Two self-confessed zealots are sitting in a north London café, drinking tea and tub-thumping. Luckily there’s no need to duck to avoid flying crockery, for these two are singing from exactly the same hymn sheet.
Money-saving expert Martin Lewis has spent the past ten years trying to teach people how to save money in every area of life via his MoneySavingExpert.com website. And chef Jamie Oliver, always keenly aware of his fans’ need to budget, is launching a new Channel 4 series to help people cut down on their food bills. RT got them together to discuss their ideas for helping home cooks to tackle the recession head-on. Read excerpts from the interview, then watch the video below.
Jamie Oliver: It’s not easy to get people to think about the money they spend on food. But they do if you say, “Guys, after your mortgage, the second largest amount of money you’re going to spend in your life is what you spend in your supermarket.” The average person is much more loyal to a supermarket than any religion or brand.
Martin Lewis: Exactly. I say, “Imagine if instead of spending £100 each week, you were billed once a year, and it came in at £5,200. Then you’d start saying, “How do I cut this down?” You have to think about it annually. Then you realise the significance of it as a bill.
Jamie: The average waste for a family is 40 per cent, which is phenomenal. Before you start talking about saving money on buying food, you need to look at what you’re wasting. Think about shopping smartly, buying non- perishables in bulk, what you can freeze, and that it’s OK to use food after the “sell-by” date.
Martin: Whenever I’ve asked people to “downshift” from a brand – from luxury to supermarket own, or supermarket own to “value” – they say it’s not as good or not as healthy. Do people worry about cut-price recipes?
Jamie: 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. I’m not judgemental, but I’ve spent a lot of time in poor communities, and I find it quite hard to talk about modern-day poverty. 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 f***ing TV. It just didn’t weigh up.
Martin: But there’s no point saying this stuff if people don’t trust us. I bet you get that, too – “I’m not sure that’ll work but I’ll give it a go, Jamie, because I trust you.”
Jamie: Definitely. Every recipe I write costs £2,000 in testing, using different appliances and pots and pans, so that they actually work for people cooking them at home. The average cost of every meal in my new book is £1.38 per portion. If you compare that to a large Big Mac Meal, which is around £4.50, that’s nearly £20 for a family of four. A large KFC bucket is £15.99.
Martin: Or a giant pizza, which is the most profitable sector in restaurants, because it’s just bread, tomato sauce and cheese. Pizza companies just double the price then give out vouchers to make people think they’re getting a bargain. It’s staggering.
Jamie: One of the other things we look at in the series is going to your local market, which is cheaper, anyway, but also they don’t dictate size. 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 ten mange tout for dinner that night, and you don’t waste anything.
Martin: The most powerful thing to take to a supermarket is a pen and paper. Supermarkets are honed to make you spend more money than you originally intended. Go with a list, and don’t be persuaded by anything else, perhaps with the exception of a good price deal that you’re really going to use.
Jamie: It’s true! I spent six months looking at people’s fridges and there’s a documentary just in that. One woman kept buying tabasco sauce out of habit. She had 13 bottles!
Martin: I challenge people to go out for a pint of milk. Nobody just buys the pint of milk. They get a basket and fill it with things they don’t need. Supermarkets are genius, the way they operate. We’re all victims.
Jamie: The fascinating thing for me is that seven times out of ten, the poorest families in this country choose the most expensive way to hydrate and feed their families. The ready meals, the convenience foods.
Martin: But it costs more to be poor. If you take the wider picture, you can’t have direct debit discounts, you’re on hire purchase, you’re on prepaid meters for gas and electricity, which is typically 15-20 per cent more expensive. Perversely, and disgracefully, people with less money pay more for running their home than everyone else and therefore have less disposable income.
Jamie: Yes, but 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, ten cherry tomatoes, and a packet of spaghetti for 60 pence, and knocks out the most amazing pasta. You go to Italy or Spain and they eat well on not much money. We’ve missed out on that in Britain, somehow.
Five ways to save
1. Buy cheaper cuts of meat, like brisket of beef or shoulder of pork. They’re full of flavour if you cook them long and slow.
2. Dry leftover fresh herbs by hanging in a warm place. Or else create flavoured oil or a herby garlic butter you can freeze.
3. Frozen food is cheaper and you only use the quantity you need. It’s full of the food stuff because it’s fozen when very fresh.
4. Make a big batch and freeze what you don’t need for another day. It’ll stop you shelling out on pricey takeaways.
5. Never throw away odds and ends of cheese. Keep bits in the freezer for cauliflower cheeses, gratins and lasagne.
Save with Jamie by Jamie Oliver is published on 29 August (Michael Joseph, Penguin). To order for £17 (usually £26) incl free p&p, call the RT Bookshop on 01603 648176 or visit radiotimes.com/bookshop.