Jeremy Irons on Women and Food

Freeze Frame of APTN footage of interview with Jeremy Irons. Shot by Paolo Santalucia

I had the opportunity today for a brief interview with actor Jeremy Irons after he was named the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s new Goodwill Ambassador. The FAO has its headquarters in Rome. A quick glance at Irons’ biography is mind-boggling.  He has starred in dozens of movies (“The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Reversal of Fortune, Mission and Lolita to name a few) and theater performances (Camelot, Much Ado about Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth and many more) and TV series (The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Elizabeth I, and currently The Borgias).  His awards include Oscars, Tonys, and Golden Globe, and Emmys.  Clearly a talented man worth listening to.

In this post I would like to put in a couple of quotes that I did not use in my AP Television story, but that I find interesting.

During his speech to the plenary hall, he mentioned the importance of relying on women to solve questions of hunger. Afterwards I asked him about that comment. My mother, a university professor, has dedicated decades of her career to the topic of women in international development, so his comments were no surprise to me, but they are interesting and I am curious to hear if others agree.

Jeremy Irons:

“I don’t know about your house, but at my house I know who makes supper, and I think that is pretty similar throughout the world. I also know who does the work in the garden, growing the vegetables, it is my wife. Women are the providers, women are the ones who manage the finances. We’ve seen over the last 20 years with women entering the work force perhaps a damage to the family, but a huge help to the economy. Women are much more reliable than men in many ways. Years ago I was in South America and I remember sitting with the men in an open hut smoking and drinking, enjoying the day. At five o’clock what do I see coming out of the mangroves but the women with all the food on their heads. They’d been at work. So let us not be patronizing about the power of women, they are essential and I think, as was mentioned in the other speeches, an element which really can change the balance.”

Interestingly, my colleague, cameraman-producer Paolo Santalucia, saw this comment as a bit chauvinist, implying that women should stay at home and cook. I interpreted it differently, taking it to mean that since women already do all the work, they need to have the political power as well to handle questions of food and economic development.

I also found interesting his comment comparing famine to genocide and suggesting a system could be, and needs to be, set up to predict where and when famine will occur.

Jeremy Irons:

“We have to look to the ground, to where the problems are and set up a system, which we can do now with the internet and out of universities in the local areas, to build programs so that the future famines can be prophesied and dealt with before it happens so we don’t get a situation like we have in the Horn of Africa. I know people say it is a matter of access but I think with diplomacy and humanity it should be possible to prepare for such a massive occurrence which is bordering on genocide.”

If he is right, and famines can be predicted, then that is good news and the world should act fast to predict and avoid future famines.

In my last blog I wrote about door-stepping some famous American actors (George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Madonna). Americans actors, as Americans in general, tend to be casual in manner and in language. Jeremy Irons was very different; he was positively British. He was composed, elegant, spoke beautifully and had a dry sense of humor. It was clear that he is a Shakespearean actor, his training and background come through with every word. I was impressed.

Actor Jeremy Irons speaking to Plenary Session at UN's FAO Headquarters in Rome. Freeze Frame of APTN footage shot by Paolo Santalucia

4 thoughts on “Jeremy Irons on Women and Food”

  1. This is such a wonderful post and I totally get what he means about the role that women take on and how they can contribute to ending world hunger. Funnily I only last night was watching a movie he was in (a friend’s favorite) called Stealing Beauty and composed and elegant is just how I imagine he would be.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and his in such a clear way.

    ciao lisa

  2. Barbara Slayter


    I am glad you and Jeremy Irons are attentive to this important topic: women, food security, political and economic power and the ways in which the issues are intertwined. I am continuing to enjoy your blog!


  3. I agree with your interpretation of his comments as not chauvinist…you have to listen carefully and critically for that.

    Isn’t there a saying something along the lines of “if mothers ruled the world…things would be better for everyone?”

    Of course, it is quite simplistic…but what if????

  4. I just liked Jeremy for a month. I think he looks like a very intelligent person, though he always express some opinion that are difficult to understand to many people. And medias usually report out of context. I think he might be traditional but still a gentleman.
    Thank U for your share.

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