British chef and health campaigner Jamie Oliver has delivered a message to Australians with a sweet tooth and the federal government – sugar taxes are the unavoidable new normal.
“The sugary drinks tax – it’s not cute, it’s not nice – it’s the new normal,” Oliver told a London press event on Thursday to launch his new cookbook, 5 Ingredients, and accompanying television program.
Last year Oliver was part of a British campaign to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in a bid to tackle the country’s rising obesity levels.
Draft legislation predicts the levy will raise an expected STG520 million ($A842 million) in the first year.
Sugar taxes already exist in France, Portugal and Mexico and one has been proposed in New Zealand, he said.
“Then there’s Australia, pretending it’s not happening, but it will, I can tell you, it will,” Oliver said.
“The Australian government is kind of more American than British, so they’re just pretending they’re not going to do it – but they will do it because the science says that it’s right.”
Some companies are also now dropping the amount of sugar they put in drinks, and the tax debate has paved the way for a rethink by companies on added salt and fat too, Oliver said.
Now studying for a masters of nutrition the 42-year-old father of five said he’s not only learning about healthy food, but also public health and death.
It has completely changed the way he sees things.
“You’ll find as the public health goes down there’s five companies that [profits] go up,” he says, alluding to big multi-national food companies such as Nestle, Coca Cola and Mars.
“Food and culture are so interwound – but lifestyle and how things are changing forgets the connection,” Oliver said.
Finding the right balance between carrot and stick when it comes to improving public health and diet is hard, but good nutrition doesn’t have to “take the fun away”.
“If you’re employer… and you feed them s*** food everyday, 300 days of the year you’re a bad employer. If you have people on night shifts working in your factory and you have nothing apart from s*** in your vending machines, you’re a bad employer – but what does good look like?
“I don’t want lentils and sage, I’m not like a hippie,” Oliver said. “I want choice, and choice means to me at least 50 per cent. If you’ve got Coke and Mars bars – cool, but at least give me 50 per cent real food.”
In the two decades since a young Oliver captured the public’s imagination with the Naked Chef, he’s become more than his exclamations of “lovely jubbly” to bring about changes in the British eating, including the introduction of nutritional standards for school meals.
“Twenty years ago I was not a political person and I really am now,” he said.
“I think through food and exposure it has changed me and I am glad because it’s important.”
Oliver’s 5 Ingredients cookbook is available in Australia, while the program is due in Autumn on Channel 10.