Jennie has already explained the reasons why people might buy ready meals rather than make stuff, far better than I can. I've done the living on minimum wage thing, and it isn't fun. I was lucky in that I had parents I could fall back on if necessary. And, importantly, the only person I had to support was myself. Cooking on a budget of £10 a week is not something I've ever had to do. I couldn't even get a wildcard entry to the All-England Four Yorkshiremen Contest. If I'd had to look after anyone but myself I don't think I'd have coped. I'm amazed anyone can frankly.
The comments on Jennie's article are very interesting and I recommend reading them, as are the ones on Jack Monroe's (although I'd avoid the ones on her Independent one like the plague). I want to like Jamie Oliver. I really do. I think his heart was in the right place when it came to school meals, and I like what I've seen of his style of cooking (measuring? pfft! chuck it in, slosh it about, off you go). Its just that I can't stand his chirpy mockney twattery, and the more he opens his mouth the more like the objectionable brand of Tory he sounds. On the other hand I can make a pretty good guess who Nigella votes for (and I wouldn't be surprised if I was completely wrong), but she makes aspirational food pr0n, rather than being on a mission to save the world from twizzled turkey..
I don't know what kind of programme Jamie has made, and frankly I've been thoroughly put off watching it. Besides the programme that should have been made would be much better anyway. It should probably have been made by the Kamikaze Cookery guys and Jack Monroe.
For most people in London, fresh fruit and veg is readily available pretty cheaply. There are lots of greengrocers that will sell a kilo of slightly wonky peppers for what the supermarkets will charge you for one perfectly formed one, that tastes exactly the same when you cut it up and put it in a stew. If you have a reasonable sized saucepan you can make a decent stew from onions, peppers, whatever seasonings you might have (mustard, chilli sauce, marmite/bovril instead of a stock cube), and a tin of kidney beans, and some tinned tomatoes which won't break the bank, won't take very long, and depending on how many it needs to feed whatevers left can be whacked in the microwave the next day. I haven't costed it up, but per person it'd be under a pound. If you have access to cheap fruit and veg.
For people in this situation, where cheap healthy food is potentially available then "all" one needs to do is help them understand the resources they have available, how best to make use of them, such as the variety of "one pot" recipes, and how to make the best use of tiny kitchens with next to no equipment, and understanding the economics of scratch-made vs ready meals, and when they're a saving and when they're not. Which is something I think not even the sainted Jamie Oliver is equipped to do. Its certainly beyond my ability, and I can't help but feel that for many people its too late. They never learnt to cook, and while it doesn't necessarily have to be difficult, as Jennie so rightly says it takes time and effort to acquire new skills, and time and effort to use them. Which many people regardless of their financial status just don't have.
Perhaps we should be teaching this in schools. You could call it "Economics of Household Management, including Essential Practical Skills". Of course there might be a better title out there. With all the money the government has saved by implementing the Bedroom Tax they could provide information packs with important and useful information at the benefit office. If you have to have training or lose your benefits perhaps this should be an option?
Like I said, the recipe idea above works if you can get cheap fresh fruit and veg. Unfortunately having spent my life in an area where they are readily available I don't have a solution for what to do for people for whom this is a luxury. Which of course would be an ideal hook for episode 2, and might open a serious discussion about food deserts, because that's something that needs to be had. Its all very laudable of me, Jamie, and the rest advocating educating people about how to eat healthily and cheaply but its a waste of time if they can't put it into practice.
And I can't help but feel after all that rambling that nothing will change, that Jamie Oliver's programme will achieve nothing but make the typical victim-blaming Fail readers feel smug, and that I'm no better than the rest of them, because like the young lady in the Pulp song, I'll never really understand either.