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Jamie Oliver: 'Eat your chips,' just not every day

By John D. Sutter, CNN
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Jamie Oliver's food crusade
  • Jamie Oliver is best known for the TV series "The Naked Chef"
  • Oliver was awarded the TED Prize, given each year at the nonprofit group's conference
  • Prize winners are invited to make one "wish" that will change the world
  • TED is an organization with the motto "Ideas worth spreading"

Editor's note: TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading." To watch Jamie Oliver's TED Prize talk, click here

Long Beach, California (CNN) -- When celebrity chef Jamie Oliver sat down for an interview with CNN -- just after giving a speech in which he railed against America's unhealthy food system -- he remarked that he was tired and wished he had a beer.

That's the charm of Oliver -- the dynamic cook who grew up working in his dad's pub in Essex, England, and went on to become "The Naked Chef." He doesn't seem particularly interested in food rules. He just wants people to be healthier. And to be healthier, he says, we need to learn where our food comes from and to know how to cook it.

"You know, we don't have to pretend that burgers aren't indulgent. We love burgers! The chip is the most incredible, brilliant invention in the world. Eat your chips!" he told CNN on Wednesday night. "But not every day."

Oliver on Wednesday was named the recipient of the TED Prize, an annual award given to a speaker at the TED Conference, which is being held this year in Long Beach, California. Former winners include former President Bill Clinton, biologist E.O. Wilson and the rock star Bono. All are given $100,000 and are asked to express one "wish" they hope will change the world. The non-profit organization then helps recipients to rally support for their cause.

Video: $100,000 and one wish

Oliver wished for an overhaul of the American food system, saying the country's poor decisions about what to eat are shortening life spans and increasing health care costs.

"My wish is for you to have a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and to empower people everywhere to fight obesity," he said in a speech at the TED Conference here in Long Beach, California.

Oliver will star in an upcoming ABC series where he promotes local, healthy food as a way to fight obesity in Huntington, West Virginia, which he called the unhealthiest community in the United States.

"This is a global problem. It is a catastrophe. It is sweeping the world. England is right behind you [America], as usual," he said. "We need a revolution."

Members of the audience stood up to pledge Oliver their support after his short talk.

Oliver outlined a number of specific steps to help America get back to local and fresh foods and to combat obesity. Among them, he said:

• Every child in the U.S. should learn to cook 10 meals before leaving high school.

• Supermarkets should appoint "food ambassadors" to explain to customers how they can prepare local, fresh and seasonal foods.

• Food companies should make education a central part of their business.

• Food labeling should be improved to accurately warn people about unhealthy food. He called America's current food-labeling system a "farce."

Oliver's new reality show is called "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." He is the author of a number of cookbooks.

In a CNN interview, he said he supports First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative to combat childhood obesity. He said he hopes the first lady will grant him a meeting in coming weeks so they can talk about reforms to the U.S. food system.

In the U.K., the chef previously launched a campaign called "Feed Me Better," which aimed to improve school lunches.

He presented a petition with more than 270,000 signatures to the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street in 2005, and officials promised to spend an added 280 million pounds ($437 million) to improve school food quality.

"Now is the time for the awful statistics, the lack of funding, you know, the true pain that is being caused by diet related death -- it's kind of got to a tipping point where something has to happen," he said.

"I'm a food lover," he added. "The problem that we have is a burger is not a burger, a pizza's not a pizza. Milk's not milk anymore, do you know what I mean?

"The big clean-up needs to happen."

TED offers video lectures on its Web site for free -- the idea being to disseminate "ideas worth spreading," as its slogan says.

The group's conference continues through Saturday and includes talks from celebrities like Bill Gates, Sheryl Crow, Sarah Silverman, James Cameron, David Byrne and Eve Ensler, as well as prominent thinkers, biologists, technologists, artists and musicians.

Oliver's speech on Wednesday night was followed by a performance from Sheryl Crow.

He said the global food system can be revolutionized through the simple steps of individuals. He called on America to be a leader in these efforts.

"If America does it I believe other people will follow," he said. "It's incredibly important."