Speaking in an interview with the Radio Times, Oliver lashed out against the ready meal culture in the UK, criticising Britons who said they were too strapped for cash to eat healthily, yet could afford flatscreen televisions, expensive takeaways and ready meals.
He said people on the poverty line in poorer countries had healthy diets, despite a low income. He said they could not be loyal to supermarkets. “Some of the most inspirational food in the world comes from areas where people are financially challenged. The flavour comes from a cheap cut of meat, or something that’s slow-cooked, or where an amazing texture has been made out of leftover stale bread,” he told the Radio Times.
People in Spain and Italy will prepare healthy food on a very tight budget, yet Oliver said: “I meet people who say, ‘You don’t understand what it’s like.’ I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60p, and knocks out the most amazing pasta.
“You go to Italy or Spain and they eat well on not much money. We’ve missed out on that in Britain, somehow.”
The chef was speaking in the run-up to the launch of his new Channel 4 show, ‘Jamie’s Money Saving Meals’ and urged the public to shop locally at markets and in butchers’ shops instead of supermarkets.
However, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) was critical of Oliver and his ideas of low-income family spending.
Head of policy at CPAG Imran Hussain said, despite Oliver being right that healthy food does not always have to be expensive, “for many families it’s low income which gets in the way of healthy eating”.
Hussain added: “As official statistics show, parents of poor children are much less likely to be able to afford fresh fruit for their children. We also know from the evidence that as the incomes of poor families rise, they spend more on things like healthy food and children’s clothes.
“The government’s child poverty strategy is seriously adrift and urgently needs rethinking.”