‘We need a Jamie Oliver for science and engineering.’ That was the rallying call from Dr David Brown, newly-installed chief executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers as he surveyed the challenges that lie ahead for the UK’s technology-led sectors.
Brown goes on to suggest that the emergence of such a figure would mean ‘more grief for the government’ and spell good news for those who are passionate about a future for engineering and technology in the UK.
Presumably he has in mind a campaign along the lines of that run by the ubiquitous TV chef on the issue of school dinners. For those who missed it, Oliver launched a high-profile attack on the state of the food doled out to the nation’s youngsters, which he characterised as a demonic mixture of saturated fats, sugar and Asbo-inducing additives.
The results of Oliver’s diatribe were spectacular, at least if judged in terms of the fuss it created. Outraged headlines and leader articles in national newspapers demanded that something must be done. Contract caterers were forced into a wholesale rethink of their corporate strategy. The Turkey Twizzler rose from obscurity to become a symbol of national decline. Panic ensued at the Department for Education and Tony Blair — never one to miss a chance to get onside with a national treasure — backed St Jamie to the hilt.
The reason Oliver’s campaign was effective was that it engendered a sense of outrage that the nation’s youth was being let down, led like lambs to the slaughter to a future of obesity and ill-health.
Let us leave to one side for the moment the fact that the evidence of recent months suggests Oliver’s crusade may have hit a rocky patch, with many children so appalled at the prospect of eating broccoli for lunch they are abandoning school meals and bringing along their own pies.
If we accept that the campaign was successful in barging its way to the top of the agenda, who would be our Jamie Oliver?
This is a tough one. It is fair to say that young, cuddly, photogenic natural communicators are not over-represented in the ranks of our prominent engineers and technologists.
But to make a serious point, it is worth remembering that Oliver himself was not a prominent or distinguished chef before his startling rise to icon status. He was plucked by the TV industry from the restaurant kitchen precisely because he possesses the above qualities, so maybe engineering and technology needs to look beyond the usual suspects for a figurehead.
Andrew Lee, Editor
PS: As The Engineer‘s 150th anniversary year draws to a close, we are asking readers for their help in identifying the legacy that will remain from this era of engineering and technology. The Victorians bequeathed us much of our current national infrastructure but what will we leave behind for future generations? Readers of The Engineer Online have already contributed some suggestions. Please feel free to add to the debate by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.