associated those things with her childhood.She didn't want to feel poor as an adult. For her, middle class people eat packaged food. That meant a lot of rice-a-roni and hamburger helper.

The other issue is that food is the only thing many people have any control over. It is a momentary respite from daily crushing adversity.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:22 AM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


yes, if you're privileged enough to grow up around food and learning how to turn ingredients into meals (and how easy it is once you get a hang of it) you can pick up a few new skills and cook cheaply and quickly - but if you don't have that bedrock, there's a lot of roadblocks to getting fluent about cooking.

Ehh... It's not rocket science. And it's not like you have to be good at everything all at once - there's lots of intermediary steps that yield tasty results.
posted by Artw at 11:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nadawi, culture also plays into that a lot, I'm sure - because as comfortable as I was in a kitchen, I'm also from a New-England-WASP-combined-with-swamp-Yankee background, so I didn't even know about the existance of from-scratch macaroni and cheese until I moved to a neighborhood that had a good soul food restaurant. I was 25 before I learned that "macaroni and cheese" didn't always come in a blue box. By the same extension, I have a hunch that lots of people don't know from fried clams that don't come from Nathans'.

I tell people the reason I eat so much mac-and-cheese is because I am making up for 25 years of lost time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course not everyone can follow Jamie's advice. Of course there are food deserts, people without kitchens, and people with 5 kids, working 80 hour weeks, living on $8000 a year, etc. But there are people he can reach. There are people who do actually have the time and money to cook, but never learned. They need help building a pantry, learning techniques, shopping for ingredients and managing their time in the kitchen.

People don't cook for themselves as much as they could. We can't just blame poverty or irresistible fast food. The cultural knowledge of home cooking has been lost, and Jamie is trying to help us to re-acquire it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:27 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Going about it in kind of a piss-poor fashion, isn't he?
posted by Naberius at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not entirely sure how this is untrue?

I'm really comparing it to, say, McDonald's, and for people who are actually poor, not the kind of people that Pruitt-Igoe talks about.

To begin with, there's simply no way that cooking your own food is ever, ever, going to be as easy. Just going to the supermarket is as much trouble as going to McDonald's. Adding a half hour to cook and 15 minutes to wash it all up sucks 45 minutes out of a tired, poor person's day (and more than just a loss, it replaces it with another tiring activity).

"Tasty" is, of course, a matter of taste but for an ordinary palate, and for the unsophisticated palates of children especially, all of the salt, fat, sugar and chemicals in a corporate cheeseburger will beat out mussels and cherry tomatoes over pasta most days. French fries will always beat kale chips. Not that people on a hamburger helper budget can afford cherry tomatoes, the luxury-priced member of the tomato family.

And skill? Well, I'm sure I'd enjoy Jamie Oliver's mussels and cherry tomatoes, but I don't know that I'd love my own, and I'm much less certain about my daughter, who's pickier, and much less about my girlfriend, who despises all shellfish. And I'm cooking on a nice gas stove with good cookware. I'm not making do with a hot plate, a microwave and a mini-fridge and no training.

Now, I do think EC has a point about the hamburger helper stroganoff vs what she made herself. But do you think that Jamie Oliver is going to show people how to make hamburger-helper-like stroganoff?

Of course a lot of this is not insurmountable. I just wish they'd be more upfront about it: Maybe if they said "If you'll invest a year I can teach you to make much, much healthier food for almost as little cash, that your family will learn to tolerate, and for only a half-hour extra effort every night," I could believe it.
posted by tyllwin at 11:38 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Going about it in kind of a piss-poor fashion, isn't he?

If all you have to go on is this inflammatory article and post, and not the last 10 years of his career, I guess you could think that.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:38 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is just a continuing hatchet job by Americans on some uppity Brit who dared to tell them that much of their diet was crap. I have absolutely no doubt that the quotes are selective, out of context and massaged to present him in the worst possible light. But that's OK so long as sanctimonious MFers with no knowledge of the man or his career get to feel good about themselves by piling on.

Jamie Oliver is trying, however gauche it might appear, to make things better, he is a national treasure.
posted by epo at 11:40 AM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


To begin with, there's simply no way that cooking your own food is ever, ever, going to be as easy. Just going to the supermarket is as much trouble as going to McDonald's. Adding a half hour to cook and 15 minutes to wash it all up sucks 45 minutes out of a tired, poor person's day (and more than just a loss, it replaces it with another tiring activity).

Erm, going to the supermarket is as much trouble if you do it every day, yeah. However - just like I only can tomatoes once a year - going to the supermarket only once a week, and stocking up on things that you can use later in the week, makes it less trouble. Then on Wednesday you can make dinner with ingredients that are already right there in the house without having to go anywhere, because you already went somewhere on the weekend when you had time.

I mean, yeah, you have a point about different palates and the way that the big corporations load food with added crap that is expressly designed to appeal to us, but comparing the amount of time traveling to a supermarket with the amount of time traveling to a McDonald's is kind of a red herring. Kind of like this thing KFC did once trying to compare the cost of a bucket of wings with the cost of buying it all at the supermarket (they added up the costs of the entire package of each ingredient, but you do not use an entire pound of flour when you fry chicken, so their comparison was cheating).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


We were pretty strapped when I was growing up (immigrant parents, Dad working a double shift, Mom literally taking in mending...sounds Dickensian, was real). We ate from scratch almost every meal; McDonald's was a huge treat. We were lucky, we had a market relatively near us (within a few miles, out in the burbs). When I was really little, I remember we used to do almost daily grocery shopping—because the store was a short bus ride away, and you can't exactly lug a week's worth of ingredients for a family of four on the bus. All this was only possible because my mom 1) was an inventive and capable cook; 2) was home all day and had the hours for transportation and cooking; and 3) had a friendly neighbor who would watch my baby sister while she shopped.

My parents are Korean, and we ate almost exclusively Korean food at home. Our grocery store was the local Asian market, where produce and seafood are cheap, and we ate a lot of offal and other weird things that don't cost very much money.

I am now a working professional making a decent salary. I live alone. I have a car and many general and specialty grocery stores within 10 minutes. I garden and dry and can and eat out of my pantry much of the winter. I cook most dinners and bring almost every lunch to work. I LIKE meal planning and cooking. And there are still plenty of nights where takeout seems like a just-great option to me, and plenty of weeks where I feel like I was incredibly frugal but am astonished by my food bills.

In conclusion:

1) No one ever seems to acknowledge how much more difficult it is to shop for ingredients vs. packaged food. Whole vegetables in particular take up a lot of precious cargo room when ppl are glaring at you on public transport.

2) Ditto for the packaged pantry items that go such a long way towards making home-cooked food fulfill the promise of being "just as good". Bottles and cans are heavy and expensive. I can make reasonably tasty meals with cheap meat and root veggies, but that's partially enabled by a few hundred dollar's worth of spices, sauces, and pantry items I don't pay much attention to or count the cost of stocking up on.

3) In general, I feel like immigrant communities do a better job with food access. Asian markets are cheaper for produce and seafood, halal markets for beef, etc. Maybe because they cater to food cultures that assume from-scratch cooking? Because they're not really paying a fair wage to employees or other sketchiness? I don't know.

4) My mom is amazing.
posted by peachfuzz at 11:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


tyllwin: Now, I do think EC has a point about the hamburger helper stroganoff vs what she made herself. But do you think that Jamie Oliver is going to show people how to make hamburger-helper-like stroganoff?

Nobody in the UK – aside from American expats – knows what the fuck hamburger helper is. Seriously, nobody. I mean actually, what is the stuff? I see it referenced on MeFi from time to time, and I'm sure I could look it up on Wikipedia, but I'd rather – if I can get wanky theorist about it for a second – an explanation here that covers the socio-cultural aspects of not just what it is but what it means.
posted by Len at 11:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's starch and flavoring and sometimes pasta that basically lets hamburger + hamburger fat + HH be the equivalent of hamburger cooked with some sort of sauce and a bunch of spices that you might not have an an average poorly-stocked kitchen.
posted by jessamyn at 11:47 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's probably a lot less likely you'd make hamburger from scratch in the UK - something like a basic spag bog is more likely for a similar set of ingredients.
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on September 3, 2013


The Naked Chef? More like The Knob-end Chef. AMIRITE!!

He has done more over the last 10-15 years to improve the school food and the national diet than every single one of those morally outraged paid-by-the-word chatterers put together.

I don't particularly care for his delivery but that's no reason to keep bringing up his accent, every time.
posted by fingerbang at 11:48 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


jessamyn: "It's starch and flavoring and sometimes pasta that basically lets hamburger + hamburger fat + HH be the equivalent of hamburger cooked with some sort of sauce and a bunch of spices that you might not have an an average poorly-stocked kitchen."

It comes in a huge variety of flavors (chili macaroni, taco, beef romanoff, etc.,) and is also available in a few versions for chicken. Most are pretty high in sodium content. Betty Crocker / General Mills product.
posted by zarq at 11:52 AM on September 3, 2013


Don't forget that England had a terrifyingly spartan (but ironically quite healthy) diet controlled by government rationing for years: meat and sugar were still rationed until 1953! This must have something to do with it.

The important thing to remember is that food rationing was about securing access to food for the poorest. Without rationing they would be shut out of the market by wealthier buyers who could pay far above them as supply tightened. So while some foods were rationed well into the 1950s, we need to look backward to the 1930s and ask what the situation was like before rationing and before the supply of food tightened during the war. I daresay that food rationing was the endpoint of a long food drought for poor people. Food, and the cost of food, for the poorest has been a political issue since the Corn Laws and Malthus. I don't believe that poor people have eaten well in England for a long long time, since time out of mind.
posted by Thing at 11:52 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Some years back as a tourist I strolled into a fish market in Cornwall to try and buy fish and honestly an old fisherman guy told me to fuck off.

