Jamie Oliver Tips Chef Hat to Big Mac

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Britain’s ubiquitous Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, has come out swinging for McDonald’s.

Yes, that’s “for” and “McDonald’s”. And not all Mickey D’s, mind you—just those found in his homeland.

Fresh off his Food Revolution TV series to promote nutrition in America’s schools, Oliver praised the U.K.’ s Golden Arches by telling ABC News that its menu was better.

As in, better than many U.K. eateries, better than McDonald’s in the U.S.A., and more conscientious overall in producing better food.

“McDonald’s in the U.K. is very different compared to the U.S. model,” said Oliver.[more]

Just how different? In Oliver’s view, Britain offers a model all McDonald’s should aspire to due to “the quality of beef, they only sell free-range eggs, they only sell organic milk, their ethics and recycling is being improved and improved.”

High praise from a food activist who has made fast food the arch-enemy of his rallying cry: healthy cooking, simply, at home. Check out his speech above as he picked up TED’s 2010 prize to help his campaign to promote nutrition for children.

Of course, terms like free-range and organic are a source of disagreement among food experts. Neither one necessarily ensures better or worse nutrition.

Still, it’s surprising support (given who it’s coming from) for the world’s leading fast food retailer, which serves over 60 million people at 32,000 restaurants in 117 countries every day.

The company posted strong first quarter performance with worldwide revenue of $5.6 billion. Sales in the U.K., where it has 1200 locations, boosted those numbers by 11% in 2009, with Value Meals winning favor during the economic downturn.

Fast food brands are not the only U.S. export to catch on in Europe. Unfortunately, Americans’ bad eating habits—eating on the run, jumbo portions—are also migrating.

New York University Professor Marion Nestle, told ABC, “They’re doing things that didn’t used to be culturally acceptable. If you want to watch globalization in action, you can go to practically any European city and watch it.”

McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner is no doubt thrilled by Oliver’s endorsement (and eager to expand it beyond Great Britain). As he told Brand Republic, “I am confident that our collective strength and alignment around the world will continue to energize our future performance.”   

Media carries special weight for messages from celebrities in the food business, especially as the industrialized world increasingly battles obesity and health issues, fed in part by fast food. 

Oliver, while rallying support for his self-proclaimed Food Revolution, has crossed the fine culinary line as an unpaid evangelist for Big Mac’s, McNuggets and McMuffin’s—but, so far, only the British ones.

One interesting aside: an online post in England’s Telegraph newspaper noted how devastated British kids would be if McDonald’s U.K. banned Happy Meals toys in step with the new ban in Santa Clara, CA.

Let us know what you think: will Oliver come to regret this endorsement, or is he just being pragmatic?

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