House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
MR JAMIE OLIVER
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Health Committee
Mr Kevin Barron, in the Chair
Mr Peter Bone
Dr Doug Naysmith
Mr Lee Scott
Dr Howard Stoate
Witness: Mr Jamie Oliver, Chef and Broadcaster, gave evidence.
Q800 Chairman: Good morning. May I welcome you to the eighth evidence session in our inquiry into health inequality. Could I ask you, for the record, to give your name and the current position that you hold. This is not a catch question!
Mr Oliver: Hi guys. My name is Jamie Oliver. I do not really know what my job is. It is food in general really: chef, author, broadcaster.
Q801 Chairman: We have some general questions for you to open up this session. After the effects of your programme School Dinners and the introduction of healthier school meals, we saw the situation in South Yorkshire where people were "pushing pies through railings" - I think that was the expression used in the media - to try to defeat healthy eating being introduced in that school. Do you think we are ever really going to be able to get people to eat more healthily?
Mr Oliver: Definitely. Without question. It is a cultural shift that this country has been through, beginning in the industrial revolution but certainly much more since the First and Second World Wars. Kids are not programmed to love nuggets and burgers in such quantity; it is just that that seems to be the most consistent message. Obviously, with big businesses and commercial businesses being able to drive that, that is the main message they are getting. To clarify: ladies putting pies or whatever it was through the railings were dramatic images that certainly the world embraced from the papers' point of view, but the background to that was interesting, in the sense that the school gates had been locked - which I completely endorse for lots of obvious reasons: the local fast foodstuffs and the volume of that being consumed by school kids and trouble and stuff like that that can happen - and the particular problem when you lock the school gates is you need the back end, the school dinners, to be able to provide a service that can get enough kids through and give them a service that they like, and this particular mother could not be heard by the head teacher and started feeding her own kids, which then snowballed to the small army of people who physically could not sit down and get fed. Just to clarify that: I would totally support the closing of the school gates but the back end was not working.
Q802 Chairman: The logistics of being able to provide the number of meals in the time.
Mr Oliver: Totally. Yes.
Q803 Chairman: How do you rate the Government's efforts to improve nutrition so far?
Mr Oliver: Just to clarify this: I have been apolitical since School Dinners. I think that is the best place to be. Where School Dinners got to in conjunction with physical education and food in general, educationally and in the public domain, all governments had kind of neglected it. This is the first Government that has done something about it. Thank God. Brilliant. They have made things available and it seems to be, rightfully, on the list for them to be debating - even things like this. So in some respects very well, but the devil is in the detail with any of this. We have lots of headline stuff. Hopefully when we go through some more of your questions, I can give you some more direct answers really on detail.
Q804 Sandra Gidley: Obviously when some of your programmes are on, there is a big focus and everybody says things are going to change. That was particularly so with the School Dinners programme. Is there any evidence that there is a lasting change, or is it short-term, while everything is in the public memory and being spoken about in the press?
Mr Oliver: Yes, there are huge amounts of evidence. There are so many stories I would love to tell, and often we are trying to communicate with the public, and obviously I have my style of doing it, but you can only tell so many stories, so in the latest show, Ministry of Food, we started getting into that in School Dinners but we did not want to complicate the argument. If you look at what is happening in the private sector, commercially - actually since School Dinners - a lot of conversations from marketeers, board members, MDs of fast food companies, food companies, and supermarkets, whether they were doing it already or not - and I am not going to credit myself with School Dinners but the kind of subliminal noise and stuff - I believe that the papers and broadcasters did a great job - all of them actually, even the ones that did not like me - in kind of having a big old splash. If you look at exactly what has happened in the last five years, there has been a massive clean-up through ingredients in supermarkets. Crisps' manufacturers, high street fast food outlets. There is radical change going on. Controls on fat, sugar, salt, stuff like that. Walkers Crisps cut saturated fats by two-thirds. I think that just creating something that is a reference point really does affect those board meetings in companies around the country. And also in other countries. That series was a very British series, as you can well imagine, and that ended up going to nearly 80 countries around the world, even countries like Australia that do not even have a school dinner service. Why is that? I think there were many things brought up socially and healthwise. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and everyone is struggling to deal with it in their own way. It is getting more aggressive. Yes. Definitely. Without question. I am very proud of that.
Q805 Mr Dowd: Good morning, Mr Oliver. Just on that point you made on obesity: when we did an inquiry a few years ago on this Committee, we looked in particular at school dinners. We discovered, unsurprisingly, that you cannot separate the school dinner from the normal diet the child has at home, however well-intentioned you try to be. School dinners represent just one meal a day, compared to 20-odd for the rest of the week. How can you impact upon changing diet, when you are only dealing with a relatively small amount of time when children eat?
Mr Oliver: By the questions I have seen here - we have a catalogue of questions and subjects today - I hope that suggests to you that my approach is more like that of an octopus. I do not look at school dinners as being the only meal. As far as bang for your buck is concerned for the taxpayer and the Government, school dinners can represent two meals a day. Breakfast clubs are becoming more and more consistent in a meaningful way. It could be two meals of the day. I think most nutritionists would say that two meals in a day were on the right keel, and coming from the right sorts of places that could make a dramatic effect on a child's health from the age of 4-16. Where are our kids consistently 190 days of the year? School. School is a wonderful place to focus money and attention. School dinners can really be brilliant. Hopefully we are going to get on to more detail later as to why I think we are on target. I think we are on track, but the good and the bad that is happening is really about what the kids are getting. If they are getting healthy food or junk food that tastes horrible, they are not going to buy it and they are not going to like it. We have some very interesting examples now of great practice and consistently great numbers, results, positive feedback, and then this middle ground where expertise, training, facilities is not delivering food that the kids want. Absolutely.
Q806 Mr Dowd: What lasting effect do you think your school dinners campaign has had?
Mr Oliver: I just think it becomes a reference point. It gives people who have been campaigning for the same thing, even before me, a little bit more confidence and a reference point. The fact that it is being debated by people like yourselves, politicians, and in the House of Lords, and even journalists can refer to it and it gives them a bit of an angle when they are writing new pieces. I think lots of people have been doing great work for many years. What I tried to do, in my own way, was for a small moment in time help people visualise what bad practice looks like. In conjunction with everything that you guys do and that journalists do, television is still the leading medium. I believe that can help people to push points across.
