By Jan Moir
Food for thought: Jamie Oliver outside 10 Downing Street... if only he'd stay
Oh dear. Man the chopping boards. Pitchforks at the ready. For Jamie Oliver has gone and opened his big mouth again. You know, his typical liverish, Oliverish malarkey?
Well this week, it was worse than usual. The celebrity chef made a two-pronged stab straight into the flame-grilled, bleeding heart of dearly held liberal sensibilities. And for this, he will not be easily forgiven.
Formerly a saint for trying to improve school meals in this country, Jamie is now seen by some as a sinner of the blackest stripe. In the space of a few days, not only did he claim that immigrant employees worked harder in his restaurants than many of his younger British ones did, he also dared to criticise the eating habits of the poor in this country.
And we all know that the default Left-wing position on the less well-off, the underprivileged or the merely unfortunate in the UK is to mollycoddle and patronise them into a state of utter, jellied helplessness. Not to suggest that sometimes, just sometimes, there are things they could do to help themselves and improve their situation.
Even to imply such a thing is to invite double helpings of piping hot, widespread wrath. And that is exactly what he got.
Oliver was castigated as a patronising poverty tourist, someone who wallowed in the tears of the poor and the sweat of the oppressed. A celebrity who ground everyone like pepper under the heel of his millionaire's boots, while behaving like Marie Antoinette. Never mind that there is more than a corn kernel of truth in everything he said.
Now look. Jamie can be annoying. I don't always agree with what he says or does. Some of his restaurants are far from brilliant. Some of his branded products represent very poor value for money. Yet what I do love about him is that he is fearless, undiplomatic and passionate.
Despite a career in television, he still lives and works in the real world. He grew up having to clean and scrub for his own pocket money. Then he continued to work shifts in his parents' pub to fund his way through catering college.
He has grafted all his life and, despite becoming a celebrity, remains unafraid to say exactly what he believes; an increasingly unique standpoint for someone in public life today.
Wow. If only our feeble politicians, forever shivering behind a camouflaging blancmange of politically correct sensibilities, had half his nerve. If they did, for once they might be able to deal with important issues head on, instead of vacillating and titivating around the edges, like shifty bakers with broken nozzles, piping sugar icing onto a rotten cake.
Jamie Oliver for Prime Minister? I can think of worse candidates.
Bad taste: Our real politicians don't impress in terms of food or forcefulness - as seen with George Osborne's tweet of himself eating a burger, left, or David Miliband's infamous banana snap
Oliver's claimed that in his restaurant empire, migrants are tougher, stronger and better workers than whingeing, workshy British youngsters.
'British kids,' he said. 'I have never seen anything so wet behind the ears. I have mummies phoning up for 23-year-olds saying to me: "My son is too tired." On a 48-hour week! Are you having a laugh?'
Oliver says that without European migrant workers, his restaurants would close tomorrow and that there wouldn't be enough Brits to replace them. Most bosses in the catering industry will tell you exactly the same story in private, of course. Few would dare to have Jamie's public candour.
What has gone wrong? It is no secret that immigrants expect to work hard and don't complain or whinge. In many other countries, working in a restaurant is seen as a good job if the pay and conditions are decent.
Yet here, too many youngsters want a dream job after university. Others without qualifications don't see that they should bother with a menial, unglamorous job that doesn't pay much. They're worth more than peanuts! They don't see that, like Jamie, you need to start somewhere.
His parents, Trevor and Sally Oliver, believe that a strong work ethic which they clearly instilled in their son is a vital building block in society. Mrs Oliver once told me Jamie had struggled at school he was dyslexic, although no one knew at the time.
Working lad: Oliver made a name for himself and even published books despite struggling with dyslexia
She and Trevor were worried, but he reassured her that whatever happened, Jamie would never be without employment 'because he was such a hard worker'.
If anything, Oliver's remarks about food poverty were even more incendiary. He is doing the rounds to promote his new C4 show, Jamie's Money Saving Meals, a series aimed at helping people cut down their food bills. To this end, he told the Radio Times that he found it 'hard to talk about modern-day poverty', citing poor families who fork out on giant TVs and expensive ready meals instead of cooking cheap but healthy food from scratch.
He said that this country's poorest families would eat and live so much better if they just stopped spending their money on chips, takeaways, ready meals and giant TV sets.
He suggested that it was better and cheaper to cook from scratch, using flavours, for example, from 'a cheap cut of meat, or something that's slow-cooked, or an amazing texture' or been made out of leftover stale bread.
How could anyone argue with that? Yet bish bash bosh. Instant controversy. Howls of protest for daring to suggest that people should learn to cook to feed themselves better.
Oliver was also mocked for rhapsodising about a Sicilian street cleaner who uses 25 mussels, ten cherry tomatoes, and a 60p packet of spaghetti to make the most 'amazing pasta'. He added: 'You go to Italy or Spain and they eat well on not much money. We've missed out on that in Britain.'
We have why is it so terrible to admit it? Yet this country, at both ends of the wealth spectrum, is still locked in a dysfunctional relationship with food. Oliver's argument is rather more nuanced than most critics give him credit for.
However, it is true that there are people living in the grip of poverty, so worn down by the daily struggle that it would be difficult to get them to change.
They are constrained by a lack of education, time and practicality and the legacy of domestic science being taken out of schools lives on. Also, if you cannot afford holidays or trips to the theatre or toys for the kids, a TV is an important investment.
He grew up having to clean and scrub for pocket money
Still, a simple nutritious meal is not hard to cook. His message is that you don't need recipe books or a lot of time to do so. It pains him that the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive ways to hydrate and feed their families and it is something he wants to change for their benefit, not his.
Of course, it is never easy to talk about food, a highly emotive subject at the best of times. However, you have to applaud Oliver for saying the unsayable and never minding how unpopular it makes him.
Is it right for lazy parents to daily shovel cheesy chips into their kids' faces or push hamburgers through the school gates for lunch?
No but no one is allowed to criticise the poor, no one. Not even if that criticism is constructive. Not even if it comes from a campaigning chef who has done more than anyone, any government minister or food expert you could name, to make a difference to the culinary life of this country.
Jamie Oliver is right. People could work harder and do more to help themselves. And it is not patronising or wrong to say so.