Jamie Oliver despairs over diet of Britain's poor

Jamie Oliver wonders in a new interview with Radio Times why the poor in countries like Spain and Italy still manage to keep a healthy diet, while Britain's poor choose to eat more expensive junk food.

The celebrity chef has spent years campaigning for better quality food in British schools and travelled widely for his cooking and healthy eating programmes, including to Italy where he did a culinary tour that inspired the Jamie's Italy book and TV series.

In his latest interview, the 38-year-old says he finds it hard to talk about "modern day poverty" in Britain.

He takes aim at Brits who claim they are too poor to eat healthily but still manage to find the money for expensive electronic goods.

He recalls meeting one such British family during his Ministry of Food show.

"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."

He contrasted this with poor people in other countries who he claims still manage to make healthy food on a tight budget.

"I meet people who say, 'You don't understand what it's like.' I just want to hug them and teleport them to the Sicilian street cleaner who has 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta," said Oliver.

"You go to Italy or Spain and they eat well on not much money. We've missed out on that in Britain, somehow.

"Some of the most inspirational food in the world comes from areas where people are financially challenged.

"The flavour comes from a cheap cut of meat, or something that's slow-cooked, or an amazing texture's been made out of leftover stale bread."

He added: "I'm not judgmental, but I've spent a lot of time in poor communities, and I find it quite hard to talk about modern-day poverty."

His comments were challenged by Imran Hussain, head of policy at the Child Poverty Action Group, who suggested low income dictated people's diets.

"Jamie Oliver is right to say that healthy food doesn't always have to be expensive … but for many families it's low income which gets in the way of healthy eating," he said.

Hussain added: "As official statistics show, parents of poor children are much less likely to be able to afford fresh fruit for their children. We also know from the evidence that as the incomes of poor families rise, they spend more on things like healthy food and children's clothes.

The comments came as Oliver promotes his new Channel 4 show, Jamie's Money Saving Meals, teaching people how to cook healthy food on a budget.  

He is also encouraging people to choose their local market over supermarket, claiming it is cheaper and less wasteful.

"From a supermarket you're going to buy a 200g bag of this or a 400g pack of that. If you're going past a market, you can just grab 10 mange tout for dinner that night, and you don't waste anything," Oliver said.