And if you tried the same thing in a wet market in Taipei, they would have aggressively tried to sell you fresh fish, dried fish, fish bones, fish guts, and fish stock. In my own trips back to Taipei and Hong Kong, I always tagged along with an aunt on her trips to wet markets. These are basically stalls set up in side streets and alleys in the middle of major cities. They're literally filled to the gills with any food or food related item that you would find at a supermarket. Some have live animals that are butchered and gutted right there. All kinds of people shop there (though usually more women are there.) And it's not like Taiwan/HK and parts of China don't have super- or hypermarkets. Walmart, Costco, and France's Carrefour are all there. Even the UK's Tesco has a presence with it's partnership with the Thai originated "Lotus SuperCenter".

Thinking more deeply about it, I don't think I've ever seen a wet market outside of Asia. Why is that? I'm not a food or retail expert, so I can only offer my own limited observation. In Southern California, where I live, it would be difficult because of the car culture and just urban sprawl. And according to the Wiki article I linked to, there are health and food safety concerns. (But I will say I eat everything in Taipei and rarely get sick, though that could be thanks to my Taiwan-born gut flora helping)
posted by FJT at 11:53 AM on September 3, 2013


I'd rather – if I can get wanky theorist about it for a second – an explanation here that covers the socio-cultural aspects of not just what [Hamburger Helper] is but what it means.

jessamyn and Artw have covered the "what it is" aspect. As to "what it means" - I've always seen it marketed towards people as being a convenience thing - you don't need to fiddle with measuring out spices or making the sauce or whateverthehell, all you need to do is brown up some mince and chopped onion, add a box of this stuff, and presto, there's dinner.

I've also noticed that a lot of convenience foods tend to take the [Just Add Ground Meat] approach, and ground meat tends to be far cheaper than other cuts of meat in US supermarkets, so there could be a perceived economic thing as well - but it's mostly billed as a time and mental-effort saving thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:54 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Artw: It's probably a lot less likely you'd make hamburger from scratch in the UK - something like a basic spag bog is more likely for a similar set of ingredients.

Yeah, the only people I know who make their own burgers are farmer's market organic special spice mix types. Burgers come in two varieties: frozen, 12 for £1.50 EXTRA VALUE range in packaging straight from Repo Man, or fresh (supermarket definition of fresh) 4 for £3, with a silver stripe on the label to indicate "quality".

Minced beef means mince and tatties, or spag bol, or – maybe if you're feeling exotic on a student budget – meatballs and Dolmio/Ragu.
posted by Len at 11:55 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is just a continuing hatchet job by Americans on some uppity Brit who dared to tell them that much of their diet was crap. I have absolutely no doubt that the quotes are selective, out of context and massaged to present him in the worst possible light. But that's OK so long as sanctimonious MFers with no knowledge of the man or his career get to feel good about themselves by piling on.

I think it's pretty clear that the people here criticizing Jaime Oliver are aware of his career; if they weren't before it's been repeatedly pointed out in this thread, so they are now. The thing is, a career helping to improve the lives of the poor absolutely does not mean that your attitudes toward the poor are entirely good. Plenty of well meaning people who do genuinely good work to help the poor fall into the same traps of blaming the poor for their situation, distinguishing between good and bad poor people, etc., and that's totally to be expected. Hatred for the poor is as much a part of our society as sexism, racism, or any of the other ingrained prejudices that we, in the Metafilter community, regularly acknowledge that everyone suffers from to some degree. It would be more surprising if Jaime Oliver didn't have some bad attitudes about the poor, most people do.

Maybe he's being quoted out of context (although your assumption that he is just as problematic as assuming that he isn't), but when someone says trots out the same tired nonsense about people in poverty having giants TVs and complains that people not wanting to work 80 hours a week are "whinging," those are genuine red flags, even if the person has done genuinely good work.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:58 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ooh, another thought - at least when I was growing up, ground meat of some ilk was nearly a pantry staple in most homes; maybe you'd use it in burgers, or meat loaf, or meatballs, but you were probably going to use it in something, so most homes had a couple packages of ground meat in the fridge somewhere. Hamburger Helper probably was capitalizing on that habit.

(And to clarify just in case - "hamburger" is often used to refer to mince itself, as opposed to solely referring just to the patty you make from the mince. So "Hamburger Helper" would be more appropriately named "Mince Helper" in the UK.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


There used to be Tuna helper too. I hated that stuff.

Traditionally, the way people eat is some kind of carb filler to make you feel full, some kind of protein, and some kind of seasoning.

Pasta with meat sauce, Turkey with stuffing, roast beef with mashed potato.

Hamburger helper provides the filler and the seasoning. But is also makes you think you are making some kind of actual dish, not just cutting ground meat with pasta. You actually may end up with something like Beef Stroganoff. As strange as it seems hamburger helper always seemed kind of fancy to me as a kid. I imagined people eating stroganoff in a fancy restaurant.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:59 AM on September 3, 2013


For those that don't live in the US, Hamburger helper is fairly popular. It's not for making hamburgers, it's called that because it uses hamburger meat (ground beef) as the main ingredient. It's basically a casserole in a box. It has either rice or noodles, and a package of pre measured seasonings. You cook your meat, add the noodles and seasonings, and you have a casserole for the family dinner. It's popular with both lower and middle class households because it lets you cook a pretty decent dinner quickly with low cost ingredients that you probably have in your kitchen (most of them just require the meat and a cup or two of milk). There's a good variety of flavors too, ranging from rice based mexican meals to various Italian dishes to Stroganoff. They've branched out now into non beef stuff too; there are mixes intended for chicken or tuna as well.
posted by unreason at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2013


There are a few products in the US which are similar to Hamburger Helper -- designed to enhance the flavor of meat, chicken or fish and perhaps expand a single dish into a meal. They help people who don't cook or don't know how to spice their dishes, and are (as Jessamyn mentions) great if you don't have spices on hand.

There are also shortcut products like Uncle Ben's or Near East rice products, as well as Stove Top stuffing, all of which add a somewhat inexpensive flavorful carbohydrate to any meal. They can be made quickly. So can cup-a-noodle, or ramen. Most of them (with the exception of many Near East flavors, have high sodium content.

20 years ago, boxes of Near East rice used to sell at my local supermarket for 50¢ each. A pittance. A side dish for 2 or 3 people in a single meal.
posted by zarq at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2013


I imagined people eating stroganoff in a fancy restaurant.

I did too! That's why I was so surprised to read the actual recipe, the name made it sound way more complicated for some reason.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on September 3, 2013


I'm kind of amazed that with all the learned helplessness going on in this thread that my shitty wilderness years cooking skills actually make me some kind of highly trained chef and putting a few vegetables in things from tome to time is actually a lofty and hard to attain acheivement.
posted by Artw at 12:03 PM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


Thanks everyone. I was forgetting that hamburger, in the US, is so often a synonym for ground beef. Hamburger Helper makes more sense now. Or, as Empress dubbed it, Mince Helper, which is perhaps the best/worst drag name ever.

I'm still awaiting a 32 page sociological thesis on the class implications of HH versus Fray Bentos' pies-in-a-tin, mind ;)
posted by Len at 12:04 PM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


As to "what it means" - I've always seen it marketed towards people as being a convenience thing...

As a child growing up relatively impoverished with a stay-at-home mom, we ate everything from scratch. Drank powdered skim milk because it was cheaper, I guess, than liquid milk?

At any rate, I don't know why I remember this, but my only exposure to Hamburger Helper until I was in my mid- to late teens was a throwaway gag in the Chevy Chase movie "Vacation," where the Griswolds go to visit their poor, ignorant, backwards hillbilly cousins and are served Hamburger Helper but there is no hamburger. This is a laugh riot.

I can't specify how, or why, but this is the linchpin of a series of compound jokes and references that solidified my idea of Hamburger Helper as being the standard-bearer for "poor food" for pretty much my entire life. Moreso than ramen or Kraft Dinner (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for you Americans). Those were "student foods." Hamburger Helper was white trash food. Maybe it was rarer or harder to find in Canada, or maybe I just never intersected with homes where it was eaten, but I never had any hands-on experience with the stuff, but I honestly had a mental link between it and the worst trailer park stereotypes known to man.

Then one day in university I bought some out of curiosity and discovered it was exactly the same shit as those crappy instant pasta side dish things I bought all the time, only with curly pasta instead of flat noodles. I had no idea what I was expecting up until that point, but it had been built up in my mind into some sort of terrible food scrapings when all it was was just some pasta and prepacked spices.
posted by Shepherd at 12:05 PM on September 3, 2013


What's that word that means "people who might be offended by article, aren't, so I'll be offended for them"?
posted by huguini at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Others have answered, but since I have it typed: Hamburger Helper is a brand-name box of ingredients, containing a starch, like (egg noodles, broken up fettucine, elbow pasta, or rotini) and a packet (containing chemical flavoring, thickener and maybe some dried veggie of some sort).

You brown a pound of ground beef, then dump in about a cup and half of water, the packet, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. High in salt and fat, low in cost, effort, and actual flavor. If the powder is dayglo orange and the pasta is elbows, it's Mac'n'Cheese helper! Egg noodles and sour cream flavor? Stroganoff helper! Tomato and chili pepper flavor? Chili helper! And so on. To me, the predominate flavors are always salt, grease and a chemical aftertaste. Though God knows I've eaten my share.

It's an inexpensive dress-up for the most inexpensive meat in the market, and culturally it says both "poor" and either "can't cook" or "too lazy to cook," but plenty of middle-class households (yes, we still have some middle-class households, thanks) have some around for when they need something fast and thoughtless, or to easily satisfy undiscerning children.

Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper extend the same principle to canned tuna or chicken, but aren't as popular.
posted by tyllwin at 12:12 PM on September 3, 2013


Shepherd: " As a child growing up relatively impoverished with a stay-at-home mom, we ate everything from scratch. Drank powdered skim milk because it was cheaper, I guess, than liquid milk? "

OMG. Alba. I had forgotten.

Yes, it was cheaper. And you could make exactly the amount you needed, so it wouldn't go bad.
posted by zarq at 12:15 PM on September 3, 2013


While I am generally on the side of people who point out the barriers poverty puts up to cooking healthier, there is a point where it becomes condescension of a different kind: "oh, those poor people! They can't possibly learn anything new! They are just hopeless! They couldn't possibly be motivated to feed their children better food!" Yes, some people are in poverty so deep they don't even own pots and pans; that's a reason to help provide them, not shrug. Yes, some people don't have working refrigerators or freezers, but a lot of people do, even if they are poor. Yes, many people never learned how to cook; that doesn't mean they are to stupid to *learn*, and I think it's pretty contemptuous to treat people so. Yes, it can be very hard to get up the energy to cook when you come home after a long day, but it's also possible to suggest recipes that don't require a lot of effort or can be made ahead.

There's also plenty of structural changes to make -- ensuring that kids have access to good food at school for free, reducing food deserts, providing more money for food. But pretending that it is utterly impossible for people to provide food to their children other than french fries without superhuman effort is ridiculous in its own way.
posted by tavella at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm still awaiting a 32 page sociological thesis on the class implications of HH versus Fray Bentos' pies-in-a-tin, mind ;)

...And I thought the all day breakfast in a can was startling.

Although, even here I can point to a difference - I think that when it comes to the realm of "portable single-serve pies", we here in the US have been far more influenced by pasties than by the meat-pie-in-a-dish, which can explain why you got pies in a tin, but we got Hot Pockets in the freezer.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on September 3, 2013


I had an ex whose mom worked for National Starch and Chemical company and one of their main food items was those little packets of stuff that come along with pre-packaged meals like ramen, hamburger helper, basically anything that comes with a little package of flavor. So there are a few things going on

- these things are shelf stable which means you can keep it in your car, keep it on the shelf of a dented can store forever or keep it in a cupboard for a "just in case meal so it covers a wide range of potential eaters. They scale so you can make it for 100 people or four so good for bulk feeding.
- in a lot of ways it's super cheap to make, very very high margin to sell, so it's in Western Capitalism's best interests for people to feel like this stuff is 1) food 2) delicious to have them keep buying it. So it's very salty and has a bunch of chemicals to give it good mouthfeel and whatever that button MSG pushes as well. I always thought it was hot shit when we had it at my friend's house because it had So Much Taste relative to what we were eating (generalized hippie food)
- because of the above, these things are advertized and pushed like crazy PLUS you can make them in a room that basically has a hotplate or maaaaybe even a microwave (so hotels, shelters, soup kitchen) so it's got a very wide range of contexts. Advertising basically tries to get you to feel like it's for upper-middle to lower class people. Like if you saw ramen on TV suddenly being stuff that suburban white people ate, when you only knew it as cheapie dorm kid food (in the US, I'm aware it's very contextually different in other countries and also an entirely different food).

"people who might be offended by article, aren't, so I'll be offended for them"?

Concern trolling, but it's not that different from this rhetorical question as passive barb device.
posted by jessamyn at 12:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


nadawi: "sure, and while we're at it, lets not pretend that poor people are eating cheetos for dinner in any meaningful numbers. it's almost like this whole thing started (by oliver) over a broad brush and false equivalencies."

I see both adults and children eating cheetos, doritos, etc. for breakfast every day.

Valid point above about the "chips" being fried potatoes vs potato chips, though. I'm personally not wringing my hands over people eating potatoes and cheese for dinner, what bothers me is seeing people habitually munch through bags of snack chips in lieu of eating meals.
posted by desuetude at 12:22 PM on September 3, 2013


have you tried a good kosher butcher

Ah, see, even in most big cities that means adding a plane ticket and a couple of hundred dollar cab rides to the cost of your meal. Kosher butcher? Might as well ask for the blacksmith's. I doubt more than a couple of million people in the US live within easy access of kosher butcher, and it's bound to be fewer than that in the UK.
posted by Fnarf at 12:23 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


what you see doesn't encompass a very large percentage of anything and also doesn't account for what else they've eaten or will eat and how rare an occasion this is for them. it's a cheesy powder covered strawman.
posted by nadawi at 12:25 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fnarf: "Ah, see, even in most big cities that means adding a plane ticket and a couple of hundred dollar cab rides "

Empress lives in the same city I do, which has the largest Jewish population in the entire United States. I am aware of that, which is why I asked her that specific question. It was not intended as advice to the whole thread, just her.
posted by zarq at 12:26 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


to be fair - i think the kosher butcher tip was an honest stab at helpfulness. this comes up from time to time in threads like these - one conversation is "this is how hard it is and how assumptions are pretty useless from class to class" and another conversation is "hell, even in higher class i have problem finding xyz" - and then when someone answers the second comment they can be read as responding to the first.
posted by nadawi at 12:28 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


which, of course, zarq explained better than i did while i was hitting post.
posted by nadawi at 12:28 PM on September 3, 2013


EmpressCallipygos ...And I thought the all day breakfast in a can was startling.

Oh, fuck, the all day breakfast in a can is basically an affront to all that is good, decent and heart-clogging about a traditional fry-up, and should have been a concept that was drowned at birth. Primarily because if you have a load of sausage, mushroom, egg and bacon in a can with baked beans, there's no possibility of the meat, dairy and fungi being able to swim in half a pint of their own grease, unencumbered by beans and tomato sauce.

As for the pie in a tin thing – it's actually kind of efficient: you peel the top off the tin and stick it in the oven, and the lower part of the tin acts as a pie dish. (It looks – optimistically – like this when cooked, as opposed to being the pie equivalent of the all day breakfast in a tin.)
posted by Len at 12:29 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


LOL. Thx nadawi.

Yelp lists 53 kosher butchers in the NY metro area. (They count a few supermarkets, tho.) You almost can't swing a chicken without hitting one. :D
posted by zarq at 12:30 PM on September 3, 2013


As for the pie in a tin thing – it's actually kind of efficient: you peel the top off the tin and stick it in the oven, and the lower part of the tin acts as a pie dish. (It looks – optimistically – like this when cooked, as opposed to being the pie equivalent of the all day breakfast in a tin.

See, the US just plain doesn't have too much of a "meat pie" custom in general. Occasionally you'll have someone make "shepherd's pie," a concept with which you are no doubt familiar, or "pot pie," which is just the crust on top but not on the bottom; but the savory pie family is sadly underrepresented in the US for some reason; for us, pie = fruit, and you eat it either for dessert or for a snack break if you're at a cheap diner in the middle of nowhere.

Although, the meat pie concept wouldn't be a bad one to promote, as it does use things up. I'm actually thinking of devoting some early-fall weekend to making a crapton of various pasty-style meat pies and stashing them in the freezer for quick meals, and will probably fill them with various combinations of leftover things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:35 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


so pie in a tin is basically just a pot pie?
posted by nadawi at 12:35 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The thing is, a career helping to improve the lives of the poor absolutely does not mean that your attitudes toward the poor are entirely good".

I think that faced with this moral problem Jamie should give up his career helping to improve the lives of the poor and take up the life of noisy sanctimony enjoyed by his critics.

Personally I'll take a doer over a bullshitter every day.
posted by fingerbang at 12:40 PM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


he could also take the critique on the chin and use this as an opportunity to reflect on unexamined assumptions which might be impeding his goals. he's often a doer, but in this specific interview he was kind of a bullshitter.
posted by nadawi at 12:44 PM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


He is a nice dude. Cut him some slack for his ignorance on this. I would rather someone gave him a TV show and a daily food budget and have him come up with recipes while chronicling his findings along the way. This helps the viewers understand the realities a lot better and learn of some possible new/interesting/healthy ways. Who knows, maybe he can get some more effective social food policies effected based on his findings.
posted by asra at 12:44 PM on September 3, 2013


I think that faced with this moral problem Jamie should give up his career helping to improve the lives of the poor and take up the life of noisy sanctimony enjoyed by his critics.

Personally I'll take a doer over a bullshitter every day.


It's a good thing that this is an absolutely false dichotomy and that everyone, even "doers" can actually learn and reflect on their own personal attitudes without somehow having to stop doing things.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:45 PM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


We have frozen French meat pies here in SE Mass/RI. They are all kinds of deadly delicious. (And I did not know this until just now, but they're made in my hometown!)
posted by Biblio at 12:47 PM on September 3, 2013


EmpressCallipygos: the savory pie family is sadly underrepresented in the US for some reason; for us, pie = fruit, and you eat it either for dessert or for a snack break if you're at a cheap diner in the middle of nowhere.

Yeah, I have gotten into this argument on MeTa before. Pies are made of meat and pastry, not fruit. Pie + potatoes + carrots + gravy = what's for dinner. Pies made of fruit are cakes in drag, as far as I'm concerned.

nadawi: so pie in a tin is basically just a pot pie?

Pretty much, yes. Although – to go back to the class implications mentioned earlier – Fray Bentos pies are very strictly a working class – perhaps even a strictly older working class – thing. 30 or 40 years ago, it's what my grandparents would have happily had for tea; their lunch equivalent would have been sandwiches with Shippams fish paste. Both are/were working class markers which have been basically derogated/abandoned in favour of chicken nuggets and the like. They're almost like a quick handy reference to a part of British working class culture of decades gone by, before British food culture was dominated by Jamie, Nigella and Nigel Slater.
posted by Len at 12:50 PM on September 3, 2013


but when someone says trots out the same tired nonsense about people in poverty having giants TVs and complains that people not wanting to work 80 hours a week are "whinging," those are genuine red flags, even if the person has done genuinely good work.

