Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is facing backlash over his newly launched jerk rice dish after prominent figures, including a British politician and a Jamaican musician, accused him of purposefully misusing the term “jerk” to increase his sales. The remarks have re-ignited a debate over cultural appropriation in the United Kingdom.
Labour’s shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler, whose parents are Jamaican, took to Twitter this weekend to criticize Oliver’s dish, which she said has no resemblance to the traditional Caribbean staple, The Independent reported. Butler suggested that Oliver chose to use the word “jerk” to increase his sales while deviating from the original Caribbean.
“Do you even know what Jamaican jerk actually is? It’s not just a word you put before stuff to sell products. @levirootsmusic should do a masterclass,” she said referencing the Jamaican-born reggae musician and chef behind the best-selling Reggae Reggae jerk barbecue sauce. “Your jerk rice is not ok. This appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop.”
The MP’s comments ignited a fiery debate on Twitter, causing many to reply to her tweet to express their disagreement with her statement, arguing that no one would ever try or make food from other cultures by her logic.
“So only the French can make croissants? Only the Welsh can make Welsh cakes? Only Italians can make pizza?” one user wrote. “Why is it that some people are always looking to be offended by something?”
In response to the row, Levi Roots has called Oliver’s decision to launch a microwavable “punchy jerk rice” a mistake, according to The Guardian. Oliver’s jerk rice version contains garlic, ginger, and jalapeños, whereas the traditional jerk seasoning created by escaped African slaves on the Caribbean island uses principally just two main ingredients: allspice and scotch bonnet peppers. The spicy Jamaican sauce has become increasingly popular in the U.K.
Jamie Oliver has yet to respond to the accusations.
This isn’t the first time Oliver finds himself in muddy waters regarding his Jamaican-inspired ingredients for commercial promotion. In his 2000 book, The Return of the Naked Chef, the celebrity chef included his own twist to yet another Jamaican staple, Saturday soup, which he called “comfort food that originates in the West Indies,” and described it as a “chunky, robust soup that is supposed to use up any leftover vegetables,” according to The Guardian report.
“I’ll probably get a slap for it, but that’s cooking and you can do what you like!” he wrote in reference to his changing the original recipe to “suit my taste.”