Theresa May on junk food and her about-face: the food industry must not be damaged

Aug 23 2016, 11:30 | by Livia Montagnoli

The latests statements of newly elected UK Prime Minister on preventing child obesity have enflamed those who have made the fight against junk food their mission, like Jamie Oliver. Here’s why Great Britain will not apply the promised restrictions.

UK food education and its most emblazoned ambassador

Jamie Oliver was among the first chefs to appear in a TV kitchen. Now the critically acclaimed young British star chef – world known for his entertainment cooking, documentaries and books, and now welcoming the birth of his fifth child – has used his visibility to lead the food education bandwagon. Committed against the abuse of junk food in young age, Oliver redesigned the menu of several public schools who adhered to his health and flavor program, and has widely used the television medium to promote healthy, genuine and homemade food.

Theresa May's about-turn

Often called upon as privileged interlocutor in regards to British food education policies, Oliver will be summoned in the following weeks to conduct one of his hardest challenges to date: the new Prime Minister Theresa May, in fact, faced with the task of economically bracing the UK in view of Brexit, has chosen to privilege the food manufacturing industry. The announcement is an evident about-turn over the drastic measures promised by the government against junk food. In the past this happened with the introduction of a tax on sugary carbonated drinks (among the principal causes for child obesity) which will fortunately remain in effect. To think that only a few weeks ago Oliver and May had exchanged reciprocal cordiality via the news media: on one side the Labour party neo-elected Prime Minister gushing about being a fan of the Essex chef, on the other Oliver impatiently seeking an official meeting to discuss the new strategy to favour healthy eating in the fight against child obesity based for the most part on changing marketing formulas and advertising of the food manufacturing industry. Oliver had always made himself available for discussion with David Cameron’s Tories, never dismissing the role of “thorn in the side” to conduct the political debate towards game changing results.

Superfood and family recipes vs. junk food

Oliver’s support of food prepared at home – “it’s healthier, nutritious and rewarding” – flaunted in the last few weeks, coincides with the release of his new recipe book, Family classics. Dishes cooked according to criteria that foster well-being through the reduced use of fats and unhealthy ingredients. The focus is on the 14 super foods at the center of one of Oliver’s TV latest programmes. His cuisine “uses simple foods”. Which? Protein rich and versatile eggs, yams and goat’s milk, fish and wild greens, in addition to walnuts, black beans, seaweed and wild rice. 

May in defense of the industrial food manufacturers

Oliver will continue to dispense advice and food education despite the shocking outcome reported by the Times illustrating how the strategy proposed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt against junk food was hacked. In order to maintain employment in the industrial food manufacturing plants, Prime Minister May shelved the very restrictions on advertising junk food beseeched by Oliver and Public Health England. The request was to delay broadcasting said ads to after 9pm and banning cash register displays. What will be Jamie Oliver’s next move?

by Livia Montagnoli
translated by Eleonora Baldwin

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