Jamie was talking about restaurant staff. It is normal in that world to work really long hours in the early years of your career. He was lamenting that young Britons aren't willing to put in the time. It's really a standard cranky old man comment about his business, not a statement that any poor person not willing to put in 80 hours is not working hard enough.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have frozen French meat pies here in SE Mass/RI.

That "pies like your Mémé/Vovó used to make" line on their website is pretty much the Rhode Islandest thing ever. Not many places can you bank on nostalgia in the French-Canadian/Portuguese markets to sell something.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I bought one of those Fray Bentos things for a laugh when I was in London (because pie in a can is hilarious), and cooked it when I got home. The pastry was surprisingly good, but oh man, dog food underneath.

Does the US not have little frozen chicken/turkey/beef pies next to the frozen pizzas in the supermarket? Huh. Something I just assumed was on both sides of the border.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:54 PM on September 3, 2013


We have frozen French meat pies here in SE Mass/RI. They are all kinds of deadly delicious.

It may be a regional thing; SE Mass/RI is most likely banking on the French Canadian demographic having brought tortiere to Southern New England. (That was certainly my mother's experience - my grandma was from Acadian New Brunswick and mom remembers occasional tourtiere at Christmas and such.) But other than that, we seem to have gone the pasty route.

Not doubting your findings, mind, I'm just suddenly finding this a really cool intellectual exercise as to why we seem to have gone the pie-in-the-hand route instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:54 PM on September 3, 2013


This is just a continuing hatchet job by Americans on some uppity Brit who dared to tell them that their diet was crap. I have absolutely no doubt that the quotes are selective, out of context and massaged to present him in the worse possible light. But that's OK so long as sanctimonious MFers with no knowledge of the man or his career get to feel good about themselves by piling on.

People can do good things and still say stupid stuff. I think it's very important for people of good will to listen to the people they're trying to help, especially if they don't belong to that group. Listening to what people are saying they need, and not what you think they need is a hard skill, and nobody's successful 100% of the time. It's possible to acknowledge that someone wants to help, has helped in the past, and is currently doing something that's not only not helpful, but downright insulting to the person they're trying to help.

This didn't happen in a vacuum. It's worth remembering that food has ALWAYS been a huge class marker, and sometimes a legally enforced one. There's a whole history of the wealthy trying to help the poor by forcing foods on them, and prescribing certain ways of cooking as how the poor should be eating. I read books about the history of different foods, and almost every single one has some quote from a well meaning guy pontificating on what the poor SHOULD be doing, and could do if only they stopped being lazy\unintelligent\whatever. Often while (coincidentally) being in a position to make money off of what-ever the solution is. So if people react like he should know better, well, maybe it's because as someone who loves food, wants to address a real need, he should be aware of the history of that need, and take some time to try and not make the same mistakes that have been made before.

I don't think Jamie Oliver is a horrible person. Honestly, he's done a lot of good things, and cares quite a bit about this issue. It's just that he's falling into a trap that countless others have fallen into before him. That doesn't make him evil, it just gives him an opportunity to learn. One I sincerely hope he takes.
posted by Gygesringtone at 12:56 PM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think it is possible to work for change for the right reasons and still privately be kind of a dick, or at least tone deaf.

Really, Oliver's message probably resonates just fine with most of his market, who really do want everyone to have access to reasonably-priced whole foods and also just don't understand why those poor people have those big televisions (tsk tsk). He's never spoken for poor people*, he's spoken to them, in earshot of rich people in a position to be helpful or at least less shitty in the decision-making that affects poor people's choices.

That's good and it's important. Somebody needs to do that. It would be better if they could do it without being kind of a shit, but I'm not sure the perfect should be the enemy of the good at this point. And maybe it makes him more relatable to other kind of shitty people.

He also has a history of learning things and taking them into consideration. That might actually happen here too.

I was listening to Alton Brown's podcast this morning, and he and Ted Allen were talking about the history of Food Network, and they almost got into an interesting conversation (they got distracted) about how the early mainstays of the network made cooking accessible: Rachel Ray and Emeril, for example. They made non-scary food with largely modest ingredients - class-neutral food, in as far as real vegetables can be class-neutral - and even while shilling their own lines of equipment never made a big deal about how you had to have this skillet or that garbage bowl, and don't have it/can't get it? whatever, substitute! And it wasn't "if you can't afford ground pork," it was just hey, sometimes there's not ground pork, but there's almost always ground beef.

I think there's a generation of Americans, regardless of class but including people who are easily marginalized by programs aimed at viewers with more spare cash, who can and do cook because of those shows and might not have learned otherwise. I don't know who their analogs are in the UK, but I'm pretty sure it was never Jamie Oliver.

*Maybe that first couple of years, he kind of spoke for poor people. Oliver and I are the same age, just about, and I remember his first show available in the US largely being hangover food. So "poor" as in just-graduated with an okay job and good prospects.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:59 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


food rationing was about securing access to food for the poorest

Sure, but not for altruistic Jamie Oliver-type reasons. In wars previous to WW2, it had been a serious problem for ruling elites when they conscripted young guys into the army who could hardly walk, let alone fight, they were so malnourished and ill.

Once the whole world was at war, ruling elites were determined to be able to draw on a population in possession of basic health to defend their empire. Hence rationing - for 15 years in the UK - and it has left a massive cultural legacy.

I've eaten a lot of the Fray Bentos pies in a tin as a kid. Lovely/hideous kidney taste.
posted by colie at 1:11 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I only read half the comments, because I got angry. I grew up poor and I've been poor as an adult for ages (now I'm not), and I support Oliver's position.

Exhibit 1: Mum cries out "Oooh, I'm so exhausted, I can't deal with life right now, get yourselves down and buy us a roast chicken, fries and a pack of ciggies"

Exhibit 2: Mum cries out: "Oooh, fruit is too expensive, you get packaged loaf with margarine and sugar for tea".

Exhibit 3: Baked beans are the best food ever. At least one doesn't get a headache from them. Little mumimor would love baked beans alternating with mac n cheese forever. And Angels Delight.

I believed and trusted my mum. Then I grew up, and for various reasons learnt about food. It took me twenty years to recover from the anger, not least because the above food-choises caused a permanent crippling allergy.

Most people who grow up poor stay poor, and if they don't, they still go through a period of figuring out how real life works. There is a culture of poverty, where some individuals cast themselves as victims, like my mum did. I'm not saying all poor people are like this, at all, to the contrary. But these people often set the agenda. Most poor people want to get out, but as I experienced it, the victim-discourse made it harder to get out. It was like you were a traitor if you figured out how to make your budget match your spending. And even the social workers can go against it - they seem to relish in your ignorance and poverty.

I wrote earlier here about a grocer in my old neighborhood who set out to teach the poor single parents how to live on a budget. When I met him, I'd already learnt it myself, but he seemed to me to be a true socialist. Keep people away from the junk sold by the big corporations by teaching them to eat food. And unlike my mum, they could buy their cigarettes with cash, even at the end of the month, though he tried to talk them out of that as well.

I'm not saying poor people deserve to be poor or that one can blame them for being poor. I'm saying that no one is helping them by accepting their dependance on industrial food, and for the urban poor, there are other options.

In the so-called food deserts, things are different. There are areas in the western world where there is no access to real food, even though these areas are in the middle of farmland. These days, I spend a lot of time in a food desert, and thus a lot of time driving around to source real food. I know that some people's answer to this is to create co-ops, collectively buying good produce, but I acknowledge that is too wide a leap for most poor people I ever knew. Maybe a good task for Oliver would be to bring real food out into the wilderness.
posted by mumimor at 1:19 PM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


To be fair to Jamie Oliver, I did learn to cook while I lived in England because other than Bengali curry there was very little else worth eating at restaurants in Birmingham.

America, on the other hand, is unrelentingly and dangerously fucking delicious. Why hello there 10 new pounds of me!
posted by srboisvert at 1:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta. You go to Italy or Spain and they eat well on not much money.

Really? That quote alone made me remember why I stopped watching Jamie Oliver. It was during that one programme of his where he went over to Italy and drove around with a camper telling them how to cook their own local cuisine. One older person he tried this on essentially told him off. That person's reaction to Jamie's assholery clicked with me so much that I've never watched another one of his shows.

Jamie should STFU and listen to the wisdom of the locals and their techniques and palates rather than telling them what to do. Knob end, indeed.
posted by kuppajava at 1:22 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


No he didn't. He went around in a camper learning how to cook their cuisine. Along the way he tried to share some information back, and no, it didn't always work out too well. But he was trying to talk to them as a fellow cook, not as a food activist. Jamie's Great Italian Escape had nothing to do with his campaign to get people to cook at home.

He ended the series by cooking a traditional feast, and as I remember it was well received.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:31 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


mumimor, that was a great post.

I would only add that 'cast themselves as victims' is a description that would go for my mum too, but in her case could alternatively be expressed as 'clinically depressed and with bad attitudes to food, but at least not an alcoholic as she would have been if she'd been male.'
posted by colie at 1:33 PM on September 3, 2013


Surely the truth lies somewhere between Ronald McDonald forcefeeding Oliver Twist big macs and the poor as WALL-E-esque gluttons, stuffing their children's faces with cheetos for breakfast out of sheer ignorance?

