Hey Jamie Oliver, go fuck yourself


I’ve never met Jamie Oliver. Prior to today, reading the transcript of his 2010 TED Talk on Medium, all I knew about him was that he was a celebrity chef.

I’ve seen a couple of his television programs before. He seemed to me like an affable guy who enjoys cooking. Well guess what? I’m an affable guy guy who enjoys cooking too.

In fact, I used to work with a team that prepared 100 organic, vegetarian meals a day for children. Three times a day, seven days a week, we prepared healthy and delicious food (including bread made from scratch). I was proud of my work but I never once considered myself in the business of saving lives:

My name’s Jamie Oliver. I’m 34 years old. I’m from Essex in England and for the last seven years I’ve worked fairly tirelessly to save lives in my own way.

Jamie’s TED talk goes on to talk about the leading causes of death in the United States, using this ancient infographic from 2006:

1*YmXxdj08IELGVjQ3hmwhBQ

The diseases outlined in red are diet-related, as Jamie helpfully informs us:

Every single one of those in the red is a diet-related disease. Any doctor, any specialist will tell you that.

Fact: Diet-related disease is the biggest killer in the United States, right now, here today. This is a global problem. It’s a catastrophe. It’s sweeping the world. England is right behind you, as usual.

Jamie’s numbers are certainly right. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes truly are killing millions of people in the United States, Britain and many other countries.

The statistics are right. The conclusion is what’s wrong, because not one of those diseases is “sweeping the world” as a new phenomenon.

I’m no apologist for purveyors of junk food and industrialized chemical “food” pouring out of factories but clearly Jamie is drawing some very unscientific conclusions from the data.

Here’s more from Jamie:

Let’s start with the Main Street. Fast food has taken over the whole country; we know that. The big brands are some of the most important powers, powerful powers, in this country. Supermarkets as well. Big companies. Big companies.

I am American but I live in the Republic of Moldova. It is one of the poorest countries in all of Europe. And I am here to tell you that fast food has not taken over this country.

I live in the wealthiest sector (Buiucani) of the capital, Chisinau. Within a 2km radius of my apartment there are 7 open-air markets (selling fresh vegetables, dairy and fruit), over 20 grocery stores and just 1 fast-food place.

Big companies don’t dominate what people eat in this country. The majority of people in this nation live in the countryside, where they eat domestically-produced (and often grown at home) vegetables, fruits and foodstuffs.

Even here in the capital (which is also the largest city in the country), almost everyone does their shopping at the open-air markets, buying only fresh, unlabeled food that is grown here or in neighboring Ukraine. Processed foods are expensive, as are restaurants, and the majority of meals are eaten at home.

The people in Moldova today embody the concept of eating “largely local, largely fresh” food. Nothing could be healthier, right?

Let’s look at the causes of death in the Republic of Moldova. Statistics are for the year 2013 and come from here (link is in Romanian language). The Moldovan statistics are not categorized in exactly the same way as Jamie’s infographic but I’ve done my best to make them align as much as possible.

CAUSES OF DEATH – MOLDOVA 2013
Cause # deaths
1 Heart Disease 22130
2 Stroke 5931
3 Cancer 5883
4 Digestive tract illnesses 3364
5 Trauma and poisoning 2839
6 Hepatitis and Cirrhosis 2607
7 Pulmonary diseases (COPD) 1711
8 Hypertension 1126
9 Suicide 576
10 Other 550
11 Infectious diseases 437
12 Accidents 396
13 Endocrine diseases 375
14 Diabetes 360
15 Nervous system diseases 291

So what does that tell us?

In a country like Moldova, where obesity is rare and where people are eating local, fresh food, the causes of death are nearly the same as in the United States.

Surely this must be a mistake, right?

No.

From here we can see what the leading causes of death were in the United States since 1900:

gofigure-cause-of-death-12-06-27

As you can see, the prevalence of heart disease deaths in 1900 is almost identical to 2010. Mind you, in the year 1900, fast-food restaurants and large supermarkets didn’t exist, most people cooked at home and there were no big agrobusinesses shoving microwaved, frozen, processed foods down people’s throats.

McDonald’s didn’t even take off until 1955. So how is it possible that heart disease was still the number one killer of Americans in 1950? And how is it possible that heart disease is the number one killer (by a large margin) in Moldova, where the majority of people still eat fresh, local food cooked at home?

