The ADgenda: Jamie Oliver's Cook it, Snap it!

Annoying ad campaigns.

Jamie Oliver divides opinion. An unassuming little fella he first took to our screens with a bish bash bosh approach to cooking, teaching us that it's ok to make sub-par vaguely edible food as long as you do it with a cheeky grin and a wink. There were a few naysayers but we chucklingly dismissed them as out of step. After all this was Jamie, our lad about town. He clearly couldn't believe his luck, having come from humble beginnings in the kitchen of his dad's pub he was now fronting a primetime cookery show where the more slapdash and lairy he was, the more the public lapped it up -  chuck in some pasta, add a bit of salt, you got yourself a gourmet meal. He quickly maximised his exposure, tramping through fields squeezing mozzarella balls as the poster boy for Sainsburys and made time to set up pretty worthwhile projects like Fifteen, giving employment to teenagers who were struggling. But clearly, he never wanted this fame - his face grinning out from every bookshop window, his merchandise packing the supermarket shelves - such fame was too much responsibility for one man to shoulder. All this had been a little joke that got out of hand, a dare conceived down the pub - fake an Essex accent, throw some food around a kitchen and see how long it takes the British public to cotton on.  The adoration of the British public has lost its appeal for Jamie, it's the only explanation for the frankly antagonistic move he's now pulled. He's going out with a bang, with the ultimate annoyance that will make the public shun him forever. He's done his research and discovered that the most heinous culinary crime is taking incessant photos of food. A pastime that has seen a surge in popularity recently thanks to the young things' obsession with Instagram - a tool that lets you add a rosy vintage-feel filter to photos, magically turning your sausage and mash into gourmet fodder at the tap of a button. So popular is this penchant for documenting every morsel that passes our lips that there are whole websites devoted to it, and now Jamie's cashing in. With his Cook It, Snap It! ad campaign - a call-out to the nation to buy his latest cookery book, have a go at piling all the ingredients together, and then photograph the results which will be compiled into yet another stocking filler - no doubt he's hoping that in one fell swoop he can line his pockets for the future and piss off the British public enough that they will leave him be. Life of a solitary mountain goat herd, here he comes.

Jamie Oliver. Photograph: Getty Images
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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.