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17 May 2018updated 03 Aug 2021 8:37am

“F**k off, you salad shagger“: Why fury at Jamie Oliver’s 2-for-1 pizza ban is justified

The celebrity chef has convinced politicians to curb junk food promotional deals. But this isn’t how you help people eat healthier.

By Anoosh Chakelian

During a meeting with Jamie Oliver, Nicola Sturgeon has agreed to curb junk food promotions like 2-for-1 pizza deals.

The celebrity chef, known for his piety and interference when it comes to people’s diets, managed to convince Scotland’s First Minister during a meeting about the childhood obesity problem in Scotland.

And there is a problem. Almost a third (29 per cent) of Scottish children are at risk of being overweight, with 14 per cent at risk of obesity. Sturgeon has pledged to halve childhood obesity in 12 years, and Oliver’s idea to ban multi-buy offers on unhealthy foods is the headline-grabbing first step of her plan.

“We will tackle junk food promotions and the marketing of unhealthy food, such as multibuys, that encourage overconsumption,” said Sturgeon, in a pledge backed by Oliver.

Yet his idea has received a furious response, in Scotland and beyond.

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And it’s not just people’s passion for pizza. As happens so often with Saint Geezer of Waitrose Jamie Oliver’s public health ideas, his latest intervention is being seen as classist: a multi-millionaire celebrity chef, reportedly worth over £240m, making cheap food more expensive so that poor people eat less of it.

Oliver, who sells pizza (£13 for a “Posh Pepperoni”) himself in his own chain of restaurants marketed at middle-class diners, seems perfectly happy to tell other people what not to eat – after all, fewer multi-buy deals will only hit consumers with the least money. People who are more comfortably off can still buy two pizzas of an evening.

This makes it feel like Oliver is only targeting poorer families.

Yes, the current child obesity problem is linked to low incomes. And middle-class liberals who balk at Oliver’s approach have to be careful not to censure policies of which they’ve never been on the receiving end. It’s easy to slam someone for telling low-income households how to eat if you’ve never experienced those dietary restraints and suffered their consequences yourself.

But the rage at Oliver’s approach is entirely justified. The poorest children are more likely to be obese than they were a decade ago, when the TV chef launched his famous healthy school dinners campaign. Child obesity in the UK is growing in low-income households.

The real problem here is that shopping for nutritionally balanced meals is becoming out-of-reach due to inflation, stagnant wages, and welfare cuts – making healthy food increasingly inaccessible for poorer families.

These factors have seen the cost-of-living rocket in recent years, with low-income households now spending 35 per cent of their budget on food (compared with a national average of 12 per cent). And a rising number are unable to afford that – according to foodbank charity the Trussell Trust, there’s been a 13 per cent increase in people going to foodbanks for emergency supplies on last year (a higher increase than the previous financial year, which saw foodbank use up 6 per cent).

The Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty found that while healthier school dinner initiatives in the 2000s increased the health of children overall, they exacerbated food inequality by disproportionately benefiting children from better-off households, and leaving poorer children behind.

So even if we end up with not a single supermarket or takeaway in the country offering two pizzas for the price of one ever again, the childhood obesity problem won’t go away. Oliver should be campaigning for healthy food to be cheaper instead – and politicians should be helping low-income families with the resources they need to buy it.

Otherwise, like the junk food they claim to be so concerned about, this looks like a cheap, fleetingly tempting but utterly empty policy.

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