In anticipation of the next The Great British Food Fight programme, “Jamie Saves Our Bacon” on Channel 4 9pm tonight, here is the next of our “bonus material”. An exclusive interview with Jamie Oliver.
What’s your favourite British food?
I think lovely steamed puddings with melt-in-your-mouth meat. I had a lovely British meal yesterday at Mark Hix’s place, actually. I had lovely steak and oyster pie, and ham hock terrine with piccalilli, lovely smoked fish and oysters, all that sort of business. God, it was really good.
Do you have a favourite British chef?
I think Mark Hix, actually. I think he rocks. He used to run Scotts and The Ivy and all those flashy places, but he’s now doing the Hix Oyster Chop House. There’s one in Lyme Regis, and the other one’s in Farringdon.
What about food that you don’t like?
I’m not really into reproductive organs, tripe, that sort of thing.
Aside from growing and rearing their own, what steps can people take to get the best produce in this country?
Often if you get down to your local market you’ll get great stuff. Some of it’s imported, but there should always be a good amount of local stuff. Also, those slightly unappealing-looking signs next to the road anywhere in the countryside (which isn’t too far away from anywhere really) often have really good produce at a really good price. They often over-deliver. You can get a sack of beautiful potatoes for next to nothing. They’ll have root veg to die for. You know the little signs that none of us ever pay any attention to? Often they’re wicked.
Ministry of Food was a phenomenal success, despite a tricky beginning. Were you surprised by how well it turned out in the end?
Yeah. Ministry of Food was a different animal from my other stuff, really. I think it was as much a question as a solution. I think it proved that small amounts of good information can radically change anyone’s life. But also it meant that you’ve got to share that. It wasn’t really like School Dinners, with goodies and baddies. It was more complex than that.
There was a lot of debate on the back of the programme. It was seen as a big social issue more than just a programme about food, wasn’t it?
Yeah, definitely. It was about a very large part of our population that can’t cook. Rotherham happened to be the window that was the metaphor for the whole country. If I’d have done it in Southend on Sea I would’ve pissed someone off. Same in London. You get people in life who would rather deny it and walk away from it, and people who will acknowledge it and be surprised how simple it is to solve it. I know that what we showed is there, was real, and in no way did we get people who were at the bottom of the barrel or worst case scenarios. If you talk to any dentist or doctor, they will tell you that they see worse on a weekly basis, and what you saw on the Ministry is the tip of the iceberg. I knew they were normal and representative because if you knocked next door, their neighbours were the same, and if you knocked next door again, their neighbours’ neighbours were the same. And they were across all classes and ages.
Your new project is Jamie Saves Our Bacon. What’s that all about?
Basically it’s the story of our British Pork industry, which is on its knees, really. Mainly because of foreign imports, which are reared to lower standards, and are therefore cheaper.
So you’re urging people to buy British because it’s more ethically produced and it’ll help the British farmers?
Exactly. And we do need to help our farmers. You meet farmers that have given up, you meet farmers who are about to jack it all in, you meet the competitors and see the standards. We follow the life of a pig from birth, as we did with the chickens last year. We film it from birth to death, both of which are shown on the show. It’s the story of pork. We show that 99 per cent of people want to buy British, but the labelling’s so screwed, that most people got it wrong most of the time.
What are the chief aims of the programme?
To get Britain to be patriotic, and in being patriotic people will be looking after the welfare of our farmers, not losing an important industry that we’ve always had. The way things are going they reckon it’ll last another five years, if nothing radical happens. And obviously by buying British, you’re ensuring higher welfare standards for the animals.
What are the differences in the way the pigs are treated abroad?
There’s a thing called a sow stall. It’s basically where a pig spends all of its life, for five years – then it’s sausages. And it’s like me putting you in a room two feet wide. It can’t turn around, it can’t scratch itself, it eats one end and shit’s the other. It’s not illegal in Europe, and it is illegal in Britain. Obviously sow stalls are incredibly efficient, you can really pack them in. They’re pregnant 2.2 times a year, they have an average of 15-18 piglets, that’s 30 a year. It’s just like a factory, really.
Pigs are really intelligent creatures, aren’t they?
Yes. We show that as well. We get a dog trainer to train a pig in three weeks. We see videos about pigs. Hugh [Fearnley-Whittingstall] does a spot for us. Pigs are definitely very intelligent animals.
On the subject of pigs, both Hugh and Gordon Ramsay have raised pigs in the past. Have you ever been tempted to raise your own?
I’d love to. Gordon did it for The F-Word in his house in London. I haven’t got space like that in London, and I’m not home enough to give them the care that they require, really. I don’t do pigs because I can’t be trusted at the moment, really. But one day I’d love to. When I’m less busy.
Being so busy, when you get home at the end of a hectic day, can you be bothered to cook?
Always. I’ll cook tonight when I get home, no matter what time I get in.
Do you never get home and think ‘What I really want tonight is beans on toast’?
Once or twice a year. With a nice bit of grated cheese on the top. Happy days. But not all that often. Mainly because I want a proper meal. But do I like it? Course I do. Along with burgers, kebabs and all the other things.