Q807 Mr Dowd: Although there is no national school meals service, it is provided by the education authorities across the country, do you feel genuinely that the school meals service is now better informed, where it should be? Is it doing the right things? What is it still failing to do?
Mr Oliver: Anything would be better than where we were
five years ago. Five years ago, even at
30p on the plate, it was well over £1 billion a year to the British government
and there was no one who owned it. If
you had a business turning over that money, you would have someone paid quite
well, incentivised and running a brigade of incredible managers to help improve
or keep that turnover. The school meals service
seven years ago was in a terrible place: a lot of hived down responsibility to
local governments, a lot of people within local governments who were not
trained, did not have expertise, possibly came from more accountancy, number
crunching backgrounds. At the end of the
day, at grassroots level it is about a service and people. Often the people with the most amount of
power in a local council, with huge budgets that often cut across hospital food
and meals on wheels and old people's meals on wheels and stuff like that, fail
to inspire head cooks. And this is a
problem. I think it is still a problem.
Amplifying great practice only ever comes down to one individual. If you take an incredible council, that was
incredible six or seven years ago, like
Q808 Mr Dowd: But that is not a particular commendation, is it?
Mr Oliver: No. I think we have done a lot of positive things. The School Food Trusts: you have good people in there that care and are well-informed, but I think they are still a government quango and they cannot really always tell the truth, so I have to try to find ... You know what I mean.
Q809 Mr Dowd: You shock me.
Mr Oliver: I am not saying they are dishonest, but essentially they are funded by government so they cannot be as outspoken as I can be. They cannot be a pain in the ass like I can be.
Q810 Mr Dowd: That is certainly true, yes.
Mr Oliver: It is a government quango. I think their budget is very small - tiny - for the responsibility they hold. Also, six years ago there were more standards for dog food than there were for kids' food, so at least we have standards now.
Q811 Mr Dowd: Are they as good as for dog food? - the standards we have now.
Mr Oliver: I think so, yes. We actually have good standards now. The White Paper that is produced is about 92% there really. It is quite good. It has good aspirations there. Really it now comes down to delivery.
Q812 Mr Dowd: Finally, you, virtually by your own efforts - I am sure you are too modest to accept that but it is true - managed to coax £650 million out of the Government - and you are not even a failing bank! Has that money been spent wisely and what difference has it made?
Mr Oliver: We are into the second tranche of cash now. It is a lot of money, but when you divide it by per kid, per day, over a six-year period, it does come down to pennies. It is nowhere near a dramatic enough amount of money. I suppose the reason I am here today - and I know you guys have looked at this and I know that many of you are in support of action - is the health crisis we are in. What we choose to do in the next ten years is so incredibly profound. The poverty in this fifth richest country of the world, that looks different from any poverty ... I fail to describe it in a way that does not get me in trouble with the press, because it can, depending on their opinion of me, come across as ... There is a new poverty that I have never seen before. This is not about flash trainers or mobile phones or Sky dishes and plasma TV screens - because that is there, they have got that. It is the poverty of being able to nourish their family, in any class, and directly runs with the outrageous obesity that is factually happening now. The latest statistics from the Obesity Forum .... Tam Fry, who we work closely with, even he is shocked that it is getting worse and worse. In the latest project that I did, the Ministry of Food, there was an element which was Pass It On, and essentially it was passing on good practice, good cooking, but the exponential of passing on bad things or bad solutions to feeding your family is dramatic. I do not think I have answered your question. What was your original question?
Q813 Mr Dowd: It was so long ago that I have forgotten! The £650 million.
Mr Oliver: I am very pleased we got that money. It is going in the right direction. If I was going to be really grown up and treat it like a proper business - you know: What is required for a fit out of a restaurant? - then that, in comparison, is enough to do the front window. The whole back end needs proper investment, and I think we will go through some of that in the rest of today.
Q814 Dr Naysmith: Good morning, Mr Oliver. To follow on from what you have just been talking about, I think your School Dinners project has been excellent, and more power to your elbow, but you want to take it further. You want to get into nutrition education in schools. Do you think you can ever counter the vast resources and all the money that is spent on advertising and marketing unhealthy food to children?
Mr Oliver: I think you need, again, an octopus approach for a lot of things that we are going to cover today. Yes, I believe that radical change is quite easy. I have witnessed it across the country, across all classes. It is incredibly emotional to see the life of a family change through nuggets, very small amounts, of good information. That inspires me to believe that schools, government, the workplace can, over a period of time, change people's thoughts and attitudes towards things, certainly in conjunction with controls put on fast food. I try not to come across as being anti fast food because I think that would be wrong - because it is commercially driven, that allows it to be fast and dynamic - but controls being put in place I think are important.
Q815 Dr Naysmith: Do you think there is such a thing as unhealthy food? Some people would argue there is no such thing as unhealthy food.
Mr Oliver: The tough thing for us is that as soon as you get on to nutrition you have kind of lost the battle really, because it is boring, it always will be boring, and it is hard to broadcast, hard to publish, and if that was not the case we would be broadcasting lots of that stuff now. If you review a lot of my books, some of it will be classed as very healthy and some of it will be indulgent - you know, it is very hard to come up with a healthy dessert. The reality is if you can have a general, holistic, bunch of stuff going on from schools to homes that is balanced ... We are in a recession right now. When financial pressure is put on a country, on families, if you look at cookbooks or history before this time, humans are clever, they are malleable, they bend, they stretch, if they have got a couple of quid less they will use different cuts, they will use different methods, and you can bet your bottom dollar they will make it nice and tasty. But this is the first time in British history where we do not have most of the population able to cook, and you can statistically see where people are spending their money now. Fast food options are ----
Q816 Dr Naysmith: You are not really answering my question.
Mr Oliver: I am sorry.
