The other night I watched Jamie Oliver on the “Late Show.” At one point, amid cooking, pitching his newest “Food Revolution” and tweaking David Letterman, Oliver got serious and said (to paraphrase): With what we know about food and health, we ought to be doing better by our kids. Anything less is a crime.
Lots of people hear something like that and scoff. A crime? Sheesh, don’t be so dramatic. But when school food is influenced by government conflicts and corporate kickbacks, when food manufacturers and marketers aren’t held accountable, when the FDA allows additives to go unchecked, well, what else do you call it?
So I’m on board for season two of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” which starts tonight (8 p.m. ET) on ABC. While Oliver’s critics make some valid points, I think his heart is solidly in this. And our kids need more people who not only give a damn, but are willing to do something about it. Even if that something is a “reality” show where a cheeky Brit holds up a mirror to how we feed kids in this country, in school and out.
The show’s first season was set in Huntington, W.Va. This year it’s in Los Angeles. Couple of good articles: Oliver’s motivations and the L.A. experience. Read, watch, let me know what you think. And now a sneak peek:
Disclaimer: While it’s lovely that JO and crew chose Spoonfed as a blog of the month in September (and said some very nice things about me, BTW), everything here (and on the whole of Spoonfed, actually) is just my own two cents.
I’ve had a super interesting couple of weeks with a teenage guest from out of state staying with us. He is ALL about fast, processed food. It just about killed him, the way we eat and he walked a couple of miles to get a fix of soda, Red Bull, Cheetos, and candy at the local store every couple of days. We’ve talked at length about it. He *knows his choices are unhealthy. He admits that the food makes him feel bad sometimes. But he chooses to continue to eat this way. In part, he says, it’s in rebellion against what his mother would have him eat (healthy) and in part because he just craves it. The kid is a doll, but my mind was blown by his eating habits!
Kris, what’s interesting about his reasoning is that it sounds like he’s eaten this way for awhile. (People don’t “crave” food like that unless they’ve eaten a lot of it.) So maybe his mom’s healthy-eating efforts are recent? This make me sad because I’d think spending a couple weeks with you, that his food IQ would start to increase. Maybe you’ve planted the seeds, though…
feeding kids food that will trash their metabolism, keep them full but nourished is indeed criminal. Jamie’s methods may be questionable at times, but I appreciate his megaphone. Just last night a mother who watched the sugar stunt with the bus commented on my FB page “I had no idea flavored milk was a bad thing. i feel so guilty.” the milk board has spent billions of $ selling milk (including flavored milk) as an essential nutrient. it would be hard not to believe that messaging unless you did a lot of self-education.
that’s just it. parents are ignorant of what is happening to their child’s metabolism. and it’s not just weight. heavy people aren’t unwell because they are large. heavy people are unwell because every single body process is compromised when metabolism is messed up and organs don’t receive the nutrients they need to function.
a child’s brain won’t work right without the right nutrients. and even if vitamin/mineral enriched food is fed to kids, they may not be absorbing those nutrients because the factory made food with chemicals, too much reliance on grains and excess sugar consumption has damaged their gut to the point that those nutrients taken in as supplements aren’t able to be absorbed.
i can’t believe any loving parent would actually still feed their kids food made in a factory on a regular basis if they really truly understood what was in it, and how it deprives their child’s brain the nutrients it needs to learn, process information, make decisions, and manage mood.
it has to be ignorance. it has to be parents not getting the whole picture. “that junk food might make your kid tubby” is not enough information. food is not about weight maintenance. food is fuel. food is about nourishing the *only* brain, body and vital organs your child will ever have. fuel the brain, body and organs food-like substances made in a factory with chemical additives and it will break. sooner or later it will break. what parent would knowingly break their child’s health?
Jenna, I think it is ignorance, but I also think it’s simply the overwhelming nature of food today. I hear all the time from people who think they understand food and think they’re doing right by their kids, then they learn something new and feel like they have to start over again. Or they feel like they can’t fix everything, so they fix nothing.
It’s taken me (and you, too, I know) a long time to arrive at the food knowledge I have, and I’m still learning, though none of it feels overwhelming anymore. It’s just more information. But most people aren’t there yet.
That’s why I think this show is so helpful. Because it’s reaching an exponentially larger audience than any food blogger ever could — and it’s an audience of the very people who need to hear the message.
The one general complaint I do have about both Food Revolution shows is the emphasis on obesity. I wish there was more discussion of why eating better is just… better. Skinny kids can be just as unhealthy as heavy kids (or more so).
Christina, your complaint about the emphasis on obesity is one that niggled at me last night as I watched the show. I found myself thinking, as Jamie talked to the fast-food restaurant owner, “Stop telling him that substituting fresh fruit for the syrup in the milkshake is ‘pointless’ because it didn’t substantially reduce the CALORIES. Stop talking about how we shouldn’t be feeding our kids all that busload of sugar in the midst of an obesity epidemic. We shouldn’t be feeding our kids that busload of sugar, PERIOD, obesity or not — and it’s not the calories in the milkshake that trouble me.” I’ve actually given my kids ice cream milkshakes made with fresh fruit — lots of strawberries and peaches from the farmstand, blended up with pure vanilla ice cream and a little milk. It’s a nice treat every once in a while during the very hot months of the year and I don’t feel bad about it — whereas I wouldn’t give them a shake loaded with all that syrup and low-quality ice cream. It’s not about calories, per se, and it’s not about fat or skinny; it’s about quality of nutrition, health, and life.
