Jamie Oliver on 'Knowledge Poverty'

The Guardian UK's Observer Food Monthly runs a long piece on Jamie Oliver's latest project, The Ministry of Food, a TV series and campaign whose goal is to teach people in Rotherham how to cook. Oliver says there's a form of "knowledge poverty," a deep, persistent cultural phenomena where people never learned about the basics of nutrition or how to prepare meals that's partially responsible for the obesity epidemic:

He was thrilled when some journalists acclaimed his Ministry of Food series, but he does not agree with their analysis that what people eat has more to do with their social class than anything else. 'I've been to some tough places, Sicily and Soweto, and I've seen happy people eating like kings as rich as anything. One of the most memorable meals I've ever eaten was with a road sweeper in southern Italy. Did he eat like a king every day? Yes. Was he happy? Yes. Equally, I know City boys, who are as miserable as shit, and who eat like Natasha.' He uses the example of Claire Hallam, one of the Rotherham women whom he taught to cook, who previously ate at least a dozen bags of crisps a day and who did not know what boiling water looked like. 'I know Claire. She's not thick. But she is ignorant, in the nicest possible way. No one taught her when she was a kid. Not at home, and not at school. No mentoring.'

Was he shocked by what he found in Rotherham? 'Well, I did have a rant about it. It was... it confirmed that there is a new type of poverty. They've got walls, they've got heating, they've got a rain-tight house; they've got a plasma screen, a Sky box, mobile phones and Nike trainers. But they'll sit on the floor and eat out of Styrofoam boxes seven days a week. There's an oven in there that's quite good, but that never gets used. There's a new type of poverty, and it's fucking knowledge poverty. If you are on the dole, you can live quite good. You don't pay council tax, you don't pay rent, you get various other bits and pieces, too. So if you are wily, you can have central heating and eat well.'

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