Speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival last night, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall let slip that Jamie Oliver's next TV project is to target food waste.
“I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be giving the game away,” said the celebrity chef, who then ploughed on: “I know that in Jamie’s new series he will be looking at the issue of waste. And we know that if Jamie gets behind something he tends to make people sit up and take notice. It is something that we’re all very concerned about.”
A recent study revealed that 10% of the average grocery shop ends up in the rubbish bin. However, that’s only a fraction of the problem, he explained. “It’s also down to the food industry, which is guilty of huge amounts of waste. Supermarkets are wasting great truckloads of food.”
Hugh applauded Jamie for trying to raise awareness beyond “the chattering middle classes”. “I have to take my hat off to Jamie who’s gone further afield than I have and put his neck on the line in very, very difficult situations with the specific aim of getting people who in our chattering middle-class terms barely know what good food is to discover it.”
Which isn’t to say that the River Cottage chef has retired his placard. At the moment he’s still caught up in his Fish Fight campaign to ban “discards” – the millions of fish thrown back into the sea dead or dying due to the EU’s quota system. “We’re following it up at the moment and making three new shows which will be on air in January to update you on the story so far. We now have over 850,000 Fish Fighters signed up.”
Shrugging off a round of applause, he stressed that the battle is far from over. “Although we’ve cleared some major hurdles, European politics is an endless labyrinthine process and the rewriting of a massive policy two decades old and completely discredited is a painfully slow process.”
When questioned about his 2008 “Chicken Out” campaign – which sought to end intensive factory farming – Hugh declared it a qualified success. Four years on, 15% of chicken bought in supermarkets is free-range, organic, RSPCA-certified or “high welfare indoor”: 10% more than before the campaign.
“What I think was exciting about the campaign was that a significant amount of consumers made the commitment to upgrade the chicken they were buying and there has been very little backsliding from that. I would like to have the campaign all over again and point out to people that this is still going on. But of course you don’t get repeated shots at these media campaigns. So it’s difficult to maintain the level of awareness.”
Intensive meat production is the biggest single issue facing global food production, he continued. “The insatiable demand for cheap meat, which is huge in America, which is very big here and in Europe, and most frightening of all is massively on the rise in Asia, which traditionally had not been a particularly meat-eating part of the world… That has to change.”
Concluding with a rousing speech, Hugh declared that celebrity chefs cannot solve these issues: “We can put pressure to try and make it happen but ultimately this will be down to government.”
“Let’s think really fundamentally: if we could equip the next generation with basic cooking skills to looking after themselves, to understand how to handle a few raw ingredients and put a meal together we would be doing them a huge service and ameliorating some massive problems that we know are looming on the horizon. So let’s educate our children and teach them how to cook.”