It is pretty evident that Jamie Oliver (who, for comparison, has the same net worth as Mitt Romney) has done more good than bad, especially when it comes to school lunches. He's used reality television to try and acheived some measure of progress, even if he's failed to pay lip service to the broader socioeconomic determinant of health.
posted by cacofonie at 1:38 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of amazed that with all the learned helplessness going on in this thread that my shitty wilderness years cooking skills actually make me some kind of highly trained chef and putting a few vegetables in things from tome to time is actually a lofty and hard to attain acheivement.


Yeah, ArtW, it's vexing to hear that because you can stick your head in the fridge and turn bits of whatever into dinner, you're a loathsome child of privilege, and that you're some kind of classist asshole if you try to teach other people how to do it.

I learned to cook as a child, not because I was privileged, but because we were pretty fucking poor and my parents were always too stoned to do more than dump some Hamburger Helper into a bowl. My brothers and I hated that shit. I checked a couple basic cookbooks out of the school library (Better Homes and Gardens and Betty Crocker, for anyone that must know) and learned how to take the crap that was in the fridge and turn it into something that tasted halfway decent. On the weekends I visited my great-grandma, I pestered her to show me how to cook things, too. We ate a lot of stews and soups and homemade mac & cheese (government cheese, even!), but it was tastier and more filling than Hamburger Helper and Rice-A-Roni. You don't need to go to the CIA or have all organic ingredients or even have a lot of time to throw together some "Kitchen Sink Soup". Hell, you don't even need a soup pot, you can improvise with one of those foil roasting pans and use the oven instead of the stove top.

Pies are made of meat and pastry, not fruit.

At my house, pies of meat and pastry are either Pot Pies if they're made in a pie plate, or Pasties if they're not. My immigrant ancestors settled first in Copper Harbor, MI, and learned the fine art of the Pasty from the other copper miners - bunch of Cornish folks who knew how to eat well on the cheap.
posted by MissySedai at 1:43 PM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


you're a loathsome child of privilege, and that you're some kind of classist asshole if you try to teach other people how to do it.


No one has said that about anyone in this thread except about Jamie Oliver. We all do better at having these conversations if we don't parody other people's contributions to the discussion.
posted by jessamyn at 1:47 PM on September 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


zarq: "There are also shortcut products like Uncle Ben's or Near East rice products, as well as Stove Top stuffing, all of which add a somewhat inexpensive flavorful carbohydrate to any meal. They can be made quickly. So can cup-a-noodle, or ramen. Most of them (with the exception of many Near East flavors, have high sodium content.

20 years ago, boxes of Near East rice used to sell at my local supermarket for 50¢ each. A pittance. A side dish for 2 or 3 people in a single meal.
"

From what I remember, these sort of products were always significantly more expensive, and also significantly lower-quality in the UK compared to their American equivalents. This is one of the things that contributed to the fact that I perceived the "barrier to entry" for making home-cooked meals so much higher in Britain than it is in the US.

Even at that, Near East rice is now something like $2.50-$3.25 in my local supermarket -- hardly a "budget" product.

I "make my own" now by throwing a cup of rice, a handful of Israeli couscous, some chicken bullion, and a dash of spice into a rice cooker. Doing this required some experimentation and up-front purchase of bulk ingredients, but works out to about $0.60 per batch. I wouldn't expect somebody to come up with this recipe from scratch.

Food prices in the UK are also a bit different than they are in the US. Chicken is much more expensive than beef; olive oil is crazy cheap; the price and availability of fresh fruit/veggies tends to vary a lot more; baking supplies are harder to find; etc...
posted by schmod at 1:58 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


zarq: "20 years ago, boxes of Near East rice used to sell at my local supermarket for 50¢ each. A pittance. A side dish for 2 or 3 people in a single meal."

Oh dang, you just gave me poor times nostalgia: Jiffy Corn Bread. Same kind of thing; we'd have beans and ground beef casserole, served with a side of carrot cornbread. Shiiiiiiit.
posted by boo_radley at 2:05 PM on September 3, 2013


I have a recipe for Upside Down Cornbread which is as follows: brown ground beef with chopped onion, put in bottom of baking dish. Top that with a can of beans, kidney or pinto according to your druthers. Top that with a can of cream of mushroom soup, top THAT with a layer of cheddar cheese slices, and finish it off with a batch of Jiffy cornbread. Bake for 45 minutes, and tuck in. Frankly, while you could do better, you could also certainly do worse.
posted by KathrynT at 2:38 PM on September 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


Chicken is cheaper than beef in the UK. Chicken was expensive before the mid seventies, got much cheaper with battery farming and has stayed pretty cheap.

Tesco topside of beef: £10/kg
Tesco Everyday Value Chicken Breast Fillets: £4/kg
posted by MuffinMan at 2:40 PM on September 3, 2013


Frankly, while you could do better, you could also certainly do worse.

i want to die in a bucket of that
posted by elizardbits at 2:42 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Back in July, BBC Radio 4's Food Programme had an excellent episode on "Skint Foodies" that's well worth a listen. One of the people interviewed was A Girl Called Jack, who has just £10 per week to spend on food for her and her child. She has a cook book coming out in February 2014 and many users of her forum have left comments saying that even at Amazon's discounted price, it's too expensive for them to buy, which is heartbreaking.
posted by TheDonF at 2:42 PM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


schmod: " Even at that, Near East rice is now something like $2.50-$3.25 in my local supermarket -- hardly a "budget" product. "

Oh, definitely. They've jumped in price significantly over the years. But when I was a kid, they were a go-to side dish for us because they were So Freakin' Cheap at Key Food and Waldbaums. Tuna was too. I remember being able to get cans of Chicken of the Sea for 68¢ apiece.

When the hell did I become an old man? Suddenly I'm That Guy who remembers when Gas was a Dollar per gallon.

schmod: " Food prices in the UK are also a bit different than they are in the US. Chicken is much more expensive than beef; olive oil is crazy cheap; the price and availability of fresh fruit/veggies tends to vary a lot more; baking supplies are harder to find; etc..."

Interesting. I had no idea. Olive oil in particular is horrifically expensive here.

boo_radley: "Oh dang, you just gave me poor times nostalgia: Jiffy Corn Bread. Same kind of thing; we'd have beans and ground beef casserole, served with a side of carrot cornbread. Shiiiiiiit."

I remember that! My mother also used to make dishes of Jell-O and My-T-Fine pudding for snacks.
posted by zarq at 2:47 PM on September 3, 2013


Sure, but not for altruistic Jamie Oliver-type reasons. In wars previous to WW2, it had been a serious problem for ruling elites when they conscripted young guys into the army who could hardly walk, let alone fight, they were so malnourished and ill.

Once the whole world was at war, ruling elites were determined to be able to draw on a population in possession of basic health to defend their empire. Hence rationing - for 15 years in the UK - and it has left a massive cultural legacy.


Oh indeed. There was also the aspect of "we're all in it together". Some local government had at first refused to provide the poor with adequate bomb shelters, which caused riots in some cities. The poor slept in London tube stations of their own will and not because the government opened them to the poor. Had the government failed to provide access to food there would have been a utter loss of morale. The Beveridge Report also was part of this, which would maybe be described today "stakeholder buy-in": the poor had to be given something in return for what they were being asked to give. The exceptional twist to this was that Clement Attlee actually gave the poor people what they had been sworn, even keeping rationing.

Winston Churchill campaigned in 1950 and 1951 with the promise of ending rationing. Of course, rationing could be ended at any time so long as the consequences--poor people going without--were acceptable. In neither election did a majority of people actually vote for that policy, and Churchill's 1951 win was a artifact of the electoral system.

Anyway, I have also sought to dig up some household budgets from the past, but without much luck. Both Frederick Eden (around 1800) and Charles Booth (around 1880) compiled budget returns from poor people. The abstracts I can get my hands on at the moment show money spent on meat, cheese, cereals, and potatoes, but no column for money spent on fruits and vegetables (other than potatoes). They must have eaten some, but have been a tiny part of the whole budget. Those living in the land could grow garden vegetables for themselves, but those in the town mostly could not. Seebohm Rowntree gives the poor (about 1900) as eating pease pudding and broth, but still mostly bread, meat, cheese, and potatoes.

The issue of poor people's diets goes so far back. Even Engels says that the very poorest eat nothing but potatoes, and those a step or so above eat parings from vegetables or rotten ones. I think the joke was that the poor eat only potatoes for half the year, the other half the year they don't eat at all.
posted by Thing at 2:50 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


The point that Oliver seems to want to make is that people he identifies as poor would rather choose unhealthy food and a big TV over better food and presumably a smaller or no TV. And yet he is someone who has made millions of pounds precisely because people put TV and other forms of video entertainment at the top of their priorities list. I don't know who advertises on his shows in the UK, but in the US it's largely Kraft and other relatively unhealthy food conglomerates advertising ranch dressing and whatnot.

So, in my mind there is a big disconnect when a television chef admonishes people for prioritizing television. Something he could certainly be more introspective about.
posted by cell divide at 3:19 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


But do the recipes taste good?

They are DELICIOUS.
posted by glasseyes at 3:24 PM on September 3, 2013


Some years back as a tourist I strolled into a fish market in Cornwall to try and buy fish and honestly an old fisherman guy told me to fuck off.

You grackle, you.
posted by glasseyes at 3:35 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


To my mind, holding back from criticising family budget decisions which see a big TV prioritised over children's diet is similar to holding back from criticising culturally 'sanctioned' misogyny.

Is it that different in the UK? Because here in the US, people like Jamie Oliver are basically trying to sell a lie. A noble one, maybe, but a lie, nonetheless: "With minimal skills and equipment, you can make healthy food for no more cost or effort than eating unhealthy food, and it will be just as tasty."

Yes, it is that different. Processed food is not necessarily cheaper, particularly not if you live in an area with good markets and ethnic food stores, such as central Leeds or central Bristol. However there certainly are food deserts. The recipies of the columnist quoted above, Jack, would not be able to be repeated in say, a semi-rural area where the main shop is a Post-Office.

