Bouquets or brickbats for the Bono of the eating industry?
Cor blimey Jamie Oliver gets on my nerves, but it’s hard not to admire his tenacious commitment to changing the way the world eats.
He’s just celebrated the tenth anniversary of his first London restaurant, “Fifteen” and the beginning of a remarkable transformation that’s made him the face of a global movement pushing healthy and nourishing foods.
Oliver’s game has always been making real food that you can prepare fast - a puzzling thing given I find his recipes particularly hard to reproduce. But his heart and enormous amounts of energy are plain to see. Whether he’s stripping the Turkey Twizzlers from the lunch menus of British public school kids or stopping American parents from filling their baby’s bottles with Coca Cola. And he’s not done yet.
Cue his latest project, Food Revolution Day. Granted the name’s a bit contrived, but as with anything Oliver-related, it does pay to look beyond the annoying exterior.
Food Revolution Day is actually a culmination of some of his best ideas. Here’s how it works.
Come Saturday 19 May, Oliver wants the whole world to pencil in a community inspired food event, or host their own with a dinner party or BBQ at home. The idea is that you get together and share everything you know about growing and cooking food with the people around you. The only rule is that the food must be real.
Now if this strikes you as the most obvious statement in the whole wide world, chances are the rest of this article is not for you, because the way we talk about food is anything but simple anymore.
We might use words like “real” and “simple” to describe our obsession with stripping back to basics, and growing our own produce in a vegetable garden, but the thinking and passion behind it is actually quite complex.
It all started with Carlo Petrini. If food is a revolution, then Petrini is Henry Ford to Oliver’s Mr Hyundai. He’s the Italian born founder of the slow food movement, arguably the first phase of our growing obsession with food and how we eat it. And the first person to focus changing food habits through the mouths of children and the community. It’s incredible to think how fast his work has paid off.
Back in 1996 Petrini led a protest against the building of a McDonalds near the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. Unfortunately that mission failed and the McDonalds was built, but Petrini’s passion for real food took him, and the rest of the world in another direction.
So began the slow food movement – the first phase of the food revolution – and a commitment to offering sustainable alternatives to fast food, preserving traditional cuisine and supporting small, local business.
In this interview with The Guardian, three years ago he described his dream of a proliferation of local farmers markets and community garden allotments. How many people do you know who’ve already hit up one, if not both of these things already this weekend? They’ve become a permanent fixture of our weekend culture.
Oliver’s real food phenomenon is just an extension of the slow food movement, with a tweak. While Petrini’s movement focused more on the artisan of food, Oliver is taking a more practical and health-oriented approach to cooking.
Most of his programs target the 43 million children in the world who are currently obese, as well as those living with diabetes, one of the major serious health threats in the western world.
The guy’s on a crusade. He’s clearly not going broke running the crusade either, but is that necessarily a bad thing? I say no.
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