Q817 Dr Naysmith: When we were doing the obesity report, we had people from fast food manufacturers, the Food Federation and all sorts of things, telling us that they only advertised to let people know their product was available, so that if they wanted to buy it, they could buy it, and if not, they did not have to. But it is much more subtle than that - as I am sure you are aware, being a businessman yourself.
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q818 Dr Naysmith: What do we do about that?
Mr Oliver: Here is the thing: regardless of any marketing campaign, any money off offers or anything in marketing, the main driver of any one to a supermarket or a fast food outlet is the proximity of it to their home. That is more so than any other factor. Geography and volume is the key to being successful. If you have a very deprived area - and it is very easy to track statistically how unhealthy that area is, through the National Health Service and various other bits and pieces - if it is riddled with fast food options on every corner and hardly any fresh food options, then, essentially that is like having more off licences and pubs in place of high alcoholism - do you know what I mean?
Q819 Dr Naysmith: I know what you mean.
Mr Oliver: If I go to get an extension on my house, that
goes through rigorous thought from
Q820 Dr Naysmith: What do you think about controlling advertising?
Mr Oliver: I think we have started on children. For me, the kids part is the most important.
Q821 Dr Naysmith: Again, when we were doing the obesity report, we had people sitting there giving evidence saying, "It doesn't really matter very much if you have a McDonald's hamburger or a Kentucky Fried Chicken meal once a month."
Mr Oliver: No. Or even once a week.
Q822 Dr Naysmith: The advertising is deigned to get people to eat it regularly, all the time.
Mr Oliver: Yes, the problem is not fast food; it is the
frequency of fast food. I have always
known about it, but for the last year, my time in
Q823 Dr Stoate: You said there were some fairly strong statistics around a while ago. How about this: about 70% of cancers are environmentally caused and probably one-third of cancers are to do, in one way or another, with nutrition?
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q824 Dr Stoate: You said earlier that kids are not born to like burgers and nuggets but they are eating them. Do you think we should be doing much more in terms of forcing manufacturers to change the way they produce this food? We have talked about fast food outlets and it is difficult to control them, but we could potentially have more control over the manufacturers. Do you think that we should do a lot more to force manufacturers, if necessary by law, to produce healthier food?
Mr Oliver: I think there is a fair amount of change going on at the moment. All supermarkets are doing a clean-up. I think more so at the moment. Yes, you could cap the three big ones: salt, sugar and fat. But then you get great companies like Marmite, which has some really good nutritional features but is obviously high in salt - but you would never want to eat a kilo of Marmite, would you? - they would never be able to advertise. I would feel sorry for Marmite because I think they have got a great product, and I do not think you would want to eat it - unless you are mad - in high quantities, but they would be kiboshed by any sort of capping. Subliminally, anyway, whether it is driven by good morals or marketing, all companies are cleaning up and trying to be more eco, more provenance based, more balanced. I am less worried about that than anything, because I think that they see value in being local, being British, and healthwise.
Q825 Dr Stoate: Do you think that people have enough information about what is in their food? Do you think they understand how much fat or salt there is in a burger or a nugget or whatever?
Mr Oliver: I think it is hard for anyone. It is even hard for me. Nutrition is boring.
Q826 Dr Stoate: Should we not do more to try and make sure people do understand it?
Mr Oliver: I think labelling in
Q827 Dr Stoate: Should we do more about that?
Mr Oliver: Absolutely. I spoke to Jane Kennedy, the new Minister for Agriculture, the other day. She is new in the job but seems to be fired up and passionate to do something about it. But, again, we are run by the EU, so, as far as I am aware, it has to be ... What is the word? The supermarkets and manufacturers need to "volunteer" this good practice, but, frankly, I would rather have a standard that we all adhere to.
Q828 Charlotte Atkins: I am delighted that we have got rid of such monstrosities as Turkey Dinosaurs, which tasted like chewed string and had no nutrition at all, but, sadly, since we have introduced healthier menus it looks as if children have been voting with their feet, because the take-up of school meals has gone down. If they are not eating healthy school meals, then presumably that rather undermines the campaign for healthier school meals.
Mr Oliver: In the original documentaries we said that when there is radical change numbers go down and they will come back round if the service is good. At the end of the day, every school that does a good job in feeding their young people, the ones that are doing a great job, numbers are sky high, consistently, without fail. Kids are not stupid: if it tastes good, they like it. In the schools that have good services, if you took it away now and put the old junk back the kids would walk with their feet again and vice versa. Yes, we have primary schools that are now going up, we have secondary schools that have stabilised. We are at the same numbers now, nationally, that we were at when we started five or six years ago, so they have come back up and stabilised. Secondary schools need a lot of help. On school dinners, if you are asking me "Is it on track?" I would say yes, but that is saying yes having very low expectations. Very low. The most important thing in school dinners is the training of the dinner ladies. Then it is equipment. Then it is facilities to sit these young people down. A lot of our secondary schools were designed for 600 kids 30 years ago, 40 years ago, and now they have 1800. We cannot physically get them all though anyway. But the training is the big deal breaker and, unfortunately, that has been incredibly slow. If you look at the statistics of how many people have been trained versus the amount out there, it is pathetic. Really the good practice that you have seen amplified over the last five years is just due to individuals who already were quite bright and on it and quite empowered. The ones that are not empowered, still are not empowered. We have 125,000 dinner ladies and probably not over 4,000 or 5,000 have been trained in five years. A bloody disgrace. What am I trying to say? Numbers always go up if the food is good. The food is always good if the girls are trained and they know what to do with fresh food. They are 99.9% women. What these women do in the resource is beyond belief. It puts all chefs to shame. They can feed up to 600/700/800 people in ever-shortening lunch breaks with the worst equipment in the industry. They are incredible. I think we have done a lot to give them a bit of love and have them recognised as genuinely important members of the school team, but not enough. But training, training, training. My recommendation in the documentary was, look, the best way to get best bang for your money is to go to a county - there is good practice in every county - find your two or three secondary schools and your six or seven primary schools within Essex or Hertfordshire or Cumbria, go find good practice, bung them some extra cash, give them some extra love, give them some extra facilities, and then basically allow a reasonably small, cheap and effective team to relieve a school, cover them, and start some proactive works in that school while those girls come out and get taught, not in a college, not in a room, but in a school that provides food - do you know what I mean? So you have a primary school with good practice having cooks from other primary schools working in that primary school. Getting taught is not enough. You need to be taught in an environment that has 300/400/500 kids coming through the system. Unfortunately what has not happened is my recommendation that you go to a county, you find good practice, and you start churning people through it. Through a year or a year and a half you can really start making dramatic change to a county. Also what is good is that it is naturally regional - dishes, foods, habits. It is already localised, you know. Unfortunately what we try to do is to build centres and often those centres are not feeding any kids; it is just going through theory and cooking batches of stuff.
