OPINION: It shouldn’t take a footballer and a celebrity chef to teach us to cook

Chef Tom Kerridge cooking at Adlards in Norwich in 2003

Chef Tom Kerridge cooking at Adlards in Norwich in 2003 - Credit: Archant

Two more reasons to be proud of what our country has become: we are now officially the most obese nation in Europe, and simultaneously the place with the highest level of food poverty. But still, blue passports, eh?

You might wonder how it is possible at the same time to be the worst fed and yet the fattest country in the continent.

Not so long ago, a certain rotundness was regarded as a sign of wealth. But the combination of grinding poverty and a culture in which cooking properly is not seen as important has achieved a situation where (it was announced this week) more than a million Britons were admitted to hospital last year with conditions linked to obesity.

Cooking healthy food is often – and wrongly – regarded as something which costs money. As a result, the lure of the cheap and filling takeaway is just too strong, even if it will ultimately harm our health..

In the last year it has taken a wonderfully outspoken footballer to bring food poverty out into the open. Marcus Rashford’s various campaigns have shamed the government into taking action to stop children going hungry. Few would argue against him being given the MBE he received in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last year.


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Recognising that a widespread ignorance about how to cook healthy food is a big part of the problem, Rashford has now launched a new campaign, and he has done it with the help of a famous chef who got his big break in Norwich.

Tom Kerridge holds two Michelin stars at his Marlow gastropub The Hand And Flowers, and another star for his latest venture, The Coach, another gastropub in the Buckinghamshire town. But his first experience of Michelin-starred cooking – and his first appointment as head chef – was in Norwich, when he was appointed to the top job at Adlards in 2003.

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Adlards, you may remember, was the first restaurant in East Anglia to gain a Michelin star, and Kerridge’s successor as head chef, Roger Hickman, today runs his award-winning establishment from the same address.

File photo dated 07/11/19 of footballer Marcus Rashford. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire/PA Images

Footballer Marcus Rashford - Credit: PA

Kerridge and Rashford have got together to create a year-long campaign aimed at tackling food poverty in low-income families. Over the next 12 months, Full Time: Get Cooking With Marcus And Tom will deliver a weekly video tutorial via Instagram designed to inspire people to make basic but healthy meals on a budget.

The pair will be joined by a host of celebrity guests from the worlds of sport, music and TV, including lockdown fitness guru Joe Wicks and broadcaster Fearne Cotton.

Both Rashford and Kerridge grew up in low-income, single-parent households, so this isn’t a case of a privileged celebrity chef talking down to those facing food poverty. They have both been there, and understand the issues.

Of course, teaching people how to cook won’t on its own remove the root causes of food poverty: the chasm of inequality which exists in Britain, and a vastly inadequate benefits safety net.

But if the pair can help people make the most of even meagre food supply, and turn it into healthy, nutritious meals, then it will have made a big difference.

Of course, the reason that this is necessary is that we are reaping the results of many years of a lack of importance being put on coking and nutrition in our education system.

As a rule, such teaching is left to the wonderful volunteers who step forward to run after-school cookery clubs, but how much better would it be if the life-skill of feeding yourself – arguably the most important of all – were a fundamental part of the curriculum.

Instead, we leave it to a footballer and a celebrity chef to take on the job themselves. It’s great that they have done so – but it shouldn’t be necessary.

Because if we don’t get to grips with the paucity of cooking skills in our population, we won’t be losing those twin crowns of most obese and most food-poor nation anytime soon.

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