Tuesday, 27 August 2013

How the poor should eat...

So Jamie Oliver's joining the chorus of those who have been castigating the poor for their dietary choices since the 19th century (on which, I thoroughly recommend Round about a Pound a Week). Basically, it's the usual guff from those whose hearts are in the right places, but whose brains are decidedly elsewhere. Use your local market! Don't use the supermarkets I get paid very well to advertise! Don't have a huge telly! (It's actually quite hard to buy a small television these days, even if you can pay cash down, and not a few pounds a week and an almost unthinkable interest rate to the chains of shysters that prey on the poor. These places won't sell you a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, two devices that really do help with cheap eating, but you have to have that money up front. And if you live in an area where there's nowhere safe outside for children to play, for you to relax, personally I think you're entitled to a telly).

Now, I don't have a television deal and a £26 hardback book of cheap recipes (they'd need to be) to promote, but I've spent the past 13 years, ie my entire adult life, living and working in some of the most deprived areas in the country, and for most of that time I've been pretty skint.

 For many people there is no local market, there is only the supermarket.

In my experience, unless you live in a really big city markets are more expensive for worse quality fruit and veg (recently I spent £2.80 on a punnet of raspberries that would have cost £1 in Morrisons). You can save a fortune on fresh produce from the market if you live in a city, I've done it, if you live in a small town the supermarket is all there is.

If you live on a massive council estate, you probably don't have a mainstream supermarket, you have a small Co-op and the fresh fruit and veg will be three wizened apples, some extremely elderly onions, and a punnet of mushrooms once a week. You can get a wider choice if you can walk several miles (fine if you're healthy and unencumbered, not so great if you've got mobility problems or small children or indeed both, and by the time you get home you probably no longer have time or energy to cook from scratch) OR you can afford supermarket delivery charges (on which, see here) or an expensive bus ride.

So blaming poor people for not cooking food that they cannot actually buy (even if they had the skills to cook it - and to acquire those skills you need to practice, you need to be able to afford to make mistakes and chuck a few inedible dinners in the bin) is desperately unfair. And those who know me know that in my vocabulary unfair is a pretty big word.

One good result of this furore has been the blogs I've found by those who've been doing the poverty dance far better than me, whose recipes I am bookmarking like mad. Here and here are some good responses to Mr Oliver's ill-considered remarks.

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