When I set off to live in Rotherham for six months to write 'Welcome to Everytown', some people quipped that they would have to send me food parcels. It was a bad joke then – didn't they know that my local Morrisons stocked such delicacies as octopus and excellent local cheeses? But it's an even worse one now. Jamie Oliver has managed not only to confirm every negative stereotype about northern pie and chip-eating monsters, he's made the caricature worse.
It's not that it's difficult to find examples of bad eating in Rotherham. I saw far too many kids in prams with chocolate spread around their faces, being fed sweet treats before they even had the words to ask for them. Parental ignorance was widespread. I saw a girl being offered an apple or a KitKat to complete her meal. When she chose an apple, her mother overruled her.
Jamie's crime is not that what he shows isn't real, it's that it is presented as the norm. His "pyramid cooking" plan was designed to teach every resident of the town 10 of his recipes, so they could eat properly. This assumes that no one in Rotherham has an adequate diet. To justify his zeal, the programme shows the status quo in the worst light. It wasn't enough that one mother always gave her daughter junk food, we had to see her eating it on the floor.
When I was back in the town recently, I met a local doctor who had provided a programme researcher with obesity statistics, only to be asked if he could find worse ones. Many could benefit from 'Jamie's Ministry of Food'. But there's nothing super or smashing about being sensational – it just leaves us feeling a little sick.
Julian Baggini (www.julianbaggini.com) is the author of 'Welcome to Everytown: A Journey Into the English Mind' (Granta), about life in Rotherham
The Jamie Effect
Jane Tomlinson, Redhill Farm Free Range Pork, stallholder at Rotherham Farmers' Market
"We haven't seen any Jamie effect. The market we held after the big event to mark the end of the series was the worst we have had. We do 15 markets a month and are known as the stall with the queue, but Rotherham is down at the bottom with Worksop. A lot of people perceive farmers' markets to be elitist, but they are not. Like for like supermarkets do not compare and you can keep prices down and be healthy if you cook with fresh decent ingredients."
Kate Venables, Monti Deli delicatessen, Mexborough
"People are getting a little bit more adventurous, trying different Mediterranean products and we have a lot of very loyal customers who come here for our olives, pasta and garlic. But we haven't seen any increase or decrease since the programme. We were worried that the people chosen to be on the show didn't reflect everyone in the town and we don't want people to think that everyone in Yorkshire is like that."
Michael Mavrakis, 5-A-Day, Listerdale Shopping Centre
"We started as a juice bar but we weren't making enough money so we had to start making more of their kind of food. We try to stay on the healthy side, but kids will always want burgers – you are not going to get a kid to eat a Greek salad. People aren't changing the way they eat, but they do seem upset about the way Rotherham is being made to look. The roast chicken and salad box is still our best seller."