Belfast Telegraph

Watching Jamie Oliver on TV is as close as many poor people get to proper food

By Robert McNeill

The poor, eh? They're always with us. Increasingly, in fact, they are us. I've lived among the poor and am pretty ambivalent about them. Some good ones. Some bad ones. Appalling dress sense.

Nowadays, I think many of us are aware that it could easily happen to us. I don't mean waddling around in grey tracksuit bottoms.

I mean finding ourselves down. Skint. Bereft of home and garden. Life's like that. To paraphrase PG Wodehouse, just when you think everything's tickety-boo, life sneaks round the corner and coshes you on the bean.

You could lose your job. Be taken to the cleaners in a divorce. Fall victim to the demon drink.

Next thing, you're carrying your DVDs about in a pillowcase, looking for something on which to play them. Preferably something with a wee house attached to it.

What must hurt when you're poor is rich individuals and corporations telling you how you should run your life.

They're full of advice these days, though it tends to be of the "don't eat cake" variety.

Now I've been guilty of that myself from time to time, telling the lieges to masticate more fruit and so forth.

But I haven't been aiming my remarks at the poor specifically. When I was poor, I ate savoury treats for cheap thrills and a full-feeling belly.

Would I do the same again, if poverty struck once more? Well, possibly. I'd try not to but, undeniably, a sausage roll is cheaper than a pound of apples.

I'm sure celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is aware of this. The boy means well and speaks from the heart.

This week, he advised the poor to create "amazing textures" from leftover, stale bread, instead of wasting their money on expensive ready meals.

Hmm, sounds challenging. And such fun. To be fair, he made his point after recalling a poor family he met who ate unhealthy, fast food but splashed out on a huge TV.

I see only half a problem here. To my mind, a huge TV is a necessity, not a luxury. And, generally speaking, when you're poor you buy such things on the never-never. Because things are never, ever going to get better.

So who gives a damn? That's the thing about poverty. If you've a brain about your person, you can see the world is a ludicrous, unfair place.

So you're under no obligation to do the sensible thing any more. What's the point? There's no sense anywhere.

How is there poverty in a fabulously wealthy country with a democratically elected government? It doesn't add up.

Neither do the sums for buying food. The poor don't buy "expensive ready meals". They buy cheap ready meals. Watch my lips here: because it's all they can afford.

They don't buy hummus and organic plums. They buy cheap burgers and pastries because you can get them for under a quid.

Coming after McDonald's published advice on how to live frugally for their low-paid staff (advice that forgot to factor in heating and assumed a 60-hour week), you wonder that the poor don't rise up and break windows.

That's where the huge TVs come in. The state should give these free to the poor. They're the best political anaesthetic known to man.

They're a window on a better world – one that we no longer strive to create in reality.

Belfast Telegraph


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