As Jamie Oliver inclined his neck to gaze wistfully at the ceiling of the Macmillan Room, it gives me no pleasure to report that from his jaw hung wallets of flesh.
Once upon a time, the whiff of hypocrisy around the celebrity chef was much more gentle. At various points in his 15-year campaign against childhood obesity, he has railed against the pernicious impact of, to name just one example, supermarket advertising to children. And only the most churlish would draw attention to, say, the reported millions he was paid by, for example, Sainsbury’s to front the TV advertising campaigns for high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar products from their Taste the Difference range, in adverts featuring scores of children eating dozens of cakes.
Now, as he turned up in parliament to trumpet the success of the sugary drinks tax he fought so hard to introduce, he at least has the good grace to wear his double standards around him.
Seated directly to his left, as he pondered the magnitude of his own successes, was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, busily fat shaming a bottle of Yazoo strawberry milk. With his first words, he had said of the nation’s childhood obesity crisis: ”The problem is very wide.”
Fearnley-Whittingstall is intensely angry about the sugary contents of all manner of products, even though he himself is not known to have consumed anything that has not been foraged from the hedgerows at the end of his garden since at least 2009.
They had brought bottles of Ribena and Lucozade with them too, with homemade ticker tapes of sugar packets stuck beneath them, a visual indication of just how much sugar had been removed from both during the “turbo-charged reformulation” both products had undergone since the sugar tax was introduced.
Oliver was especially proud that he had convinced David Cameron and George Osborne to ring-fence the proceeds of these taxes for the provision of sports facilities in schools. A commendable effort, no doubt, but it is hard to avoid the nagging doubt that, to be an evangelist for active life, a chap does need to at least look a little like he says the occasional no to a Kit Kat.
Once upon a time, Oliver only had designs on sorting out the nation’s school dinners. Now, everywhere is in his sights. Buy One Get One Free deals in supermarkets, junk food TV advertising, you name it.
The problem is today’s pervasive food culture. Food is everywhere now. It’s on telly. It’s bulging out of the high street shop fronts. And the big bad food giants are there to confuse. Bread has sugar hidden in it. Obesity campaigning celebrity chefs clandestinely publish recipe books with their own name and photograph on the front, that feature chocolate cakes like Jamie’s Chocolate Love Cake, containing 21 spoonfuls of sugar per slice.
“We have to make the healthier choice the easier choice,” said Jamie at the end. And to his credit, in an effort to make that happen, he is closing vast numbers of his own restaurants, in a foresighted move only partially driven by debts said to running north of £70m.
It should be said that, to the man’s great credit, he is one of life’s doers. He has approached his obesity campaigning with just as much gusto as his business building. To become the nation’s leading anti-obesity campaigner while simultaneously amass a £240m fortune through selling food would have rendered far greater hypocrites of lesser men.
At one point, he said of the government’s recent Childhood Obesity Strategy: “I failed English at school. The last strategy that was published? I do words with my seven-year old son. There weren’t many ‘doing’ words in that strategy.”
Which can only mean one thing. Get ready, because Oliver is coming for your Yazoo.
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