Poverty is something I think about a lot. My area of Manchester has a pretty high level of child poverty over 30% of children living in poverty. I spend a lot of time visiting hospitals, where many of the patients are living in poverty. Poverty is very real, and food poverty is a big issue.
Jamie Oliver, god bless him, once a cute, harmless, young telly chef, is now a self styled guru preaching about food issues. And good on him I suppose. However the rant being reported widely is just sitting very uncomfortably with me.
Now, I have been poor and at times still have weeks where the food budget is minimal. I've looked at a tenner left for the week's groceries and thought "oh dear" but I've always managed. I know how to cook. I can buy a veggie box for a tenner and with store cupboard ingredients live quite well on that, and was doing that when Jamie Oliver was still peeling spuds in his father's kitchen.
This is one of my points. If you come from a cooking family and learn those skills, you have it made, to a point. Food poverty is something that is often generational. I grew up knowing how to make a barley broth that fills you up, keeps you warm, and last for a few meals. I can make a veggie curry to last a few meals that costs less than £3. Healthy cooking is relatively easy, but that's easy for me, and indeed Mr Oliver to say.
The issues aren't as simple as knowing how to cook, or to shop.
This may not be a popular opinion but I think that the supermarkets are complicit in deskilling us. When I first moved to the UK I was shocked by the rows of ready meals, these just do not exist in Australia. Ready mashed potatoes in plastic pots? For over £1 when you can buy a sack of potatoes for that on the market?
Ready cooked chicken legs? All sorts of things that to produce at home are easy and cheap, but when bought ready made are expensive. Let's face it, if we all were confident in the kitchen supermarkets would take a kicking.
It's not as simple as "people don't know how to cook" or indeed how to shop. Food poverty is a complex issue. Often poor communities have poor shops, with little fresh produce. Cheaper to buy a loaf of bread and a packet of fish fingers than get a bus to the nearest bigger centre. Cooking from scratch, if its new to you, is scary. And you don't want to waste what little you have on something you may not be able to cook or indeed eat.
People are living on such a tight budget they are choosing between whether to put £20 on their electricity metre or go to the supermarket. Public transport is so expensive that a quarter of the £20 will be used just to get there in a lot of cases. Food is often last on the agenda, even though its so important.
People don't necessarily have store cupboards full of staples like rice, pasta and pulses, and even if they did may not know how to use them.
Combatting food poverty and helping families live and eat well requires empathy, compassion and real solutions. Sending them to Sicily to see how to make Spaghetti Vongole, whilst delicious and one of my favourites, isn't the answer.
When I was at university I spent may hours teaching people how to cook. I used to collect apples and blackberries from the university orchard, which had all but been abandoned and bake pies or crumbles. Even last week I picked half a kilo of blackberries. I got stopped by numerous folk saying how nobody does that anymore, and I find that very sad.
Food should be a source of fuel, nutrition and fun. It shouldn't be stressful. Food poverty in the UK in the 21st century makes me sad.
And I want it to end. But I don't think Jamie is the man to make it happen.