Poor Jamie Oliver created quite a stir with his comments about not understanding “modern day poverty” in Britain. Unfortunately, I think this statement has made him appear rather naive as food poverty is a very complex issue.
The point he made about the poorest families in this country spending a lot of money on food – because they are “choosing” ready-made or convenience meal is correct – but I’m not sure they are doing this through choice. Is it not down to education, or rather a lack of it?
Some of the people that we at Edinburgh Community Food work with (through our cooking and nutrition groups) don’t know how to cut up an onion, let alone make a basic tomato sauce. Part of our work is to teach people how to cook from scratch, but we also show participants how much money they have saved by using fresh ingredients and how much sugar, fat or salt the ready-made equivalent has.
One point that Jamie did forget to mention is that not everyone has access to cooking equipment or cooking facilities. Some families living in the Edinburgh area only have a microwave and those living in temporary B&B accommodation may only have access to a kettle. Another point that was overlooked is that the poorest families tend to have electricity cards and are therefore paying a premium for their fuel. This makes eating healthily very challenging indeed. How do you make a tomato pasta sauce with no pots, limited power and only a kettle?
Feeding a family cheaply and nutritiously in modern day Britain is certainly not impossible, but you have to have the skills and time to do so. This includes living close enough to a large supermarket, or being able to access a good high street, understanding how to shop seasonally, how to interpret/understand supermarket deals and labelling, knowing how to use different vegetables in different dishes to make a meal go further and how to use cheaper cuts of meat effectively.
The growth in unhealthy ready meals and sugar-laden convenience foods in recent years has had an undeniable impact on cooking skills across all social classes, not simply the less well-off. Perhaps it is time we all went back to cooking wholesome, good, nutritious food and ditched the expensive ready-made alternative. We could all save ourselves a few pounds.
• Sonya Kaila-Tierney is a public health nutritionist at Edinburgh Community Food.