Should Jamie and Nigella be teaching us how to cook with leftovers?

Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver

An article on the MailOnline caught my eye today (actually about 15 caught my eye, but there’s only one I want to admit to). According to Owen Paterson, the coalition’s Environment Secretary, celebrity chefs are obsessed with the ‘culture of perfection’. Instead of teaching us to cook fancy meals every night, says Paterson, celeb chefs need to be showing us ways to use up leftovers to cut down on food waste.

Loath as I am to agree with anything our government has to say, I instinctively agree with Paterson: with great power comes great responsibility. The ‘Delia effect’ – where ingredients that Delia uses in her shows sell out in supermarkets – is already widely recognised. At the time of writing, ‘Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals’ is number 1 in the Amazon UK top 20 bestseller list, Nigel’s ‘Kitchen Diaries II’ is seventh, Paul Hollywood’s ‘How to Bake’ is ninth, Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’ is sixteenth, and ‘Nigelissima’ is nineteenth.  Surely celebrity chefs, who wield such power, have a duty to promote positive habits?

To an extent, celebrity chefs have made a positive contribution in this area. Many have done a lot of promote home cooking in an age of ready meals and convenience foods. Jamie, for example, despite being one of the most annoying human beings on the planet, has to be applauded for encouraging people to learn how to cook from scratch.

But most celebrity chefs show almost no consideration for the fact that the lifestyles they sell are simply not sustainable – either from an economic or an environmental perspective. For example, as George Monbiot pointed out recently, too many Guardian food columnists feature recipes using endangered species of fish – despite the paper’s otherwise strong stance on ethical food choices. I also lose patience with TV chefs that air programmes in November that require asparagus, for example.

While I recognise that our current love for celebrity chefs and their shows is powered by escapism – and that that is one of the reasons they’re so popular – I’m not so sure this is justifiable.

Commenters on the MailOnline article point out that some, if not all, of these chefs do feature leftovers recipes. True, some do. But frugality, budgeting and cutting down on food waste are demonstrably NOT the stories that most celeb chefs tell us.

Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson

Jamie and Nigella in their lovely kitchens do not encourage any of these things. There’s little or no admission that, actually, eating in the way they promote is expensive. Of course, it’s good for you and can be very enjoyable – but only if you’ve got the luxury of enough time and money to afford it. If you don’t, the everyone-should-cook-fresh-meals-from-scratch-every-day-of-the-week-especially-if-you’ve-got-kids culture creates a pervasive sense of guilt.

What I’d really love to see is a celeb chef with clout owning up to this, and offering ways to make simple, healthy meals which won’t destroy our planet, on a budget. There’s a whole universe of bloggers out there that offer exactly this (and it’s what I myself aspire to). But the fact is, chefs on primetime TV DON’T offer this, and they should be called out on it.

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