Go meat-free and give veg centre stage
Famed for making home cooking approachable and achievable for millions of people, and for lobbying for better children’s public health, Jamie Oliver’s influence doesn’t seem to be wavering – even 20 years on from the Naked Chef first appearing on our TVs.
His restaurant chain may have recently gone into administration in the UK, but a few months on, he’s “moving on, dusting down” after a “very, very painful” time and focusing on his next venture – and this time it’s plant-based.
So is the man who brought us the ‘insanity burger’ turning off meat altogether? “No. No way Jose!” he quaffs, and although a self-confessed meat-lover, it might surprise you to learn that he eats meat “probably only twice a week” these days.
His new Channel 4 show Meat-Free Meals and cookbook Veg feel bang on the zeitgeist. It’s no coincidence that social consciousness around food is changing; we all know that cutting down on meat is better for the environment, as well as for ourselves.
“Yes it’s trendy at the moment, that’s cool,” Oliver (44) says, as if pre-empting any assumptions that he’s jumping on any bandwagons. He wrote (and shelved) this book eight years ago, in fact.
“I could be wrong but I hope that now is the time to go quite hard and mainstream on veg,” he says, and in true Jamie Oliver style he’s determined to normalise it, to get all of us cooking it, all of the time. We’ve made it [vegetarianism] more faddy than it needs to be. Veg has been depicted as quite a divisive thing, like football, gangs,” he muses.
“Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian – what are you? But it doesn’t really matter how you look at it, humans are absolutely deficient in veg, legumes and fibre.
“Maybe it’s because I’m a bit older,” he adds, “maybe because it’s 20 years down the road, but I hope it feels like: if Jamie Oliver is doing a vegetarian book, it’s sort of saying something [about] where we’re at and where we’re going.”
The new TV show sees Oliver travel to countries where veg is often front and centre of the cuisine, like India and Israel.
“Meat has always been an expression of progress, it’s always been a luxury or a sense of cash or commerce – but when you haven’t got much of it, humans are beyond genius,” he says, on the food he discovered travelling.
The diversity of textures and colours, for really affordable – onions, carrots –everyday things like pickles and fritters, things that give you the same hugging feeling as a burger or a pizza.
You’re kind of sitting there going, ‘I don’t want any [meat], I’m really happy’.
“It’s about making it simple, delicious and as good as it can be, I’m not trying to give you the best,” he adds, ever the realist.
“I’m trying to write recipes that are car crash-proof; OK so you chopped it really badly – that’s cool, chop it badly.”
Meat-Free Meals airs on Channel 4 this September. Veg by Jamie Oliver, photography by David Loftus and Paul Stuart, is published by Penguin Random House (c) Jamie Oliver Enterprises Ltd (2019 Veg) on August 22, priced £26.