But, based in Britain, this Jamie-outrage on behalf of the poor seems to me wholly inappropriate. I've been poor, and pretty busy with work and kids etc. I've always cooked. I got my cooking skills growing up in a developing country. It seems perverse and dis-empowering to me to equate practical survival skills with privilege. Rot.
posted by glasseyes at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


As others have pointed out, a TV can be obtained on credit and even delivered to the house/apartment. Ever try and do that with batterie de cuisine? I think Ikea used to have student-kitchen-in-box, but that still presupposes access to a kitchen/stove/oven/fridge, time, skills, and decent/affordable ingredients. It's much easier to cook well with a food processor, mixer, mandoline, large clean area for rolling out dough, and so on, than a cheap pot and a dull knife.
I grew up in a well-to-do household of incompetent (in spite of dozens of cookbooks such as Joy of Cooking, Claiborne's NYT Cookbook, all the latest kitchen equipment, and so on) kosher cooking; when I left home I could make toast, peanutbutter cookies, latkes, and mac in a box. I'm quite the foodie, but did not learn to cook until my mid-30s. I worked in places where fresh dairy, most vegetables and fruits, or baking ingredients were unobtainable and anything else not reef fish, booze, crackers and marijuana/cocaine cost more than rent. I've had urban apartments with no kitchen, and cooking would break the lease. I've lived in food deserts (due to public transit only) in the midst of culinary meccas such as the New England coast and the Pacific Northwest. My nearest kosher butcher is almost a thousand miles away!
Cooking, even one-pot meals, is a learned skill. Stuff with lots of fat/salt/sugar that are instant are very compelling; the pleasures of fresh, good-quality, slow-cooked meals are much more subtle. Some folks cannot taste/smell/chew (the majority of Americans have never had dental insurance!) well enough to care about the difference.
By all means teach from the youngest age about good food, good choices, and life skills. But many people are going to need material/financial help to act on better food for themselves and their families.
posted by Dreidl at 4:54 PM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


but comparing the amount of time traveling to a supermarket with the amount of time traveling to a McDonald's is kind of a red herring

Sure, but even if you make supermarket travel time = 0 (supermarket food shows up in your house via elves or something), McDonalds is faster for most people than cooking of any kind.

If there is one on the way home from work, stopping in to get food takes 5 min or less (I suppose depending on how busy it is, but I do this often enough that is a reasonable avg time for me at least). Thats pretty fast for cooking. And its ubiquity (especially adding in all the other fast food places) means a lot of people can stop in and get food in very little time. Leaving your house to go to one, sure that takes longer, but I bet over half of working Americans pass a fast food place on the way home.

I mean, its so convenient that I will do it after a long day at work, even though to me the $ is irrelevant and I could afford to order fancy restaurant delivery instead (but then have to deal with waiting, timing, etc). Factor in the cost and I can see why fast food is appealing.

Maybe if you cook a couple times a week and freeze/refrigerate a lot of leftovers, then you'd be in comparable territory as far as time goes.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:09 PM on September 3, 2013


It's tough--I live close to my Co-op, know how to cook, and cook most nights of the week. No kids. Even so, it takes a long time from prep to cooking to eating to the end of cleanup, and I know enough to clean as I go.

So I have no idea how parents do this, though tbh I have no idea how parents do most of what they do.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 5:14 PM on September 3, 2013


I got my cooking skills growing up in a developing country. It seems perverse and dis-empowering to me to equate practical survival skills with privilege

The more I read this thread, the more I'm realizing that the ability to cook and the understanding of basic cooking principles, is in fact A privilege. We are not born with an instinct to put heat to food. Most solid-food-eating babies would eat a live chicken or a shoe if they could get it in their mouths.

Back when almost everyone was minded by an individual who prepared meals - stay at home parent, other family member, nanny, in-home small day care - everyone* was exposed to at least basic food assembly from earliest days. But as more kids grow up in after-school programs, daycare facilities, as latchkey kids (and when I was a latchkey I wasn't allowed to use the stove or oven), with parents who themselves may have not gotten or thought they needed a lot of exposure to cooking, you can't assume that everyone is starting from a baseline of knowing basic cooking skills or having any basic cooking instincts.

(*and in many subcultures, everyone = girls only)

I do know middle-class and upper-middle class adult people who are literally or nearly useless in the kitchen. Some of them can only follow microwave instructions (and most of those are actively afraid of the stove and oven). Others can boil water and, to a certain extent, get protein hot in a pan, but loathe it as a chore that is messy and they get no satisfaction from or have any curiosity for.

My husband, thanks to one parent who only cooked two things and another parent who was not a good cook and did not want the kids in the kitchen plus a learning disability that makes him both very anxious and very literal, pretty much cannot cook. If the choice was learn or starve, he'd probably...actually, when I met him he didn't have a car or a job and was living on pancakes made from Bisquick he bought at the gas station that was the only shop less than a mile away. So, a slow death from malnutrition, in his case. But he's an experienced eater and still sometimes has to guess if what we're eating for dinner is chicken or pork, and though we frequently eat zucchini he is never actually sure if it is zucchini. Almost zero instincts regarding food, and not really any palate to speak of. And he's one of the lucky ones, because he is not at all picky rather than highly-trained to salt and breading.

(He loves cooking competition shows, go figure. Very interested in food and cooking as a concept, extremely uncomfortable attempting it. Some very intense programming around "ruining" or "wasting" food, too, so not the kind of person to just try something out to see what happens.)

But for middle-class people, relatively healthy "helper" food is affordable. Steamer bags of vegetables, or pre-prepped sides and mains with instructions on the front like I can get at Fresh And Easy - and often do, when I'm too busy to do it all from scratch. I can do that, or send him to the grocery store for bag salad and a rotisserie chicken in a crisis. Nobody needs to raise awareness about my plight. I have the means AND the motivation AND, most of the time, the time.

And yeah, I have no idea how parents do this. My fastest half-from-a-jar meals take 45 minutes bare minimum. I have a longish commute (and frequently work a little late), so dinner rarely hits the table before 8. If I have to stop at the store for something fresh, that's at least 15 minutes just to walk in and check out, because I live in a dense suburban area and the grocery stores are busy in the evenings. It would be faster, most of the time, to pre-order takeout or go through a drive-through.

I have every advantage. Every one. Well, not a personal chef, and I do have to go to work. I have every other advantage, and I can't pull it off every time. I don't always get enough food made to pack two lunches every day, either. That's great, for those of you who do, whether because you're that good or because you just make it work, but expecting every person who doesn't have every advantage to be great at this is unreasonable.

Obtaining food IS a practical survival skill. That doesn't necessarily mean cooking. It could mean raiding the next camp's food, eating out of dumpsters, or walking down to the chip shop. Looking down on people who aren't good at cooking (or planning or getting to supplies or whatever the problem is) doesn't help them any more than sneering at their televisions does.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:46 PM on September 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


I think we are overly romanticizing the home cooked meal. If you're urban poor, you eat out, same in Rome, same in Victorian London, same now. You move away from the country and you lose those skills pretty fast.

But even if people do eat out, that food can be very good. Gordon Ramsay said something on his trip to India. He talked passionately about how even the poor (albeit those that can afford to eat) have access to fresh food, cooked to order by professional chefs. He says "they eat like kings" and to an extent people throughout the third world do.

So I think you can have cheap, good,local, tasty fast food, there's really no real reason we have to be stuck with our current choice between KFC and McDs. We just sold out again I guess.
posted by fingerbang at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2013


Slate needs to send that author to anger management classes. It was an ugly, unfair hit-piece designed to provoke little more than hollow, self-righteous rage. (It begins by comparing Oliver's "judgmental" comments about TV to racism and homophobia, of all things)

So mission accomplished, I guess.

But the outrage seems out of proportion to what Jamie Oliver actually said and, more importantly, wildly out of proportion to his good intentions (not to mention his past good work). Alas, expressing yourself poorly seems to weigh more heavily than years of work as an advocate of better nutrition for children and the poor... so he gets tossed into the internet volcano.

Q: Why would a professional author value reading over watching TV?
A: Because literature is their life's passion, they think it's good for you, etc.

Q: Why would a professional athlete value exercising over watching TV?
A: Because exercise is their life's passion, they think it's good for you, etc.

Q: Why would a professional chef who focuses on improving the diets of Britain's poor and working class families value healthy meals over watching TV?
A: Because he's "contemptuous" of the poor, obviously!

Television also equals time. It's not just the non-trivial cost of the TV and the cable bill, it's about time and choices. People often say they don't have time (or money) to cook, read, exercise, etc. and yet many find several hours a day to watch TV (or surf the web), plus the money to pay those monthly bills.

Oliver is simply trying to show people that healthier choices may be available if they made different choices with their time and money.

Curiously, when 'the poor' aren't involved, trashing TV as a waste of time, money, and intellect is fairly mainstream. Some people are even insufferably superior about giving up television altogether. But it becomes a very touchy subject when it involves 'the poor'. Maybe it shouldn't be?

Yes, I realize that knocking big screen TVs is often a lazy and unfair shorthand for 'people are poor because they do stupid things with their money' (see Elizabeth Warren here). Yes, TV may be a reasonable substitute for more expensive choices. Yes, sometimes people are too exhausted and need the time to escape or relax, etc. etc. All well, good, and understood.


But there are people who could switch things up if they were simply made better aware of the options. Presumably these are the people Oliver is trying to reach.

