Saturday, August 31, 2013

What do Jamie Oliver and Mahatma Gandhi have in common?

What do Mahatma Gandhi and Jamie Oliver (aka The Naked Chef) have in common? No, not the "naked" or semi-clothed thing. It is their philosophy on food and poverty.

Over sixty years ago, Mahatma Gandhi recognized the possibility that his fellow Indians, who were in dire need and want, could in fact, eat a healthy diet from the food sources available to them. After several years of experimenting with what we call "vegan" diets today and vegetarianism, Gandhi wrote what is today considered a solid framework for a healthy diet for us all. His book Diet and Diet Reform was published in 1949 and is still worth a read.

Fast-forward to 2013, and to Britain's Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and healthy food campaigner in his native Britain. Oliver has received both accolades as well as derision, for suggesting that people in his country could be making healthier food choices, even if on the lower end of the economic scale. In a recent brouhaha, Oliver has been recently criticized for making the following statement, "You might remember that scene in Ministry Of Food, with the mum and the kid eating chips and cheese out of styrofoam containers, and behind them is a massive TV. It just didn't weigh up,” he said.

"The fascinating thing for me is that seven times out of 10, the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families. The ready meals, the convenience foods." (1)

How could Gandhi be right and Oliver wrong?  Sure, Indians in 1940s India were not thinking about big screen tvs and being entertained. Political realities and hunger shaped their priorities and this is refleted in the "Gandhi Diet" As writer Arundhati Bhanot wrote, "For Gandhi, food was not something that just satiated hunger. It was an integral part of shaping the human consciousness." (2) And this is the heart of the matter.

We can look today to other countries like Spain, where a recent news program profiled a modern Spanish family. Well educated and previously well employed. Then came the crisis. Today, they are struggling to survive (read: eat!) on less than 500 Euros a month. The food choices they made back in the good old days, are long gone. In fact, they are out of the question. So, they are reduced to eating the most basic staple foods. No, they are not happy about it and wish they could afford a greater variety and those favourite treats they used to enjoy. Of course! But reality is reality. So no convenience foods or even moderately priced frozen or packaged foods for that family and so many like them in Spain and elsewhere. The economic crisis has changed their priorities have changed from treats to life.

So why the upheaval over Jamie Oliver? Is it because he is being preachy? Is it because he is a self-made millionaire? No, probably neither. It is really more about us. It is a reflection of values. Until people value their health and something else in life other than being constantly entertained with every gadget under the sun over everything else, then our diets and our consciousness will remain as they are.

We at PovertyFood salute both Mahatma Gandhi and Jamie Oliver for reminding us that our food is a reflection of what we value.  We don't have to be vegetarians but we should put our food and our health before the other "stuff" that we can really do without, especially during difficult times.
Eat well!

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