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Feeding the Future

How Jamie Oliver Wants to Fuel the Food Revolution

Photos: Courtesy of David Loftus

Oliver’s interest in food and practice as a chef is longstanding. “I grew up around food” he says. “As soon as I could help out in the kitchen of my parents’ pub, my dad put me straight to work.” Oliver recalls receiving praise for his first roast chicken at the age of ten. “I wasn’t very good at school, so to find something that I was praised for, well, it felt good. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a chef,” he adds. 

Doing more

Through his work as a chef, Oliver has explored and started projects that focus on giving back to communities, rising chefs and children. One of his most rewarding projects was the opening of his restaurant Fifteen in 2001. The goal, explains Oliver, “was to train disengaged young people in the catering industry — 80 percent of our graduates are employed in the food industry, some of them are now leading it, which is amazing.”

He also recalls the U.K.’s government commitment to invest in school meals following the documentary, “Jamie’sSchool Dinners.” School meals are of particular interest to Oliver. “I knew school food was at the frontline of childhood obesity back in 2005,” he says. “We started investigating and just kept discovering these festering, unloved departments of the education system. The unbelievable reality was that there were robust standards for dog food, but not for kids’ food. Isn’t that crazy?”

While raising attention about the connections between school lunches and childhood obesity, Oliver had huge public support. “A decade later, childhood obesity and child health are more important than ever,” he says. “It is the biggest pandemic of our time.”

Focus on the cause

Much of Oliver’s work is not only to raise awareness of the rise of childhood and teen obesity rates, but to raise awareness of the cause. He explains that the level of “inadequate food education in schools, people not having the right access to healthy, affordable ingredients and brands not being 100 percent honest” are fundamental to childhood and teen obesity. The advocacy work has garnered public interest and motivation for change. “We know that people care about our kids’ future and what we all eat — we simply need the right skills, knowledge and, crucially, access to make good choices,” he says.

Oliver promotes food education that prioritizes whole grains, which take longer to digest and therefore stay with us longer. One of the things Oliver learned while writing his most recent book, 5 Ingredients,is to scale down on ingredients. “I try and get it right most of the time, five days a week, then you’ve got a bit more permission to indulge at the weekend,” he says. “If you shorten the shopping list and focus on good technique and good combos, it’s totally possible to cook beautiful food, from scratch, any night of the week.”

PIÉCE DE RÉSISTANCE: Jamie Oliver doesn’t want to start the food revolution, he wants to fuel it. For starters, healthier options should be affordable and easy to access.

Looking to the future

“I’m not trying to lead the food revolution,” says Oliver. “I’m trying to fuel it.” Oliver’s projects aren’t intended to be purely instructional, he’s trying to inspire us. “If we want change we have to earn it; consumers have to consume differently and governments need to do their job to protect communities and child health,” he explains. Ultimately, he says, “Food celebrates community and cultures like nothing else.” And that’s worth saving.

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