His good intentions of spreading the word about affordable, healthy food choices is laudable enough that we ought not to be expending so much ink and energy parsing the odd comment or two for reasons to feel insulted on behalf of third parties.
posted by Davenhill at 6:24 PM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Of course not everyone can follow Jamie's advice. Of course there are food deserts, people without kitchens, and people with 5 kids, working 80 hour weeks, living on $8000 a year, etc. But there are people he can reach. There are people who do actually have the time and money to cook, but never learned. They need help building a pantry, learning techniques, shopping for ingredients and managing their time in the kitchen.

People don't cook for themselves as much as they could. We can't just blame poverty or irresistible fast food. The cultural knowledge of home cooking has been lost, and Jamie is trying to help us to re-acquire it.


This is really well put.

There's this weird demand for both absolute authenticity and complete, carefully wordsmithed political correctness in our public figures these days.

YOU CANNOT HAVE BOTH
posted by Sebmojo at 6:31 PM on September 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Given the high levels of offense taken, are we entirely sure that everyone hasn't accidentally mistaken Jamie Oliver for Gordon Ramsey?

Man, keep THAT guy away the poor.
posted by Davenhill at 7:09 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The comments people have made about the problem of wasting-food-while-learning really resonate with me. My parents grew up dirt poor, and though we as a family were better off, they have never lost that DO NOT WASTE FOOD! drive. Neither of them are particularly good or inventive cooks--because, when my mom tried something and it failed, we still had to eat it. There was no room in the budget for tossing out an entire meal that was burned, or horribly sauced, or whatever. Because you can't waste it. So food was homecooked and often from scratch, but it was incredibly boring and repetitive.

I'm now an independent adult who doesn't have to clip coupons when she shops, but I've never developed that foodie interest. Cooking is, for me, miserable and uninteresting--and, when it goes wrong, a huge waste of money. While I have become the first-world child who will throw out rotting fruit (whether rotten fruit is salvagable is a huge argument with my parents everytime I'm home) and is super-paranoid about food going bad, if I actually cook a meal I'm too guilty to throw it out, no matter how bad.

I eat out or eat a ton of hipster frozen food (the Annie's or ethnic offerings) a lot.
posted by TwoStride at 7:28 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back in July, BBC Radio 4's Food Programme had an excellent episode on "Skint Foodies" that's well worth a listen. One of the people interviewed was A Girl Called Jack, who has just £10 per week to spend on food for her and her child. She has a cook book coming out in February 2014 and many users of her forum have left comments saying that even at Amazon's discounted price, it's too expensive for them to buy, which is heartbreaking.

Public Library.
posted by srboisvert at 8:05 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sure, but even if you make supermarket travel time = 0 (supermarket food shows up in your house via elves or something), McDonalds is faster for most people than cooking of any kind.

I was speaking strictly of that leaving-the-house element, someone's observation that well, you have to leave the house to go to the supermarket OR to go to McDonald's, so since you're leaving the house anyway....because it reminded me of the kind of false-comparison thing most advertisers pull when they try to prove that home cooking is "more expensive than KFC" by including the price of an entire bag of flour and an entire box of salt in the "cost" of a serving of home made chicken wings.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 PM on September 3, 2013


Curiously, when 'the poor' aren't involved, trashing TV as a waste of time, money, and intellect is fairly mainstream. Some people are even insufferably superior about giving up television altogether. But it becomes a very touchy subject when it involves 'the poor'. Maybe it shouldn't be?

It's not about TV or not TV as much as people deciding that they are somehow in a position where they can tell other people how they need to live their lives. I don't watch TV, but that's a personal choice, and mostly because I can afford a lot of other options for entertaining myself.
posted by empath at 8:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Five frugal cook books

My parents had Poor Cook, which I borrowed at se point and was pretty much my only cookbook.
posted by Artw at 8:23 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Erm, going to the supermarket is as much trouble if you do it every day, yeah. However - just like I only can tomatoes once a year - going to the supermarket only once a week, and stocking up on things that you can use later in the week, makes it less trouble.

I think people underestimate how difficult it can be to get to the grocery store using public transport. If you don't have a car, how are you supposed to get a week's worth of groceries home?
posted by empath at 8:28 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


how are you supposed to get a week's worth of groceries home?

Short answer-- you don't. It takes more trips, you have to plan well, and you need to take monthly weekend trips to stock up on the heavier items that last longer. It's not easy. But shopping for a week at a time or months at a time a la Costco and Wal Mart are more suburban activities anyway.
posted by cell divide at 9:08 PM on September 3, 2013


Curiously, when 'the poor' aren't involved, trashing TV as a waste of time, money, and intellect is fairly mainstream. Some people are even insufferably superior about giving up television altogether. But it becomes a very touchy subject when it involves 'the poor'. Maybe it shouldn't be?

Well, bashing the poor is also mainstream; being mainstream doesn't make it okay. I find the anti-TV brigade insufferable in pretty much any context, and casting aspersions on someone because they own a means of accessing an actively engaging contemporary art form is silly.

That said, it's obviously not just about TVs. It's about the fact that when you're poor, all of your expenditures are fair game for anyone to criticize. Whining about people on welfare spending their money on TVs or cigarettes or lottery tickets is endemic in contemporary discussions of poverty. Being poor means having every spending choice you made scrutinized to make sure your making the absolute best choice. Choose wrong and we hear that those bad choices are "the reason you stay poor." Hell, in the US we set aside special money for food because we don't trust poor people not to let themselves starve to death. Pre-judging their choices is inherent in the system.

For all of his good intentions, Oliver was tapping into those kind of judgmental attitudes; attitudes that stand in the way of convincing people to make actual lasting differences in the lives of poor people. You can recognize that he's done good work while also seeing his comments as problematic. The two are not mutually exclusive, hell, they're not even opposed. "Good job with what you've done Jamie, but here are some ways in which you're thinking about poverty in the wrong ways"(which is the position of most of the "anti" Oliver comments here) is perfectly consistent and proportional.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:38 PM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


Pruitt-Igoe: "Does the US not have little frozen chicken/turkey/beef pies next to the frozen pizzas in the supermarket? Huh. Something I just assumed was on both sides of the border."

[sigh] Hot Pockets. So yes, actually, but the whole concept of savory pies have been redefined by one brand of unpleasantly tough, tasteless pastry with a skimpy quantity of poor ingredients -- and their massive marketing machine.
posted by desuetude at 10:12 PM on September 3, 2013


I think people underestimate how difficult it can be to get to the grocery store using public transport. If you don't have a car, how are you supposed to get a week's worth of groceries home?

I am aware of the "no supermarket near where you live" difficulty. It is not part of the particular comparison I am addressing however - I am addressing the claim that "just going to the supermarket is as much hassle as going to McDonald's", which I don't believe I've ever heard from someone who did sincerely face the difficulty of not having a supermarket near where they live - in fact, for such a person, going to McDonald's is less hassle, which is a different situation entirely, and - again - not one I am speaking to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:45 AM on September 4, 2013


This, http://agirlcalledjack.com/, is a blog worth reading re: feeding yourself healthily for very little money.
posted by rolandroland at 3:00 AM on September 4, 2013


If I wanted to buy myself a big new TV, and I didn't have the money to hand, I can do so for £23 per week, maybe as low as £18.50. Of course, by the time I've paid it off I could have bought three TVs with that money, and if I end up missing a payment they can come round and take it away, but if I'm poor and my sources of entertainment are mainly watching telly, that seems like the best deal I can get. After all, two cinema tickets would cost me £18.

If I wanted to make a meal with mussels, cherry tomatos and spaghetti, though, it would cost me up to £5 for the one meal, depending on which supermarket is near to me, and considerably more if I live on a council estate where the only shop is a convenience store. Italy is a place where mussels and cherry tomatoes cost considerably less than they would in a UK supermarket.
posted by mippy at 4:05 AM on September 4, 2013


Basically a fattier, cheaper and even greasier order than fish and chips, since bulk cheese is way cheaper than fresh fish.

In London at least, the cheap take-away food is fried chicken - everywhere has a shop selling it, and you can get a meal for a couple of pounds. Fish and chips in London will set you back at least £6 (it's about £4 in the poorer NW town my mum lives in). Even if you split a fish between two, it's not an exceptionally cheap meal.
posted by mippy at 4:16 AM on September 4, 2013


The number of fried chicken shops in poor areas of London is simply beyond belief. A portion of chicken and chips can be purchased for £1.

Here's an article from Creative Review about 'Mr Chicken', the guy who makes nearly all the signage for UK chicken shops. It's like some incredible kind of Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup tin thing, only real life.

http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2009/march/meet-mr-chicken
posted by colie at 5:13 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


by including the price of an entire bag of flour and an entire box of salt in the "cost" of a serving of home made chicken wings.

but - this is sort of true. it's part of the problem with "making food yourself is cheaper!" yeah, in the long run. if you can afford the jars of spices and bag of flour and big thing of salt and bulk chicken, your per meal costs are very low. but, if you can't outlay all that on a tuesday, a 3 dollar box of chicken is cheaper in the short run (which is the timeline a lot of poor people have to live on).

my husband and i do all right - we're not poor but we don't have a lot in the way of savings. he takes a pill once a day that would cost us $40 if i went through the mail order pharmacy. it costs us $60= to pick it up in town. awesome, right, just go to the mail order pharmacy and save 20 bucks a month! but, the mail order pharmacy will only take orders 3 months at a time, so instead of having to find $40-60 bucks in the budget, i now i have to find $120 - and until i can save up for it we have to keep spending 20 dollars extra every month.
posted by nadawi at 6:07 AM on September 4, 2013


Slate needs to send that author to anger management classes. It was an ugly, unfair hit-piece designed to provoke little more than hollow, self-righteous rage.

i really wish people would do a google search or read the links in the thread or something and stop putting forth the idea that slate just made this kerfuffle up out of nowhere. if anything, they're a little late to the party.
posted by nadawi at 6:14 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


but - this is sort of true. it's part of the problem with "making food yourself is cheaper!" yeah, in the long run. if you can afford the jars of spices and bag of flour and big thing of salt and bulk chicken, your per meal costs are very low. but, if you can't outlay all that on a tuesday, a 3 dollar box of chicken is cheaper in the short run (which is the timeline a lot of poor people have to live on).

this is indeed true, that there is an initial cost outlay which a lot of people legitimately can't afford.

