Deborah Orr: A diet of television chefs is enough to put anyone off their organic greens

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The Independent Online

No doubt quite a number of people are becoming a little bored with being hectored about their diet and lifestyle every time they turn the television on. They clearly mean well, all those telly chefs who have joined forces to persuade the nation to stop buying processed food, and instead cook from scratch. But they are so patronising and so self-righteous that one eventually wants to stick them in the oven, Hansel-style, then leave them to smoulder as one plays drinking games with melted lard all evening.

Anyway, what these chaps – Oliver, Fearnley-Whittingstall, Ramsay, et al – don't seem to realise is that they are part of the problem. First, all their gorgeous dishes in all their gorgeous books, make cooking look like something intimidating, that is done for guests, when really it's something easy that you do for family. Without "starters".

I know their gimmick is always to tell us how simple it all is. But the very fact that being good at cooking attracts book contracts, television offers, fame, celebration and wealth, tends to undermine that message. And that's before they all start shouting at the people they are training to do this very easy thing, for getting it wrong, wrong, wrong.

Anyway, what people tend to say when they are told that delicious food is simple to prepare, is that it might be simple when your production team is doing all the shopping for you, and all the washing up. But when you are scrumming round Sainsbury's with the kids trailing behind you on a Saturday morning, you tend to lose focus on those carefully planned recipes-for-the-week-ahead.

Yes, this is a self-deluding excuse. It's as easy to buy a tin of tomatoes and a bit of garlic as it is to buy a Dolmio sauce. But it is still hard to be lectured to by someone who makes a glamorous living out of what to most people is a relentless chore, and who would apologise to Sainsbury's tout de suite if he ever forgot himself and suggested that pushing Dolmio sauces to vulnerable customers was Bad.

Also, when you get in from work on a Tuesday night, have the homework to supervise, the laundry to do, the mess to straighten out, and a bill or two to pay, even chopping up the onion can seem like a fag. Especially when you want to get the children off to the land of nod, so that they don't fall asleep at school, and so that you can have time for a good, long slump in front of the telly before bed.

Because, second, the national obsession with sitting in front of the telly, watching instead of doing, is a great robber of our time and our health, intimately connected with the love of snacking that the chefs abhor so very much. Those chefs are doing all their campaigning at the wrong time of year, aren't they? In summer you can just turn the telly off, and tell the children to stop complaining, because they are going to the park for a game of rounders after dinner whether they like it or not. In rainy, windy winter, there's nothing to do, apparently, except watch people on telly, preferably doing stuff with food.

I daresay once the first chef thinks of it, they'll all be declaring that they won't be going on telly and cooking at all any more, because they'd rather people made meals than watched them being made, or even just got off the sofa to stretch their legs – caring passionately as they do about our fitness.

In the meantime, they're probably still puzzling over what psychological tic always prompts them to say "ready meal" when they really mean "TV dinner". Television chefs are always keen to point out that eating food that has not been prepared according to their fabulous recipes is the cause of "the obesity timebomb". They're rarely seen on the box demanding that we switch off their programme and go for a walk, or even treat ourselves to an early night, so that there's a bit more energy available for cooking and shopping the next day. That would be killing the free-range goose that lays the golden eggs.

The catch with education policy

It's a tough one, isn't it? Is the school good because it's in an affluent area packed with people who value education? Is the area affluent and packed with people who value education because the school is good? Or might the encroachment of wealth-driven inequality into government services be an inevitable consequence of trying to do the impossible, and run a free-market welfare state?

Why struggle with such questions? The thing to do is to break the connection instead of messing about trying to understand it, and outlaw the practice of prioritising school enrolment according to catchment area. And why stop at schools?

The problem, clearly, is inequality more generally. Some people can afford to live in areas with nice amenities and others can't. How about an attempt at breaking that stranglehold more comprehensively? Higher minimum wage anyone? A serious attempt at rolling back the 30-year assault on social housing provision? No, no, let's go with school catchments. And let's not stop there.

Did you move to an area because it had a lovely park for walking with your dog? Shame on you! You're not allowed to use that park. That park has to be used by other, less fortunate people. You have to take your dog to the park on the other side of town that is full of glass and condoms and crackheads. When you see how bad it is, you will use your middle-class clout to transform that park into the sort of park you live near, but can't use. And so on.

Isn't it a bit weird, giving money to the Government in order that it provides a certain standard of service, then being told that, since they are unable to provide that basic standard of service, you have to be entered in a lottery, then dragooned if your number comes up, into providing it yourself by virtue of your very existence?

Maybe sending your child to the troubled school or walking your dog in the neglected park, is the noble, socialist thing to do. Personally, I believe that it is. But it is perfectly plain to me that attempting to force everyone to behave like that is hopelessly ideological, and entirely counter-productive.

At the moment, despite its great difficulties, nearly everyone still opts to be educated by the state. People don't manipulate school admissions because they are nasty or selfish or horrible but because they are fearful and, sometimes, almost unhinged with desperation. Perhaps they are wrong to feel that way, and maybe they are not. But if a group of experts sat down and had a think about how they could push more people into having their children educated privately, they could not come up with a better plan.

* It has been difficult to take seriously the plight of the two Greenpeace activists who were abducted by the crew of the Japanese whaling ship, and not only because the BBC correspondent providing us with the news was called Jonah Fisher. There's also the sneaking suspicion that following a ship around, then boarding it, might be considered a little provocative, especially when one considers that whalers, by definition, might be fairly uncompromising types.

What inspires a couple of young men, looking around them at the state of the world, to decide that what they must focus on is the suspicion that Japan might possibly be violating a broadly successful international agreement on whaling? Obsessive fundamentalism might be a valid answer. No doubt in their own minds, they are heroic adventurers, victimised for their passionate commitment and belief. In mine though, they're just environmentalism's answer to Big Brother contestants.

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