Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Jamie Oliver and "Poor" Eating

Brigitta Huegel

As most of you will know, I'm really interested in nutrition.
When I see so many obese children here in Germany - sitting in the underground, drinking lots of Coke, one kid occupying two seats, I think: "Poor, poor kids!"
These children are often scolded by other children pitiless, they refuse to play with them, shun them. Obese children are victims of their upbringing. Often parents, who don't "Have" enough time for them, give them money instead - I watched little schoolchildren coming from school, which in Germany often ends about 1 a.m, going to McDonald's or buying sweets at the kiosk. Sadly, the meals in full-time schools are often cheap, but nutritionally cheap too. 
Would it help to bring back into school the class for basic cooking and household knowledge, that long time ago was abolished? Give a net, teach to fish, make children independent, give them a choice? Of course those classes must be for girls AND boys. Showing a football-hero cooking, a singer sitting with her children at a table and eat - pipe dreams? 
A few years ago Jamie Oliver attempted at a school to teach children how to eat in a healthy way (and there were rumours that mothers and aunties stood at the fence of that school and gave the 'poor children' chocolate bars...).
I think it is a very, very good thing to teach and try to enable a change.
Give role models. Not (though well-intentioned) laws as the Green Party in Germany tried to advance, suggesting that everybody in Germany MUST have a vegetarian day once a week. Telling people what and when to eat is no good: in a democracy you can teach, try to convince - but then people have the right to make their own adult choice, as long as they do not hurt the health of others. Laws that make sugar expensive, or forbid trans-fats (the cheap fats in so many 'convenient' food) might work. But look at the attempt of NY's mayor to forbid the huge Coke-bottles. I heard that even Michelle Obama had to change her fight against the food industry to the (also convincing) 'Let's Move Campaign''. I really admire her attempt to change nutritional habits, but do also believe that the food industry has great influence (look at the following post - I don't know which political direction Marion Nestle belongs to, but her arguments sounds convincing:
Jamie Oliver talked of 'people staring at a huge TV screen, eating out of styrofoam-boxes". He accused poor people to spend their money on 'entertainment' instead of spending it for valuable nutrition.  
In London I had the impression that supermarkets offer a lot more convenience food - and in huger portions - than in Germany. I loved the picture of hundred of Londoners sitting on a sunny day on the steps of St. Paul's, eating out of little card boxes. Because I have nothing against meals out of card-boxes, it can be fun, like a picnic: it depends on what is in the box
Or on the plate: in the little restaurants in Berlin or London where people order 'Business lunch', I fear that the three decorative lettuce leaves often only hide that these dinners might be not much more valuable in nutrition as styrofoam boxes and lunch-bags. 
That's why I added the Punch-and-Judy-photo (which I took in Russel Square): it is so easy to hit a certain group, while another group is 'sinning' only on a higher level...
The suggestion of home-made food - or 'Naturally Fast Food', as LEON called it rightly - is good! Takes often not more than half an hour. (OK - you have to shop).
But I fear it is often sheer laziness (or exhaustion): people - rich or poor -  love to look at cook-shows in TV, but it is more comfortable not to cook. Not to clean-up afterwards. Or have to do the dishes.

Jamie Oliver said that it is not more expensive to feed your family with fresh home prepared food. Buying at the farmer's market instead of huge units in the supermarket - and then throwing away half of it, because it rotted. 
I'll tell you about my field research "Farmer's market versus Supermarket" in the next post. Looking forward to the face of the farmer when I ask for '10 mange-touts' - or 'grab them', as Oliver said. 
See you! (Hopefully)


  1. Dear Britta - thank you for following my blog, and for introducing me to yours.
    This is such an interesting post, and one that I find myself worrying about often. Whatever are these children going to look like by the time they reach their middle and later years? that is if they get there.
    I am happy that my grandchildren have learnt good feeding habits from their parents, sitting properly at a table, eating wholesome meals, and making interesting conversation.