Q829 Charlotte Atkins: When I spoke to a number of youngsters in Staffordshire Morelands - we have some great dinner ladies in Staffordshire - the problem they identified for me was the menus. They were getting rice too often: rice as a pudding, rice as a vegetable, and they found it uninteresting. The problem was really central, about getting those menus right.
Mr Oliver: I would completely agree with you.
Q830 Charlotte Atkins: And making sure, therefore, that it was interesting for the whole week.
Mr Oliver: I would totally agree. Again that comes back to training. There are many versions of a carbohydrate. There should be a mixture throughout the week and it should taste good. If people are not trained, they will not know how to balance a menu, they will not know how to twist a menu for allergies or people's nutritional things. Everything that you can bring up about school dinners comes back to the lack of training that has happened in the last five years. Every negativity comes back to training. A well-trained dinner lady who has been given the tools to react to all those sorts of circumstances would not have that problem.
Q831 Charlotte Atkins: One of the concerns also in the statistics is that the take-up of free school meals has also gone down. That is very worrying, because very often that free school meal is essential to the nutrition of that child because they may well not have a meal in the evening. That could be their main focus.
Mr Oliver: It really comes down to how a school deals with free school meals. Free school meals are uncool for a kid. It basically says "You're poor" and that is not good. If free school meals are dealt with in a very subtle way, so that other people do not know, you will often find that their uptake is good. I am not sure this is really very helpful but, strangely, those young people often had cash to buy lots of junk. It is not worth surveying, but that is based on hundreds of kids I have worked with who had free school meals. Often they still had full satchels of two/three packets of crisps, chocolates galore, this, that and the other. I do not know of what use that is to you. Free school meals are absolutely essential, but how they are kind of used and displayed is important.
Q832 Charlotte Atkins: I was interested in what you said because when I was on the Education Select Committee we visited a school in Reading where if you had a free school meal, you had to have a balanced meal, if you paid for your meal, you could have six doughnuts - and literally there was a child who had six doughnuts with parental approval.
Mr Oliver: You should not be able to do that anyway. When I did
Q833 Charlotte Atkins: Do you think we should now be introducing free school meals for everyone and free milk for everyone?
Mr Oliver: I think what
Chairman: It is the next question.
Q834 Mr Bone: It is helpful to come on to that, and I was interested in what you said before. I suppose I am in the 50-year-old generation where you say "Did not learn to cook" but when I was at secondary school we were given an option of doing woodwork or domestic science. I thought, "Girls/domestic science - so I will go to domestic science."
Mr Oliver: You were very clever. Well done.
Sandra Gidley: But all the girls did woodwork!
Q835 Mr Bone: No, they did not. The dog did very well out of what I cooked. The dog was pleased that I did domestic science, except for the bread loaf I brought home that we used for a doorstop. The Government are bringing in compulsory cooking for 11-14 -year-olds, but if it is to be at the level I encountered, it really is not going to be of any benefit to anyone. I was just wondering about your views on cooking lessons for secondary school children.
Mr Oliver: Five or six years ago I would have prayed and
dreamt for this moment when we could say that we have got a government that is
pushing and commanding these things.
Well, we have got it now. How
fantastic is that? Now my worries have
changed. I am really passionate about
what is it they are going to teach them.
What? I know who writes the most
compelling food stuff. It is my
business. There is medley of people out
there who are incredible at what they do.
They would do stuff for free for the Government. What is going to be in that curriculum? How is it going to be taught? Most importantly: Are they going to be
picking up fresh ingredients? If you
talk to five home economics teachers in
Q836 Mr Scott: Regarding what you said about ingredients for schools, the biggest supermarkets - and I am not going to mention them all or plug anyone in particular - give schemes to schools for computers, sports equipment, and maybe giving fresh fruit, considering the vast profits they make, would not be a bad idea. For whichever is the Government of the day there is going to be a finite amount of money and maybe this would be another way of doing it. What do you think about that?
Mr Oliver: Supermarkets are a relatively new thing in British history - they are only really, to be honest, 40 years old. Where else do most of the public go on a weekly basis and spend their dough? I know how they work in great detail. It is an incredibly aggressive market. When I did my pork programme two days ago, it was the first time any of the meat buyers from all the supermarkets had sat around one table and even met each other. It is an absolute faux pas to have any joint collaboration on anything. They are all trying to do something different. If you look at the amount of points or cards that you have to get equivalent to the money spent to get them, what you get is questionable. In reference to the point we made earlier about kids having to bring their ingredients in for cooking classes - which I think is a massive no-no - please, do not let them do this - I absolutely think that what we have now that we did not have three years ago is a safe, refrigerated fulfilment system across most supermarkets across most of the country, with easily manageable websites that could work with schools. I would like to see every single supermarket in this country adopt a school in a really meaningful, tangible way. At the very least, it would cost very little to have a home economics teacher in a school be able to say, "I want 20 of that" and it just turn up. It is new business. It is not old business, it is new business, so a staff discount or some brilliant deal or agreed cost on ingredients by government I think would be appropriate. I think the supermarkets could do a lot for the Government and schools. I really do. Getting them to sit down as a united front and address an area is the tough bit. They are incredibly spiky.
Q837 Sandra Gidley: Moving on to a bit more about The Ministry of Food it makes cooking look easy, which is good, but you have done some of the work for them by providing all of the raw ingredients. If you have a family, the hard bit is thinking about what you are going to do, providing the variety, then you have to go and buy all this stuff. Are you making things look easier than they really are in real life?
