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Modern meals are not so pukka
Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver signs books at the lit fest
Last updated: 25 October 2004 1710 BST
lineJamie Oliver, celebrity chef and Essex lad, came to the Cheltenham Literature Festival with a serious message about nutrition...
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Jamie Oliver is on a mission. His mission is to change the way families eat and he believes we've lost our way when it comes to the fundamentals of food.

Jamie Oliver with a plate of food

He has passionately held views on the state of the nation's nutritional requirements and is determined to get the message across that it's easier than we think to revolutionise the way we eat.

These beliefs reinforce his overall aim to foster a healthier society by making the right choices about our food.

Friendly style

Jamie uses a friendly, informal style in his cooking books and he feels that this is key to their success. He said:

"I think standing there and preaching is the wrong thing to do. What is the right thing to do is to have this seamless knowledge of food that makes you smile, makes you laugh.

English people, they switch off when they're being told something. If they're suggested what to do, they might just bear it in mind.

Certainly my wife works very much like that. For years and years she cooked things and, because it was my trade, there were blatant things she did wrong. I was say something and she'd get right upset. I learned a great technique which is called lying. It's really quite effective.

What I did was I lied when she cooked the next dinners. I said they were perfect and what happened was, she got really pleased and happy. She felt good about herself and what happened over the next month was that she came to me and asked questions.

If you talk to someone and they say they hate cooking it's because, if you trace it back, they feel they were no good at it. Anyone who feels they're no good at something will avoid it like the plague."

Jamie's origins

Jamie grew up in a village in Essex. His home was a pub and he lived around the various ingredients that cooks use. Jamie explained how this helped his career in cookery to come about:

"I lived in a pub and my downstairs was a washing-up room and a kitchen. I spent my youth was around whole venison, crabs, lobsters, filleting and butchery.

The reason that my old man has been slowly but surely successful at what he does that he always does the same - local food, not too posh but something you do a little more than at home - and this was my front room.

Jamie Oliver

I started cooking there and I remember one time when I realised it was special was when I cooked a Sunday lunch for the family. I remember my old man saying 'well done, son. That's really good' . He was a lovely man, my dad, but that was the first bit of approval with regard to doing something really well and I felt really happy, really chuffed."

The original 'Cheeky Chappie'

Jamie's rise to celebrity chef status was meteoric. He became a favourite on television with his programme The Naked Chef. It catered for all ages, and his informal style and 'Cheeky Chappie' persona were an instant hit. He said:

"I was 21 and I'd never, honestly, thought about doing telly or having my words published. I never prepared myself for doing anything like this, it was completely out of the blue.

I think I got it just right. Cheeky Chappie - say what you like, I was! I was 21 and within one week my book went to number four. The television show got the highest ratings for a cooking show on BBC 2 ever and what did I know? I was just cooking and having a laugh.

Over the years I got married, I've got two beautiful little kids - I've certainly matured."

Nutritional message

Jamie has been visiting primary and secondary schools across Britain during 2004 to get the important message about good nutrition across to kids. With the proliferation of fast food chains targeting children, Jamie feels that it's vitally important to educate them on the virtues of eating the right things. He said:

"If we could just click our fingers and go back to the 1950s, that was the time when nutrition was considered to be the cogs of the country. Now it's all about profit and loss and there are no cogs of society any more.

Before we get into politics you'd think there would be some basic, fundamental things that Great Britain needs to function and food is important.

Jamie Oliver with some shellfish

In the 1950s food was important. But what's happened since then is the responsibilities have changed and there're no more nutritionists like there were back then. Our babies, the future of our nation, are now being brought up on crap.

So what we're left with now is the youngsters of Great Britain being the laughing stock of Europe. They're the most unhealthy, obesity is quadrupling and we're really chasing up behind America very, very quickly."

Jamie has done a lot of research into the food we're feeding our children in school and he's not happy about what he's seen. He feels we're pandering too much to the whims of children rather than giving them what they require in terms of nutrition. He explains:

"If you go to any kid and any level, let's take secondary level, and say 'Right. English. Kids, what do you want to read today?'. Certainly from my experience as a teenager I would have read Viz comics or porn. That is not what we give them because the government and the teachers know better. You're going to open your mind, you're going to read Shakespeare and there's a theory why we're learning this. Same with maths.

But at lunchtime what are you going to give kids? Well, kids want chips, burgers, funny shaped reconstituted, mechanically reclaimed stuff with all sorts of e-numbers in them. Of course that's what they want. Do we give it to them? Yes.

And that kind of comprehensive theory behind lessons doesn't follow through at lunchtime. It's like a forgotten part of school."

With Jamie having two kids of his own, he's become very aware of what they're eating in the modern world. He said:

"I made the mistake of cooking around them. That's absolutely the wrong thing to do. Now I cook for all of us but I don't season it with salt and stuff. Then I split theirs off and finish mine with chilli and salt.

I take them along them along to the farmers' markets where I show them the different kinds of food like oranges, raspberries, blackberries. It's kind of like brainwashing them!

I also get them to try different things too, just a finger tip of sugar, salt and what have you. I tried a little bit of chilli once and that was when Jools [his wife] gave me a rollicking!

I think bringing kids up around food really helps to educate them. I also think eating around a table is very important. It's the one time when you all sit down together and just talk.

And if you've got time, getting kids involved in cooking in some way. Get them to do a job that gives them a little ownership like adding some spices or squeezing some juices onto the food."

Fighting the flab

Jamie signing his new book

There's no doubting that we, as a nation, are getting fatter. Maybe the dietary changes that Jamie is talking about in conjunction with a little exercise could prove to be the vital combination in making us all healthier.

There are more tips and advice for healthier living on the BBC's Fat Nation website.

Jamie Oliver was interviewed on stage at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature on Tuesday 12th October 2004.

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