    1. Dear Rosemary, thank you - you're welcome! As you say: the eating habits acquired in childhood day's are difficult to alter - and I think that many of those children that are ragged by other kids will use sweets as comfort food - a vicious cycle.
      We hope that we will have grandchildren in a few years, and then I think that their parents hopefully give further what they learned before (both use it now, cooking and baking at home, inviting fellow-students as guests)

  2. When one works in the city, or spends time working away from home, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants, good nutrition is a challenge. When my children had to take lunch to school, the same challenge presented itself. There are no easy solutions, but I find that the best thing, for me, is to cook in batches, divide the meals and freeze them in one-serving size containers. It works for me, and it works for school lunches.....most of the time!

  3. Dear Pondside,
    I see the difficulties in modern life to get good nutrition - and the idea of cooking in batches is a good way to take care of what is in a meal. I liked LEON with their maxime "Naturally Fast Food" in their restaurants and the book - and I think it would be a big step forward when the food-industry would add less suggar (and salt), when no hydrogenated (trans)-fat were used, when portions would became smaller again ("All you can eat!" is so weird; ditto those elephant-sized popcorn bags in the cinema). In the end parents or friends are the role-models; knowledge about nutrition is valuable, and knowing how to cook too.

  4. My daughter is a registered nurse and has 4 children. She has always been a healthy eater (not sure where she got it from as her mama loooves sweets...and bacon....and ham....). She has taught her children to eat more healthy...not to say they don't enjoy a big ole Bacon Cheeseburger every now and then. On the whole, however, her family eats more healthy than many other families. Her kids are all grown but for a 16 and 12 yr. old...she is just hoping they will all continue to at least TRY to eat more healthy when they are all "on their own.

  5. Dear bj,
    glad to see you here! I think that the children of your daughter will, when they are on their own, eat healthy most of the time. I saw that after a short time eating in the canteen of his university, our son started to cook at his home. Rich in variety, less expensive, fresh. That does not mean that one can't enjoy pizza or Hamburger - or, as you, I love sweets - but one knows that it must be balanced, and the body feels it.
    Best trick for me: not many sweets at home, otherwise I'll eat them in the afternoon :-)

  6. Britta, now we have moved, I really want to cook more. Especially with the cooler months coming in. I want to have warm food and good smells in the apartment when my husband and daughter come in from their days. I also want to strengthen my daughter's immune system for flu season. Timely post, my dear. Hear, hear!

  7. Dear Suze,
    I will read your new post in a minute: I am so curious how your move was, how you and your family feel - and everything! I hope you are all well. Strenghtening the body through healthy eating is a good point - making people happy by good food: bon!

    1. This makes me think of Babette's Feast.

    2. Can you imagine that I have that DVD still unpacked on my shelf? Well - long winter evenings will come, and then...

  8. Hi Britta! This is a wonderful post. I recently stayed with friends in Melbourne, Australia and I was quite shocked at their eating habits. We had take away for dinner every night and they bought cartons and cartons of coke cans that they drank. They even took some to their grandparents house so they had some to drink there. I have not drunk soft drink in years and was horrified! It is so unhealthy I couldn't believe how they could eat all those things. I would feel so ill if I did! I really like Jamie Oliver for what he does, he is my favourite chef and people need to pay attention to all the yummy and healthy options out there! Em

  9. Dear Em,
    thank you! Yes, soft drinks (= liquid candy) are unhealthy in more than one way: not only the many (empty) calories of the masses of sugar (and people who drink diet coke fool themselves too: recently scientists found out that artificial sweeetener starts craving in the brain for more sugar - so people don't get thinner, and often it contains aspartame which is suspected for ninety disorders, from headaches and muscle spasms to joint pains) - in soft drink there often is also phosphoric acid (weakens the bones). And a soft drink goes down so easy...
    I like Jamie Oliver too! For variety look at 'Naturally Fast Food' of Leon - very inspiring too.