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Jamie Oliver’s Campaign Against Childhood Obesity Has Classist Undertones

The Jamie’s Italian kids’ burger meal contains more fat, salt, and sugar than its Burger King counterpart, so what's the real issue with fast food?
Photo via Flickr user Land Rover MINA.  

Jamie Oliver: saviour of fat children, cleanser of oily sins. The British chef, primarily known for his TV shows, recipe books, and restaurants, is also an influential voice in the campaign against childhood obesity. Whether he’s in the US fighting for better school dinners, or in the UK (successfully) pushing for a sugar tax, the man cares deeply about the health of children.

But is it always about health?


In a now-deleted tweet, Oliver recently reached out to Burger King, calling for them to support his campaign for a watershed on fast food advertising. In it, he says he’s “#AdEnough” (geddit!!) of “kids being hit with ads for high salt, fat & sugar foods,” and asks the fast food chain, “Will you guys support me?”

Unfortunately for Oliver, one Twitter user decided to do some digging into the menu at the Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain. Looking at the nutritional data published online by the chef’s eponymous restaurant, Nick Pettigrew found that the “Baby Organic Beef Burger” on the kids’ menu, was, in fact, less nutritionally sound than the Burger King’s kids’ beef burger.

According to the nutritional information supplied by both companies’ official websites, Oliver’s burger (including sweet potato fries) has a higher fat content, more salt, and more sugar than the Burger King kids’ hamburger. While the fast food chain’s burger has 9 grams of fat and 6 grams of sugar, Oliver’s burger and side contains 14 grams of both fat and sugar. Although the inclusion of sweet potato fries in the Jamie burger might sway the stats a bit, the vegetables themselves contain very little fat, especially when baked, as is specified on the menu.

Despite this evidence, a spokesperson for Jamie’s Italian disagreed that the children’s burger meals at the restaurant may in fact be less healthy than their Burger King counterparts. They told MUNCHIES that the claim in Pettigrew’s original tweet was “an incorrect story,” as the Jamie’s Italian burger data refers to “a nutritionally balanced meal which meets all our strict nutritional guidelines.” At the time of publishing, they had not provided us with the specific nutritional information for the burger without fries.

Perhaps Oliver's issue with fast food restaurants like Burger King is not linked to the meals they serve, but what they represent. When both Jamie’s Italian and BK kids’ burgers have similar amounts of fat, sugar, and salt; could the real issue be the class associations linked to each meal? It’s alright to get an unhealthy burger—as long as it costs £6.95 and doesn’t involve you slumming it with the other poor people who don’t have AGAs or an estimated worth of £240 million.

This focus on class, rather than health, is also evident in a statement the chef made today to the BBC. In an interview this morning, Oliver criticised “bogofs [buy one, get one free] or multi-buys [that] make you buy more, spend more, eat more, and waste more and that's a fact.” Which basically says, if everyone could just have a bit more money and therefore rely less on supermarket offers, we’d all be OK?? Just like the sugar tax penalises those on low incomes (I see no sugar tax on your high-sugar £4 Frappuccino), Oliver’s problems seem to have more to do with eating poor, not eating poorly.

Burger King, anyone?