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The Nonsense of Health & Safety and Bashing the TV Chefs

December 18, 2012



Has the country gone mad? Here in UK we’re fond of complaining about the petty laws that pass to us via the EU but really, we’re very adept at making petty laws of our own. A few weeks ago I retweeted a story run in a national paper about Westminster City Council banning rare or even medium-cooked liver in restaurants after someone was ill from eating rare liver in a Brasserie Blanc. Talk about over-reaction!! Well, you might say, it was very bad that someone suffered a dodgy tummy after eating rare liver and we should all be protected against that happening again. But! This is symptomatic of our modern world in which fear governs too much of our behaviour. And I’m afraid the gourmet in me can only say, Who on earth would want to eat well-cooked liver!! I often choose calves’ liver from a menu but anything less than nicely pink would be sent back to the kitchens and if I’m at risk by doing this, then I think I have the right to choose to take that risk. Just as I choose to eat raw oysters and unpasteurised cheese sometimes.

Today the newspapers are full of more ‘healthy eating’ stories. Well, apparently The British Medical Journal and University of Newcastle think they’re talking healthy but I would like to most strongly protest to them that they are missing the point entirely. ‘We did not set out to bash the chefs,’ said Professor White (source: Guardian, 18.12.12). But his study is being used to do just that: to make the TV chefs look like irresponsible people urging us all to cook unhealthy food full of fats and calories instead of buying ‘more healthy’ (note my querying emphasis here) ready-made meals in the supermarkets.

This country has seen a major food revolution over the last twenty years or so and chefs like Raymond Blanc have made an outstanding contribution to us eating better food: both cooking better food in our homes and demanding higher standards in our restaurants. The joke about us Brits living on fish and chips no longer holds: we are at the forefront of world gastronomy with some of the best chefs and restaurants in the world.

Jamie Oliver (who comes in for some stick in today’s report) has done more than most to promote healthy eating. He’s really made people stop and think about what they serve up to their kids, at home and at school, and to quote some of his perhaps more calorific recipes as an example of him being less healthy than a ready-made Tesco chicken masala (as the study apparently does) is nonsense.

What the TV chefs like Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Raymond Blanc have done is to encourage everyone to cook real food with fresh and well-sourced ingredients. And Jamie in particular has made it not only OK but positively normal for men to be in the kitchen today too. In a big way, the unreconstructed male who thinks it’s macho to claim to only be able to toast a piece of bread is no longer admired (if he ever was; most certainly not by me) and men nowadays know they should be able to cook too.

The really important thing here is that the chefs promote the belief that cooking is good and fun and using fresh ingredients is the healthy way to go. Living on ready-made meals is not healthy. They are often cooked in large aluminium vats and contain too much salt and sugar and additives. The whole ‘fat’ issue is often uninformed too: a certain amount of fat is good for you and even essential to maintain optimum health – ‘essential fats’, which many of us now take as supplements are called ‘essential’ for a reason and can be obtained through a healthy diet. Living on fat-free and ready-made diet foods is most certainly bad for your health. Which isn’t the same as saying you shouldn’t watch your fat, sugar and salt input – but if you cook yourself you have more control over your diet and can ensure you get a balanced intake. What is often needed is not a ready-made meal but food education. And that’s what many of the TV chefs are giving us.

It’s easy to go through the TV chefs’ books and pick out the least ‘healthy’ and more indulgent recipes but does anyone really imagine that these are the kind of recipes cooked up every night by families? The point for me is not that the books contain calorific and full-fat treats but that the overall message from the TV chefs is that cooking at home with fresh ingredients can be as quick as a ready-made Tesco meal but will actually contain fresh ingredients that you know the source of. When you cook a chicken curry yourself you know what chicken you’re buying and which part of it you’re using in your meal. Jamie’s attack on turkey twizzlers became famous – but it’s not only turkey twizzlers you should be questioning the ingredients of, but wondering exactly what’s gone into every ready-made meal you buy.

This whole ‘healthy eating’ debate seems to me to be an example of the glass-half-empty syndrome: focusing on the negative rather than celebrating the positive that we have these great chefs in our midst, promoting good cooking and family eating. So, go TV Chefs … and if I can’t eat rare liver in Westminster, then I’ll just have to eat it elsewhere or cook it myself!

From → Food Talk

  1. Hear hear! I agree with everything you wrote …

  2. petit4chocolatier permalink

    When I was in elementary, middle and high school we had food education and home economic classes where you learned more about how to cook correctly and other valuable food information. They don’t teach that now. It is needed again. Many children don’t learn it from their homes. It is a wellness factor. I may bake a lot with chocolate, but I don’t eat a lot of it. I give it to a large group of individuals whom may only partake in one serving. I agree with you fully!!

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