Jamie Oliver's Sugar Rush: a crusade to save Britain's health
It might be as well not to watch Jamie Oliver’s new documentary over a TV dinner. Not because eating while watching the small screen contributes to obesity (although it does); it’s because Jamie’s Sugar Rush is not for the squeamish.
In the opening minutes, we see five-year-old Mario having rotten teeth extracted in the operating theatre under general anaesthetic, with Oliver standing awkwardly alongside, nearly in tears. Later, we are in the podiatry clinic, looking at close-up shots of the stumps of people with type-2 diabetes who have had their feet amputated.
When Oliver flicks a stack of the 40 sugar cubes people in Britain consume every day in their food and fizzy pop across the room, we know where we are going. It’s 10 years on from School Dinners and the chef is on a new crusade, a war against the added sugar in our diet that he blames for the rising epidemic of bad teeth and type-2 diabetes that, he claims, could finally scupper our crumbling NHS – costing £30m and £8.8bn a year respectively.
“If School Dinners was Star Wars, this is definitely The Empire Strikes Back,” said the TV chef turned campaigner when he introduced the film to journalists. “It wasn’t intended to be, but it is so connected to where we were then.”
Primary school children to be target of anti-obesity strategy
Its a grimmer theme, but Oliver’s looks of astonishment and horror and frequent expletives take us through the tough stuff. And there are lighter moments, such as when he is mobbed by the children of Charlton Manor primary school – transformed since it featured in School Dinners – who all want to pull up beetroot from the school garden (and they all like it) and tow him by the hand to show him where the beehive for the honey is.
Then there is Mexico, where even babies are given Coca Cola but the tide has begun to turn, thanks to a consumer movement that won the battle with government for a tax on sugary drinks.
And this is where Oliver’s campaign is going. He is throwing his weight behind the calls for a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in the UK. “Sugar needs to go on the naughty step,” he says.
He is prepared to put his money where his mouth is – “taxing” sugary drinks in his own restaurants. We see him in the Channel 4 film in a meeting with other restaurant chains, trying to persuade them to join in. Brasserie Blanc says it “might well be interested”, while Costa says it has to think about it. By the screening of the preview, it is only Leon, whose founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent took on the School Food Plan after Oliver, that has committed to the move.
Oliver believes that the great British public will get behind him, though, and persuade the government that we need the tax - which would be invested in health and schools. Nevermind that the government stated categorically this summer, when its own advisory committee recommended we halve our sugar intake, that it would not introduce a sugar tax. Oliver thinks David Cameron could yet do a U-turn. “I believe it is possible,” he said. “It is all up for grabs.”
In the meantime, he says, in taking on the sugar industry, “I know I’m going to get a bashing.” But he appears to care passionately about this. “Not in a smug way – I feel totally righteous,” he said. “I’m doing it as a father and because every clever person that I have met realises we’re all aligned in the same catastrophe.”