Mr Oliver: If you look at all the programmes, there were
examples of my class coming to me - which is basically a version of what I
would like students to go through in schools - which is: "Today, we're going to
be cooking this. Cracking." They still had to prepare all their food. We
did not prepare anything for them. But
we did shop for them, you are absolutely correct. Actually, I think that was a smaller part of
the show. If you really look at the
shows, a lot of the cooking going on was them cooking in their own houses, with
shopping that they did in their own relevant supermarkets. Absolutely, presentation. What is really nice is that people who do not
have this ability to nourish their family in their lives, you have to hook them
in. It is quite easy to do that, but
that is why the Ministry of Food in bricks and mortar is part of what I was
trying to achieve. Having that shop in
Q838 Sandra Gidley: How do you hook in those generations who have not had lessons at school, who have parents who may not have learned to cook with their mum - which is what a lot people did? I think it is quite important that we get at those people earlier, because every year they are providing their kids with junk food it is going to be harder for the kids to change the habits in some ways. How do you hook those people in? You can do a small amount in a town, and that is great, but what about other parts of the country?
Mr Oliver: I totally agree with you. Anyone who tells you there is one solution to
this is completely bonkers. The reason I
love the Ministry of Food in
Q839 Mr Scott: For single parent families or families where both parents are out at work, with three kids at home, is it really realistic to think that they are going to be able to cook a healthy meal every day? As you said earlier, if they were to get a takeaway, would some emphasis being put on making those takeaway meals healthier, better ingredients, better labels so that they would know what those ingredients are, be an area that should be concentrated on as well?
Mr Oliver: I do not want to demonise fast food. Burgers taste good. Pizzas taste good. Kebabs taste good. What we have at the moment is a large amount of people who only buy into those options. I always say to parents with young kids, "Don't be upset about what they don't like. What do they like? Keep getting them to try more things. If they don't like that, so what? That is normal. People hate stuff, you know, but keep trying." The whole of history before the last 40 years was based on the belief that the best food in the world has always been based around cucina povera, poor people's cooking. That is because you have to be resourceful - if you can cook. If you cannot cook, you are in trouble. The importance of basic skills for these people - or any class of people, to be honest - is that it will save them money. Categorically. Largely, they will make better choices because they are getting involved in it, and they will see more things and there will be a mixture of stuff coming through within a day or within a week or within a month. I think it is the wrong thing to say, "Don't have your curry" or "Don't have your pizza" but, as I said, the problems in Great Britain are not about that three or two nights a week, but about that five, six and seven days a week, and at school - or not so much nowadays but in the old days.
Q840 Chairman: You know that I am one of the Rotherham MPs,
the Ministry of Food, some of it, was filmed in my constituency. In the first programme it jumped out at me
that some people do have takeaways, if we are to believe what was said, six and
seven days a week. I do not think
that reflects the people of
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Obviously it is a very large subject and there are so many connotations
of that within fast food, pre-packaged food, supermarkets.
Q841 Chairman: Thanks for that!
Mr Oliver: No, but there was a big load of research done as
far as ethnic mix, employment, unemployment, so it was good place for us to go. If you speak to anyone in the National Health
Service, dentists, anyone from any of these government groups we talked about
earlier, they would tell you that they see much, much worse every day. People accused me of getting people that were
extreme. Completely not. I think the thing to embrace here is that it
is normal not only in
Chairman: No, it is all right. We have got a question about your workplace now, in a sense. We will move on to Doug.
Q842 Dr Naysmith: Just a few questions. Jamie, you said that even you found nutrition was boring.
Mr Oliver: Yes, it is a struggle.
Q843 Dr Naysmith: Actually I think you are being self-deprecating in doing that because you have managed to put nutrition on the agenda and make it interesting for some people in some quarters and it has obviously stimulated them, but how much of that do you think is due to the fact that you are a personality, and you were a personality before you started doing that, in motivating people who are responding to where you are coming from?
Mr Oliver: I live a life where I have either been patted on the back or battered in the press for ten years.
Chairman: Join the club!
Dr Naysmith: Politicians find that getting battered is sometimes useful because it at least draws attention to the fact that you are doing something.
Q844 Jim Dowd: Tell us what it is like being patted on the back!
Mr Oliver: At the end of the day, I have a platform and I believe strongly that for as long as I do this I should use that platform, not only to get more people like myself doing similar stuff but even in different areas, sport and stuff.
Q845 Dr Naysmith: Do you think civil servants could be as motivating as you are?
Mr Oliver: Yes, I do.
Q846 Dr Naysmith: How can we achieve that?
Mr Oliver: If you ever find anything special in a council or the Government there will always be someone who talks with a twinkle in their eye and does a little bit more and empowers groups of people to go beyond. I constantly meet people in various areas that in their own area are pioneers and really use their opportunity.
Q847 Dr Naysmith: What stopped them doing this before you came on the scene because these people were there before? What have you done that has made them ---
Mr Oliver: I think health, obesity and education has been a struggle to be taken seriously for ten years, and even now I think it is not taken seriously. I think it is a bloody emergency, genuinely. It bothers me. I get access to probably more than the Government - probably not - I get access to a lot of independent and Government stuff.
Q848 Dr Naysmith: I think this Committee agrees with you, it is a matter of urgency and we want to do something about it.
Mr Oliver: We are going in the right way but I want less
inertia. I do not understand why there
is not a minister for food. Why is there
not one person who comes from the private sector who is inspirational and all
over it like a rash who can inspire 50/60 people to inspire hundreds of
thousands of people. Do you know what I
mean? Why have we not got one person who
is driving this for the next ten years.
I truly believe we have got a window of ten years. We are not in a great place, but we are in a
place that can be easily fixed. If we
leave it or do not do enough in the next ten years we are going to be like
Q849 Dr Naysmith: That is why you are here, of course, and there is quite a lot that will go out from today, I am sure, judging by the number of journalists.
Mr Oliver: I hope so.
Q850 Jim Dowd: This question I have been allocated is about the clumsiest construction I have ever come across in our all briefings. It all seems to be engineered to mention Mick the miner, largely because he is actually a constituent of the Chair's I think, that is the only reason it is in here. You mentioned earlier in answer to Sandra's question that you have had approaches to establish these Food Centres much further afield.
