Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is calling for the public to take an Eton mess dessert to Downing Street tomorrow to protest against U-turns to plans to delay promotion of junk food.
The government announced this week that the plans would be shelved, which it said was to give the food industry more time to prepare and protect consumers from the cost of living crisis. The move largely relates to proposals to ban multibuy deals on so-called HSSS foods, which are high in saturated fat, salt or sugar, as well as a ban on advertising them on TV before 9pm and online. These would all now be delayed for a year, if they come in at all.
It has been met by anger by campaigners who have called it “reckless” and “a sad day for public health”, including long-time children’s health campaigner Oliver and author of the National Food Strategy Henry Dimbleby, who said the link to cost of living was “nonsense”.
“The reason food companies use bogofs [buy one get one free deals] is because they know that with certain products if you use bulk buys, people buy more,” Dimbleby told Radio 4’s Today programme this week.
Speaking to Channel 4, Oliver said he woke up at 3am worrying about it. “I understand that he feels vulnerable among these backbenchers that are threatening to vote him out. I understand the political game.”
Oliver said the health of children over the past two years has been “extraordinarily bad”, with skyrocketing levels of anything from eating disorders to malnutrition, and which he said prompted him to address the issue directly. He has organised a peaceful protest to take place at Downing Street from 12.30pm on Friday 20 May.
“I think it’s really important that we don’t just watch these changes. There are many passionate professionals mums, dads, students, and I really need their help on Friday to say ‘Boris, this ain’t alright’,” he said.
Children’s Food campaign co-ordinator Barbara Crowther said: “This is shocking news at a time we urgently need to build back a healthier nation and address the cost-of-living crisis. Childhood obesity prevalence has spiked sharply over the last 24 months, and millions of families are struggling to put healthy food on the table.
“Evidence is clear that multibuy price deals on unhealthy foods do not save people money. Supermarkets themselves say that straightforward price cuts represent better value than junk food multibuys. There is no need for either review and certainly no case for delay. This is a sad day for public health, and any hopes of halving childhood obesity by 2030 are now crushed.”
The plans for junk food restrictions were backed by campaigners across the spectrum, from health as well as sustainable farming, where campaigners say banning promotion of junk food would give consumers space to choose healthy and sustainably-produced food, like more fruit and veg, without being bombarded by unhealthy options.
This in turn supports producers and farmers behind these foods, where there are more transparent supply chains, better returns to farmers and more capacity to mitigate climate change and restore nature, as well as farm less intensively. Supply chains behind junk food are opaque with high levels of food processing, and they are often built on monoculture intensive farming systems to supply commodity products like sugar, wheat or palm.
For a seasonal take on Eton mess, try switching strawberries for rhubarb, and share on social under #Etonmess to join Jamie Oliver’s campaign.