FAMILIES on low incomes do not know how to feed themselves properly and opt for pricey foods such as ready meals rather than the cheaper, fresh alternatives preferred by people in other countries, chef Jamie Oliver has claimed.
Oliver said that Britain’s poorest families should follow the example of communities in France and Spain, where people who are financially challenged can prepare a nutritious meal for just a few pence.
The celebrity chef, 38, who has an estimated fortune of £150 million, said in an interview with the Radio Times: “Some of the most inspirational food in the world comes from areas where people are financially challenged.
“The flavour comes from a cheap cut of meat, or something that’s slow cooked, or an amazing texture’s been made out of leftover stale bread.
“I meet people who say, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like’. I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, ten cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60p, and knocks out the most amazing pasta.”
The campaigning chef, whose new Channel 4 show, Jamie’s Money Saving Meals, is designed to help people cut their food bill, recalled a family he met while making one of his previous TV shows. He said they ate unhealthy fast food, but had splashed out on a huge TV.
He added: “Seven times out of ten, the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families: the ready meals, the convenience foods.”
Stephen Jardine, founder of food and drink marketing company Taste Communications, agreed with Oliver.
“Ready meals are the root of the problem,” Mr Jardine said. “They masquerade as a cheap and fast solution to feeding the family, and supermarkets love them because they can make more of a margin than on fresh produce. If you look closely at the ingredients, you realise they actually represent really poor value to consumers.
“The countries without a strong ready-meal culture are where poorer people eat best.”
However, charity the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said many families do not have enough money to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
Imran Hussain, the group’s head of policy, said: “He [Oliver] is right to say that healthy food doesn’t always have to be expensive, but for many families it’s low income which gets in the way of healthy eating.
“As official statistics show, parents of poor children are much less likely to be able to afford fresh fruit for their children. We also know that as the incomes of poor families rise, they spend more on things like healthy food.”
Mark Greenaway, whose eponymous restaurant is on Edinburgh’s Castle Street and who has appeared on TV show Great British Menu, said: “Jamie Oliver has a point when it comes to some foods, but if you look at a £2 lasagne you can buy from the supermarket, you couldn’t make that cheaper,” he said.
“Supermarkets need to make it easier for people to cook fresh at home. So many vegetables are pre-packed and spices come in a standard size, which means people waste so much and have to spend £1.50 a bottle on ten spices to make a curry which they’re not going to use again.”
Here’s one he prepared earlier
Mackerel pasta salad:
£6.75 for four.
4 handfuls green beans, topped but not tailed; 400g farfalle or other dried pasta; 2 handfuls black olives, with stones; juice of 1 lemon; 1 jar mackerel, drained and broken into big pieces; 400g ripe cherry tomatoes, halved; small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked; salt and pepper
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and drop in the green beans. Cook for about four minutes – until just soft. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and drain. Add the pasta to the water and cook according to packet instructions. Serve it al dente, like they do in Italy – the pasta is just cooked, but still has a little “bite”. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water until cool.
Put the olives on a chopping board and squash with a mug so the stones pop out. Throw the stones away and chop the olives.
Squeeze the lemon juice into a big mixing bowl and add three times that amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Drop the beans, pasta, olives, mackerel and tomatoes in and toss until everything is mixed together.
Serve sprinkled with parsley leaves.