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q851 Jim Dowd: Speaking parochially, you did mention
Mr Oliver: We are working directly not with Boris but
Rosie Boycott who has taken over food for the Mayor. We are led to believe that there is going to
be some headway and raising of cash to do some in hard to reach places in
Q852 Jim Dowd: But no idea specifically where yet?
Mr Oliver: Not yet, it is early days.
Q853 Jim Dowd: The substance of this batch of questions is really the difficulty of the nexus between poor diet and its association with the least well-off, those in poverty. Clearly they are the ones who are least likely to access this kind of information at Food Centres.
Mr Oliver: I agree.
Q854 Jim Dowd: And you readily accept that. What are you doing to try to address that?
Mr Oliver: In a small way, I think having a Ministry of Food within an area like a town, a high street, is a start. These places have to be in places where there is footfall and people congregate and stuff like that, that is why being in the centre of Rotherham was so very important. That is a start. Really getting into hard to reach areas, inner city places, the FSA have been doing these food buses in a small way and they have done a great job for many years now. They have got lots of statistics to say it is incredibly effective. A comparison to that would be breast cancer scanning on wheels. The effect of that going out to women all around the country in lots of flats, towns, hard to reach areas, areas where there were problems finding breast cancer late, the statistics, as an equivalent on these breast cancer scanning lorries, are inspiring and powerful. The FSA have been doing food buses, they had a couple go in, but they have also witnessed this same incredible effect. You can put a bit of a sparkle in an area. They look at you a bit funny for the first couple of days and then it all starts trickling in and they feel comfortable. The mantra of the original Ministry of Food was not to be presumptuous enough to think that people would come to them, they went to the people, to the workplace, to the high street, to the places of congregation, shopping, churches, bingo. There are business models and costs that are very, very clear through the FSA or other bodies that have done it to say that these cooking buses that go into an area open out and have programmes that are directed at kids, young mothers, people who just want to learn to cook, are incredibly effective and exciting. These really get to the jugular in these areas. The most intangible but most exciting thing I believe is driving this Pass It On mentality. Essentially, the Ministry of Food is marketing Pass It On, which is nothing new. Historically, cooking was always passed on. Who would have believed ten years ago that people would be arguing about how many friends they have got on Facebook? Ridiculous, but they do. We are trying to market Pass It On as something normal, cool, contemporary, "Let's do a Pass It On, I'll come round yours next week". It was born out of a bunch of my mates who could not cook at 36 and still had the instructions in the oven. I was like, "I'm coming round your house next Wednesday, you get the drink, I'm going to bring the ingredients. I'm going to tell you how to cook spaghetti bolognaise" and, guess what, he does it now because he has been shown. Basically, 18 months ago I started to question what I do and I started to believe that publishing books and TV shows, although ratings and book sales give you a good insight as to who we are touching, were not getting to the people who needed it, they were the people who were interested or were going to. Many journalists say, "There are so many shows, there are so many mags, there are so many books, why aren't people cooking?" What I have learnt this year is if you talk to any of the people who did not like to cook, could not cook, were not interested, they do not see it. They never see it, they are not interested. Hooking them in is very important. If you see the diversity of people coming through the Ministry of Food, it is classless, although of course problems among the more needy are always amplified, but it is genuinely classless. There are plenty of City boys who used to earn a lot of money who cannot nourish their kids probably, even with a gold card! Of course, we need to weight our affections to the more vulnerable, but it is classless.
Q855 Jim Dowd: You mentioned the word "classless", which is part of this.
Mr Oliver: I hate that word, I apologise.
Q856 Jim Dowd: Although recent commodity prices across the world have gone up, we all know, historically food is cheaper now than ever.
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q857 Jim Dowd: Which is part of the fuelling of the problem of obesity, people can eat far better now. Even people on very low incomes, that one would describe as almost at poverty, can still afford decent food, decent ingredients.
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q858 Jim Dowd: Why is there such a correlation between low income, poor diet and poor food skills, not just in preparation but also in purchasing?
Mr Oliver: You will hear a lot of stuff about not cooking
being about money or time and I can absolutely categorically tell you it is
about neither, it is about knowledge. If
you have knowledge to cook basic stuff, and I am not talking about chef-y
stuff, I am talking about a shepherd's pie, a stew, a roast dinner, know how to
remotely enjoy a salad, because salad can be eaten and it is horrible, but to
enjoy salad, if you have the knowledge to do that you will know how to knock
something up quick and buy efficiently and buy something cheap. Actually, most exciting cooking is
cheaper. More often than not, I buy
cheaper cuts of meat than the posh ones.
It all comes back to knowledge again.
Please do not take this as sexist, I can be bent into being told I am
saying things that I am not, but at the end of the day over the last 40 years
our girls have gone to work and they used to be the key holders of a lot of
this knowledge. They have been taxed and
I believe that our girls of
Q859 Jim Dowd: Surely parents used to do that. For generation after generation after generation parents taught their children to cook.
Mr Oliver: It has always largely been women. This is not a sexist thing or anything like that because I employ 96 women and I generally prefer to work with women. I am not going into this conversation, but where they are at now - it was not that long ago when women could not vote - we are getting more to where women should be. I do not want to send all the women home, I would hate for any of you to think that is what I am saying. What I am saying is I employ a lot of women and observing their guilt in different forms through working hard to pay a mortgage is interesting and I like to try and react to that as an employer. There are some incredible women out there who come back after having children and come back full-time or three days a week or a day of week, but it is quite stressful for a lady. What I am trying to say is if you looked every parent in the eye and said, "When your kid leaves at 16 as a student they will be able to batch cook, knock up a chilli, enjoy a roast dinner, they will be able to look after themselves", these basic life skills, you know what, that is a real load of stress off a mum and dad's back. More specifically, the women used to be the key holders of this. Times always change and I do not want to put the girls back, I do not want you to think I am saying that, but what I do want you to think is that has happened and that has consequences and in response to that we must be responsible in patching up areas where it is needed, and of course it comes back to school because school is such an incredibly important place in sculpting what our new parents look like, that is why school dinners and teaching in schools has never been more important.