However, the ad in question - which compared "a bucket of KFC costs [foo], while buying a pound of flour and a package of wings and a bottle of Crisco from the supermarket costs [baz]" - was targeted at middle class people, who presumably could indeed afford the outlay of $3 for a pound of flour, especially since they could use it later for other things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on September 4, 2013


oh, well i haven't seen the ad. i was just commenting on the idea - lots of times in these conversations poor people are told that if they just buy a lot of ingredients and instantly know how to adequately store them all, then their per serving cost would be really low - which is true, and useless, to someone who is feeding a family on a couple bucks a day.
posted by nadawi at 6:25 AM on September 4, 2013


Ah, I see the disconnect - I'm kind of shifting to the more overarching people-not-learning-to-cook issue, which affects a lot of classes. Hadn't realized I'd been doing that; sorry.

Although, that does lead the mind down another interesting path, about fast food restaurants in general (which I am literally birthing in my head right now as we speak so bear with me if it sounds rough) and how they're a bigger part of the problem than we think, but not for the reasons you...think....I mean.

There has always been a lot of people who couldn't afford to cook at home. And there have always been cheap restaurants to cater to those people. The thing was, though, that before the fast-food places got so ubiquitous, there was a greater variety in those restaurants - and by "restaurants," I should say, I actually mean places like diners or such, you know, those weird greasy spoon places or late night mom-and-pop places or the shacks out in the middle of the woods. Those were the options that a broke person who couldn't afford to cook at home had. And often they were not only pretty decent, but they were staffed by people who also had roots in the community and could give them a break, or come up with creative ways to help people out. This could be apocryphal, but I've heard that the reason that a Chicago-style hot dog comes heaped with so many condiments has its roots in the Depression - a couple of hot dog stand owners started dressing their hot dogs with a lot of extra condiments that had some nutritive value (pickles, peppers, tomato, even lettuce in some cases) but still charging only the price of a regular plain dog, because they knew that a lot of their customers couldn't afford anything more than hot dogs, but still needed nutrition. So if their hot dog just "happened" to come with all these extra dressings, well, lucky for them.

And then the fast food restaurants entered the scene. And they always would have found customers among the can't-cook-at-home folks. However - the difference was that they also had the advertising dollars behind them to try to appeal to the middle class - the folks who could afford to cook at home, but just didn't feel like it. And this brought them a much bigger financial boon, which they then put into more advertising, and then more franchises, which lead to more advertising, which was by now catered even more towards the "why bother to cook when we're here" market, which brought them even more money, and opened up even more franchises, and....and gradually the cheap diners and greasy spoons and little mom-and-pop places got crowded out, and soon fast food joints were the only options left.

And the advertising message the fast food places often use to appeal to the middle class is "fast food is cheaper and easier". And for the middle class, this isn't necessarily so. The class for whom it is so has no other choice any more, and is suffering as a result. And the fast food franchises don't care so long as they get the money.

So that is why I think the fast food marketing like that sticks in my craw - because a) for the market it is directed at, it's only a half-truth, and b) it's a half-truth that they spun into an economic advantage over smaller restaurants that could have taken care of the non-cooks far, far better.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on September 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


i agree with every single thing you wrote there. i would heap scorn upon the fast food chain business and ethics model all day long.
posted by nadawi at 6:55 AM on September 4, 2013


She has a cook book coming out in February 2014 and many users of her forum have left comments saying that even at Amazon's discounted price, it's too expensive for them to buy, which is heartbreaking.

Public Library.

Oh man, you guys don't hear enough about what the Coalition government are doing to fuck up this country. Libraries all over the place are closing - even if your LA has the budget for new books, you'll have to get the bus into town to get it, instead of the branch library that's shut down.

I live in a probably fairly middle-class bit of SE London (we have a farmer's market, and also an Iceland frozen foods store) and our local library's budget has been cut to the point that they're only open three days a week, the books they stock are mainly donations (which is very unusual for UK libraries) they've cancelled some of their after-school clubs, the computers there for public access are no longer connected to the internet, and the only newspapers and periodicals they get now are the local ones which are published weekly. When I was on the dole in Manchester, I'd use the library to check my e-mail, search for jobs as internet was less affordable then, and read the papers. If the same thing happened here, none of that would be open to me.
posted by mippy at 9:20 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I love Mr Chicken. Worthy of an FPP if this were Urban75 and not Metafilter.
posted by mippy at 9:21 AM on September 4, 2013


"Does the US not have little frozen chicken/turkey/beef pies next to the frozen pizzas in the supermarket? Huh. Something I just assumed was on both sides of the border."

Hell yeah. Banquet chicken/turkey pot pies are like $1.59 near me. They are great. Stouffer's Pot Pies are even better but cost $4. I usually buy two Banquet instead of one Stouffer's, two pies is just too good to pass up.

Maybe I just like pies though.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:26 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever you do, do not look at the nutritional information on pot pies if you want to keep eating them. Unless you have a deathwish--then by all means, go ahead.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:28 AM on September 4, 2013


Sorry, was going to add - the library near a council estate where my sister used to live - an area with a notoriously poor high school, a higher than average rate of single and young parents, huge crime rates and generally so deprived that the BBC made a documentary about it - closed a few years ago. Along with the Sure-Start programme aimed at helping low-income parents access childcare and develop parenting skills.

It is, incidentally, a food desert. The only food shop in a three mile radius is a convenience store - one where fresh food is rare and expensive. And the minimum spend for home delivery - some stores will not serve areas with a bad reputation as drivers and vans have been attacked - is £25.
posted by mippy at 9:29 AM on September 4, 2013


Pot pies exist, but have nowhere near the scope and presence of Hot Pockets (aka: bastardized pasties). The pot pies are far superior to Hot Pockets (my proof: Jim Gaffigan).

Dunno why that may be. My seat-of-the-pants guess is that a pot pie has some kind of "old fashioned" reputation, like it was something they ate in the '50's or something. Not that that's a bad thing; it's just that pot pies and meatloaf don't have quite the trendy feel as burritos or pad thai. It just feels like people think that they'd be heavy and stodgy and fattening. Which, maybe, but in a good way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 AM on September 4, 2013


I believe pot pies suffer from negative association with Bender's father from The Breakfast Club.

Also, they were not microwaveable for the longest time. Back before they were microwaveable they took like 45 minutes in the oven, which is ridiculous for a tiny pie.

I hope we see a resurgence. Not that I don't like hot pockets or pizza bites.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:38 AM on September 4, 2013


pizza rolls are the devil's tool
posted by elizardbits at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2013


Totinos should run with that. It would be an interesting branding choice. Maybe in limited markets at least, I know I would buy a box with a "now even more evil" on it.

I always poke 'em with a fork before I eat them so I rarely have problems with scalding hot marinara sauce bursting out of them.

I think I'm going to have Hot Pockets, Pizza Rolls, and Pot Pie for lunch today.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:53 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'll have a lunchable for dinner.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:54 AM on September 4, 2013


Scientists Have Finally Isolated the Lunchable
posted by griphus at 9:54 AM on September 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I learned to love pizza rolls when I had a 4 year old and a 4 month old and pneumonia. They were a hot meal that the 4 year old could fix by herself while I lay on the couch and tried to breathe. Given that her other food choices were "cheerios out of the box" and "nutella, eaten from the jar with a spoon," it was good to get something hot into her.
posted by KathrynT at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "My seat-of-the-pants guess is that a pot pie has some kind of "old fashioned" reputation, like it was something they ate in the '50's or something."

Agreed on the old-fashioned thing. Also, "pot pie" isn't even a useful descriptor, let alone a compelling one. To me, the name subconsciously brings to mind something that sounds like the old broad stereotypes of British food being bland and terrible. I think this comes from trying to reconcile a pot, used for boiling things, with pie...which should not be boiled?

Personally, I looooove savory pies, though.
posted by desuetude at 11:38 AM on September 4, 2013


I'm inclined to go with the not-microwavable explanation. (Or: sure, microwave it, but that'll be terrible.) And then Hot Pockets leapt into the gap.
posted by epersonae at 11:52 AM on September 4, 2013


Hot pockets are a totally different food from pot pies. You can eat them with your hand, for one. Closer foods are Jamaican meat patties and cornish pasties. Plus they have sandwichy fillings like ham and cheese, bbq beef, etc. I think microwaveable dinners and pizzas did more to shrink the pot pie market.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:37 PM on September 4, 2013


Marie Callender's frozen pot pies are amazing, full stop. And not very expensive, if you get them on sale. I highly recommend them.
posted by empath at 7:28 PM on September 4, 2013


It's also worth bearing in mind that food prices have been all over the shop in recent years. I used to think I was good at making sure I had healthy food on a reasonable budget. Now I feel like I'm totally incompetent, mostly because all the little heuristics and strategies I had developed don't really apply any more. Lots of things that used to be really cheap just aren't any more, and it seems like keeping track of what's affordable is practically a job in itself. And all the supermarkets near me keep getting larger and larger, which means that it takes longer to go around them and much longer to work out optimal purchasing strategies. Half the time I just eat M&S houmous which is still a pound. The other half of the time I feel like giving up.
posted by Acheman at 5:34 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Healthy Italian diet suffers as economic crisis bites
posted by marienbad at 11:30 PM on September 13, 2013


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