‘Pukka at last!’ When I watched Jamie Oliver’s show about the Poultry industry last Friday, it seemed to me that the often nakedly irritating chef and wage-slave of Factory-farm-loving, small-retailer-destroying, emporium of blandness Sainsbury’s seemed fully to be realising the nature of his Faustian pact. Did I dream it, or did he actually grow himself a pair of testicles and a conscience to match, by daring to criticise his lords and masters on national TV?
I nearly gave him a standing ovation when I saw it. The criticism was done as a powerful piece of protest theatre: the invited honchos of Sainsbury’s, ASDA and the rest failing to sit at table and break bread with their friends and critics, leaving an empty table with the place-names shown to the audience in close-up. Greenpeace, PETA and the rest could hardly have staged a more visually biting bit of public shaming. Well done, Jamie, thought I. Pukka.
But it appears I was not alone in finding myself dismayed when, the following day, Sainsbury’s ‘encouraged’ Jamie to publicly recant. As the Guardian on Saturday recorded, Jamie apparently was eager to express his true feelings on the subject in the form of an open letter his bosses could handily display in their stores up and down the land, ‘to put they punters right’ as W.N. Herbert wrote in his ‘Ode to Tesco’s’ a few years back. Phew. Thanks to that letter, once again, no-one need feel queasy about purchasing their £2.50 ammonia-burned, crippled, distressed, fatty, antibiotic-filled Frankenstein chook. Instead, the public could happily go back to wilfully ignoring the misty knowledge they have about where their food comes from.
But let’s imagine the other scenario, shall we? One where Jamie, Essex boy made good, walks into the CEO’s office for his bollocking and actually tells the CEO to stick his ads for processed mince-pies with own-brand ice-cream where the sun don’t shine, thereby escaping the posthumous pit of fire reserved for those other celebrity promoters of supermarket tump: step up Julie Walters (ASDA), the Spice Girls (Tesco), Jane Horrocks (the same) Alan Hansen (Morrisons). I could go on. But perhaps even if he had turned into a true hero at this late hour, repenting of his crimes against British Farming, the Global Climate etc, it would have been too late. What really hurts about Oliver’s prostitution of himself to this supermarket is that he’s actually a talented, driven man, who adores food, and who should have known better in the first place. Ah, if only I could put his actions down to him having an evil twin who likes appearing in Dickensian Christmas scenes dressed in a frock coat. But I can’t.
So Jamie, make like the slogan: try something new. What you began to say was really, really important. Don’t let them gag you now. At least Sainsbury’s have plumped your profile to a point where it’s fatter than a 28 day old broiler. With a little help, you could be rehabilitated and stand on your own: sleek, sharp, ready to say something with real bite.