Q860 Jim Dowd: I must say you are one of the most fascinating witnesses we have had in front of this Committee because we ask a question and have no idea where it is likely to end up.
Mr Oliver: Sorry. I think I am getting more like a politician. Ask me that question and I will go that way. It is not intentional. I do not know how I got there either!
Q861 Jim Dowd: Tell them what you are going to tell them and tell them and then tell them again. You have a commercial arrangement with Sainsbury.
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q862 Jim Dowd: I have done a lot of work with Sainsbury and I put that point up front because ---
Mr Oliver: As a conflict of interest.
Q863 Jim Dowd: No. Sainsbury have been leading the field in one of the areas that I am going to refer to, and I have done a lot of work with them on front of pack food labelling. The Chair mentioned it and others have said about more information. Can I pin you down on GDAs, traffic lights, front of pack food labelling. I suggest and believe that the GDA system as sponsored by the Food and Drink Federation is one of the biggest cons being perpetrated upon the British public. These are the big food processors basically trying to prevent the public knowing what is in the processed food that they buy. Traffic lights may have the notion of simplicity and may not give all the information, but those who advocate the traffic light system, and Sainsbury are amongst the leaders, do not put them as opposed to GDA because they will do both, whereas the Food and Drink Federation and the big manufacturers that they front for will actually resist traffic light front of pack labelling. What is your view, despite your commercial arrangement with Sainsbury, on traffic light front of pack labelling?
Mr Oliver: I am confused is the truth. I use the Food and Drink Federation currently and we are reviewing it at the moment. I am trying to work out ---
Q864 Jim Dowd: You have seen the figures from the Consumers' Association, from Which?, from the Food Standards Agency. Recognition levels of the traffic light front of pack labelling system are light years ahead of anything that GDAs can offer. The people who advocate traffic light labelling are quite prepared to put GDAs on there as well, so where is the downside?
Mr Oliver: I agree with you. As I say, I am currently reviewing what I do. I think clarity is really important. Having one united answer, whichever way it goes, is really important. I do think that a traffic light system is clearer. It just depends which context you look at. I cannot answer you that well. Clarity of packaging in general is a mess and GDAs is not really part of that, but kind of is. I am also trying to work out how the public use it and is it really helpful. We talked earlier if there were maximum salts, sugars and fats within certain genres of food anyway then that would help everything to be a little bit more balanced. At the moment it is down to supermarkets individually being as honest as they want to be on the pack, be it GDAs or being able to say "Wiltshire cured" when the pork never came from anywhere in England and never saw Wiltshire.
Jim Dowd: Lucky pork!
Q865 Dr Stoate: Just a supplementary on that, if I may, Jamie. If something, for example, says, "This contains 13% GDA saturated fat", is that good, bad or indifferent if you are a mother of three kids? I do not know and I am a doctor.
Mr Oliver: I do not think people use them as much as they say they do, but what is important is that there is nothing wrong with being indulgent, but if it is clear you are being ---
Q866 Dr Stoate: That is not the question. If you are a mother of three young kids and you are trying to do your best nutritionally for those kids and you are looking at the back of the packet and it says, "13% saturated fat GDA", what the hell does that mean? How does that help me to feed my kids?
Mr Oliver: I totally agree, what does it mean? Do you know what, I do not even know.
Q867 Dr Stoate: It is important because if you see something that is red on the front, at least I can say, "It's red" and have some degree of understanding that probably means I need to be careful about it.
Mr Oliver: To be honest, if you think about the money that has been involved in this, most things that people like have got red all over it, if you judge it like that. Like hearing bad news about health in the papers and stuff like that, you kind of get fatigue where you just get used to it. If all the things that you do buy and love are red then your relationship with red is different after a few months.
Q868 Dr Stoate: That is not the point. If you have got three red lights you could say, "I can balance that up with three green ones on this" and at least you have got some idea of what it means.
Mr Oliver: No, I do agree.
Q869 Dr Stoate: That percentage on the back, I still do not know what it actually means and I cannot even tell myself if that is good, bad or indifferent. At least if I pick up something with red on it I can say, "Okay, that's not brilliant, but if I only do that once I can do something else tomorrow that's green" and at least I know where I am. I do not know where I am with the GDAs.
Mr Oliver: I totally agree. I do not want to pretend that I am expert when I am not really. There are far more important things to worry about in the world of food, nutrition and education than GDAs. I know they are important, I know they are controversial, but personally I am confused about it. At the end of the day, it does not matter. That sort of information does not truly matter. If you have got the basic tools to be able to nourish your family then nine times out of ten you are going to get a semi-balanced meal, do you know what I mean, you will be having a bit of fish in your life, you will be having a bit of salad in your life, you will want to eat a few greens because you will know how to make them taste good. Packaging is not my speciality or passion, so I do apologise for that.
Q870 Charlotte Atkins: Your Manifesto suggests that the Government should set up a consortium of supermarkets to supply cheap vegetables and so on for cheap meals. Have you had any luck persuading Sainsbury's that should be their way forward?
Mr Oliver: It is work in progress really. Obviously I would work with the Government if
they felt that this was a good idea. My
real point on this is I do feel all supermarkets have a massive social
responsibility to do their bit. The
problem is, because it is a very aggressive market, they all want to
distinguish what they do from their competitors, so let us let them do that
with their computers and active kids and stuff like that. I am talking about an area where it is about
delivering food for schools, for lessons.
It is really about new business, so it is not taking away from the
market they already have, but for the Government to have a fulfilment system
Charlotte Atkins: If we got rid of crazy regulations ---
Q871 Mr Bone: Hear, hear!
Mr Oliver: Hear, hear, hear!
Q872 Charlotte Atkins: --- against wonky fruit and veg then we would not lose 20% of what British farmers produce at the moment because it cannot be used because supermarkets will not stock it.
Mr Oliver: I have got nothing nice to say about the EU at all, I really have not. It saps the life and the icing off of our farmers and commonsense and clarity.
Q873 Charlotte Atkins: They do produce pretty good wine though, do they not?
