The final question put to Jamie Oliver in this clip - ‘What makes you uniquely qualified to advise us here?’ - is a simple but important one. It remains unanswered in the show, and in my opinion asked far too infrequently in general.
Some, like Jamie Oliver, believe that because of their unique positions, food media personalities have a duty to involve themselves in how and what people eat because so much of the world is apparently both anxious and clueless when it comes to food. One journalist went so far as to claim that British celebrity chef Delia Smith did not have the choice not to get involved in the politics of food.
The image I've chosen to accompany my contribution is a Time cover from 1971 declaring that "Eating May Not Be Good For You". This is the kind of hyperbolic (and frankly absurd) claim that contributes to a climate of fear and anxiety when it comes to food, and the kind that can also validate our supposed need for someone to guide us through safe vs unsafe/"good" vs "bad" food. But while I don’t believe or mean to suggest that celebrity chefs operate with any ill intent, or that intervening in people’s nutritional habits is uniformly “bad” – particularly if their health and well-being is in jeopardy – I do think that intervention becomes interference when it gets in the way of our critical faculties, including how much we trust our ability to think for ourselves. It’s not the fault of chefs that they have become famous for simply knowing how to cook or for having confidence around food. But if we cannot simply let them entertain us, or at best let them educate us into helping ourselves, without resorting to the kind of cultish hero worship that undermines our own capabilities and obscures the limits of their expertise, then it may just be that celebrity chefs, and the lifestyle channels they inhabit, are not very good for us either.
My own answer to the question I've posed in my title is that we do not “need” celebrity chefs. But we should certainly enjoy them for what they are. Which means something like enjoying David Beckham if you like football, or Gordon Ramsay if you like swearing (though I hear he makes decent food too!).