Jamie wants to teach people how to cook seasonal, fresh foods. I support that. I also support his initiatives on teaching children how to recognize (and eat) healthy foods. I wish him all the best in these endeavors.

But first, he has to recognize that he himself is part of the problem.

Back to his TED talk:

The big brands are some of the most important powers, powerful powers, in this country. Supermarkets as well. Big companies. Big companies. Thirty years ago, most of the food was largely local and largely fresh. Now it’s largely processed and full of all sorts of additives, extra ingredients, and you know the rest of the story.

You know who is introducing processed foods to Moldova? That’s right, Jamie Oliver.

Here’s a photo I took today in the largest supermarket in the capital:

Buy my shit so I can teach you not to eat it
Buy my shit so I can teach you not to eat it

87 Moldovan lei (approximately £3.70) may not seem much to a British shopper, but that’s an entire day’s wage for the average worker in this country, all for a tiny jar (190 grams) of processed food.

That pasta sauce isn’t being cooked by Jamie himself, bottled by friendly elves and then shipped to Moldova. It’s being brewed in gigantic industrial steel vats somewhere in the UK and shipped over here at great expense.

The shop where I found this overpriced bit of processed sauce is the poshest place in the country, where you can buy everything from pickled ginger (imported from Japan) to tamarinds (imported from Thailand) to exotic milk concoctions (imported from Russia) and soft drinks (imported from the Republic of Georgia).

I scoured the entire shop this morning and you know what? The only celebrity-endorsed products on the shelves are those sauces bearing Jamie Oliver’s grinning mug.

On one hand, he’s doing admirable work teaching children and adults how to cook healthy, locally-produced food. And yet on the other hand, he’s lending his name and face to heavily processed shit that’s being exported to Moldova, a country where everyone already cooks at home using fresh, local ingredients.

Maybe it’s time for Jamie Oliver to practice what he preaches and quit foisting his heavily processed “food” on an impoverished nation in order to teach young Brits and Americans how to eat like every Moldovan already does.

99 Comments Add yours

  1. samplay31 says:

    I enjoyed your article, it was an interesting thing to bring to the debate!
    But for the last part, I’m just gonna bring it up that you might be mistaking Jamie Oliver the person, and Jamie Oliver the brand, over which he probably has very less control. He is currently very busy with his “FoodTube” (the youtube channel where he brings together an entire network of chefs all around the globe) and I support his actions. I understand how you feel like you’re being lied to but I’m just saying. He’s probably not even aware of those products.

    Like

  2. malkaam says:

    Reblogged this on Provoked! and commented:
    Previously, Jamie Oliver was this great celebrity chef whose recipes made my mouth water and I had to try them. But honestly, reading about him trying to save lives one hand, promoting freshly made food and on the other hand endorsing such factory made, full of preservatives food? About time people should get rid of thier hypocrisy!

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    Cigarette smoking is the factor you’re ignoring. Moldovans might eat less processed food, but they smoke more.

    Like

  4. BT says:

    Wow. What a revelation. But its not the whole story. Jamie’s talk may have been a dishonest exaggeration but his school meals initiative made a big difference to healthy eating.

    Like

  5. Reblogged this on Psychology & Statistics Tutor:Mentor and commented:
    Fantastic critique of Jamie Oliver’s TED presentation and biz mission~
    Mentoring in developing his critical thinking skills could be the solution!

    Like

  6. Such a great critique! And I like Jamie ~:-) Poor guy, why has his PR team not linked him with academics to aid his critical reflective skills…?

    Like

  7. George Henderson says:

    All the countries that used to belong to the USSR have shocking heart disease rates, despite the lowest saturated fat intakes in Europe. Obviously some things are much more important than diet. Either that, or we’ve got healthy eating ass-backwards.
    Just by the way, what fats or oils are foods mostly cooked with in Moldova?

    Like

  8. leahrennes says:

    Come on, it’s a pesto sauce. The ingredients seem ok, and it’s not highly processed like a cheese spread or something. Besides, so many things that have a label are “processed” from the start. Selling a highly-priced pesto sauce doesn’t make him a bad person or a hypocrite. It is a fact a lot of people eat processed food but you have to look at the frequency and quantity they eat. A pesto sauce won’t kill anyone.

    Like

  9. Purji says:

    Reblogged this on Stuff! Also Things! and commented:
    Some excellent points on the duality of Jamie Oliver.

    Like

  10. girlmeetswine says:

    That was a great post! Scared to eat anything these days.. how did we get here??

    Like

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