Mr Oliver: So does
Dr Naysmith: There is nothing stopping them doing that. It does not say they are prohibited, it says they are not Grade A but they will be marketed as Grade C.
Q874 Charlotte Atkins: EU Commissioners are meeting in a week's time to actually look at this again, so what is your message to them?
Mr Oliver: I have no faith that anything good will come
out of it. It will take ages, it will be
disappointing, it will be unclear and there will be loopholes. I wish it never existed. Labelling is a perfect example.
Jim Dowd: Go for it, go on!
Mr Bone: I am rather disappointed we have to move on from that last subject.
Chairman: I thought you might, Peter.
Q875 Mr Bone: You are the best witness we have ever had who has spoken about the European Union and I agree with every word you have said, especially having nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, I have got to move away from that to talk about business and Pass It On. I used to run both a plc and a small family company. With the larger company Pass It On would have been easy and a good thing, it would have been a bonding exercise and really attractive to me, but most people are employed in small family businesses and it would have been very difficult without some sort of outside help to do it.
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q876 Mr Bone: I wondered how you saw that being passed on in relation to smaller businesses.
Mr Oliver: I totally agree with you. Pass It On in the workplace, I asked in the Manifesto for the Government to make tax rebates and stuff like that on buying any equipment or ingredients in the workplace for Pass It On because I truly believe that commercially for the business it is great because as soon as you go over 100 people in any business the right hand does not talk to the left and you do not have this department talking to this department, so when a company does Pass It On in the workplace it is commercially beneficial to them. Socially the effect is very quick. We have even got people like the Royal Mail looking at making it within the business, which is powerful with big businesses like that. As you said, how do you do it in smaller businesses. I have to be honest, it is like having a catalogue of worries and I try to worry about the ones that can make the biggest dramatic impact first, so that was why it was the big employers. I am going to get on to Pass It On in the smaller workplace, but I have not yet. I went to do a job the other day and I went past a pub and outside the pub it said, "Come in and we'll do a Pass It On". That is the first time I personally witnessed a small business doing Pass It On. I think it is subliminally happening out there and it is snowballing. Also, Pass It On might not even be called Pass It On. What I try to do is market the fact that a mate can teach a mate, a friend can teach a friend, an employer can teach an employer. I am going to be working on that, but I have not mastered anything. With any company over 200 people the cost of doing Pass It On is seven quid per recipe once a week, half an hour of four people's time and you can pick up an oven in a staff canteen or something. If it is not there already, and probably over half of them have got some sort of canteen or facility already, a Baby Belling is a couple of hundred quid. If you look at other things they do, it is good value for money. It is not particularly expensive to invest in, and that is why I ask in the Manifesto for the Government to look at is there any way they can give some sort of rebate as a gesture to employers who would want to do it.
Q877 Mr Bone: I apologise for not knowing how many people you employ, but what about your non-cooking staff, do you do Pass It On for them?
Mr Oliver: Yes, we do. We do it within my own business. I think what is really interesting is within my food team, of course they are all over it, that is their lives, but you only have to walk across the road and every other department of the business is absolutely as vulnerable and short of the basic cooking tools as anyone in Rotherham or Cardiff, and that is in my business. It is so close to home. We have done Pass It On now for just under a year probably. We always did it in a different format but we do it as a formal Pass It On now and ten, 12, 15 people will turn up and me or one of the team will do a subject. That is how we do it and it makes dramatic changes to these people's lives. Literally it is around the corner even in my business. I am glad to say I have restaurants, which are all charities, they have got involved and the other restaurants I have got involved with are also doing stuff and my office also does it. I am not just doing it because it is mine, it is actually a really good thing to do.
Q878 Charlotte Atkins: Your social enterprise project, Fifteen, has a drop-out rate of 47% which seems somewhat higher than most apprenticeship schemes. Why is that?
Mr Oliver: The average has changed now because we have just
graduated the last group, which has put it over about 56%. Our average had historically been well above
the national average but there are two things to bear in mind. Firstly, the young people that we train are
the hardest to reach, they are not average, they are the hardest to reach. About 80% of our young people come from Her
Majesty's Prison Service, homeless societies like Shelter, and most of them are
the top of the hardest to reach young people.
That is the first thing.
Secondly, the two years where my average went down, and we are nearly
eight years old now, our obsession to get the hardest to reach young people
meant we amplified it about two or three years ago to get the really, really
hard to reach and we learnt the remit for our new people is the hardest to
reach but you go past a certain point where you do not have the resource or
money to deal with it. Already our young
people cost the Foundation 30 grand a year each to train. We do not get Government help, so we generate
those funds through the profits of the business. The business runs as absolutely a normal
business, but it is all hived down to the charity and it is governed by the
Charities Commission, et cetera. It is
quite an unconventional charity, a beautiful model. It works.
Q879 Dr Naysmith: I can confirm that Fifteen does produce excellent food from personal experience, but that is not what I am going to ask you about. Next week we are taking evidence from the Food Standards Agency, they will be sitting where you are sitting now, and from the Minister who is responsible for health education in schools. Can you give one or maybe two questions that we could ask each of these people?
Mr Oliver: Yes.
Q880 Dr Naysmith: What would you like us to probe them on?
Mr Oliver: I think the Food Standards Agency need to widen their activities and do more work on practical cooking skills. I would like them to lobby the Government to fund more cooking buses that we talked about earlier because they work, they have got proof that they work, so let us get some money in there and repeat and do more of what they know works and get to those very hard to reach communities. They have got all the background information on that.
Q881 Dr Naysmith: The Minister? What should we ask the Minister?
Mr Oliver: Well, why does the Department not get cooking
on the curriculum for all ages? That is
very, very important. We have talked a
lot about schools today, but it is really important to acknowledge that if you
are not in school you are even more in trouble.
We have all classes, all sexes, all ages of people coming into the
Ministry of Food and they are vulnerable.
The success in
Q882 Chairman: Could I thank you very much indeed. A message for the press: our witness this morning will be available for interviews in the Attlee Room, press only, I am afraid, immediately after the end of this session. Could I thank you very much indeed for coming along and giving evidence to us this morning on our inquiry.
Mr Oliver: Thank you very much.