Bri, yes, the milkshake scene bothered me for that very reason. (Though I thought it was telling that the restaurant owner said he’d use real fruit, never syrup, for milkshakes at home. Plus I wanted to see the ingredients for that “real” ice cream.)
The whole restaurant storyline puzzles me, but I have to assume it’s going somewhere or else it would have been cut from the show. Well, I hope it’s going somewhere, anyway.
I fully agree about the owner’s comment. I loved it when he said, “You think I’d give my kids SYRUP?” with true disgust. Jamie’s reply was on point, too: “I’d like you to think of your customers like they’re your kids.”
But the storyline did trouble me. And I don’t know if it’s really the owner’s responsibility to treat his customers like his kids. I am very curious to see where it goes…
I was disturbed by the restaurant storyline. It shows the disconnect many in our country have between making money and doing what is right for humanity and our environment. It is the micro example of the macro problem that exist in our food industry. The company the burger joint uses for their meat probably did have real food when his father started the business but now has switched to filler meat product because it is cheaper. When industries change and no one is educated about the hows and whys, all of the sudden you are in a tough place as a small business owner… risk your business and families security or do the right thing.
So often, the conversation about the importance food, how really critical it is in so many ways, is between food professionals. Jamie is bringing it to the everyday eater, via everyday television. It’s kind of a double-edged sword, because reality TV brings with it a bucket of connotations that make everyone take it less seriously. I totally applaud what he’s doing, but I’m a little torn about how he’s doing it. Better than no attention at all, I guess…
Jill, that’s the thing that bugs me about so much of the criticism of the show: The people doing the critiquing are people like us, people who know food and food politics and school food in intimate ways. But we are not the people Jamie Oliver stands to affect the most.
The people who really need to hear his message don’t care about the nuances or how deeply he explores things like government bureaucracy. All they care about, in the moment, is that they’re learning something that can help them raise healthier families.
Here’s my take on Episode One of “Food Revolution” – http://www.thelunchtray.com/tlt-watch-party-episode-one-of-food-revolution/
I’d be curious to get your views, Christina, if you want to comment. (Or if you’re planning on posting about it here and just want to share a link on The Lunch Tray, that’s fine, too.)
Bettina, thanks, but I’m staying out of the fray for now (except in these comments). After a bit of time and reflection, I might have more to say, but I’m not going to do episode recaps. I’ll be reading yours with interest, though!
I’m also not a huge fan of his methods, but I think that the show is an important tool for educating the public. The unfortunate reality is that most Americans no longer learn about healthy cooking from their parents and most would be unwilling to watch a true documentary or read about the state of food in America, but they will tune into the drama of reality TV. This is one case in which the end does justify the means, I think. Also, I take less of an issue with his “attacks” on the school nutrition director instead of the USDA and Washington. It’s grassroots activism. He has a much batter chance of implementing long-lasting change from the bottom up than the top down. He needs to get the parents and the lunch ladies and the school nutrition directors revved up to take on Washington together; that will make a bigger impact than him doing so himself. And if schools stop serving (and buying) the crap food, then the distributors will take notice. Nothing is going to change if the schools are still willing to pay for the crappy “food.”
And on a side note, did you see this article about a Chicago school banning homemade lunches? http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/education/ct-met-school-lunch-restrictions-041120110410,0,4567867.story Supposedly, the principal did it to protect the kids from their parents’ poor nutritional choices, but considering the state of school lunches…
Amber, yes, definitely. Fighting Washington is a lot easier with an army of parents and other advocates on the ground. And if the show uses staging and stunts to raise awareness and rally those troops? Well that’s fine by me. I think you’re right about the end justifying the means.
The Chicago lunch ban: Oh boy, yes, I’ve been reading about that everywhere this week. I’m going to let things die down a bit, then tackle that and some related topics in another week or so. So stay tuned…
I love Jamie Oliver, and I really don’t like the show at all. It’s silly and overproduced and overly dramatic. BUT, I did watch and I did turn to my husband (who hates overproduced silly reality TV even more than I do) and said, “this may be ridiculous on so many levels, but he really does care about this. He really is an evangelist. He really DOES believe that we can make a difference.” And maybe in a business sense he’s realized that he can reach more people being produced by Ryan Seacrest and doing stunts with beef and sugar.
I think the fast-food storyline is off. It’s not that guy’s job to change how his customers eat. If people in general started getting a clear-eyed message that they shouldn’t eat crap, that good food can also be delicious and even fast and not bank-breaking, then restaurateurs would respond. But if that guy just changes his menu? He’ll lose his customers and go out of business, which is no good for him or his kids. Jamie’s asking him to be an evangelist, too, and that’s not fair. It IS fair to take the argument to the parents who can, en masse, influence the school board, for example.
I don’t think this restaurant owner should jeopardize his business or the livelihood of his family.
but it is time for profit making entities, restaurants and food manufacturers to start caring about the way the nourish the nation. why be in business to sell something to strangers that you wouldn’t feed to your kids? why market a product that makes it hard to a child to learn in a classroom. more food business should respect and support the health of our country especially our kids.
does this business owner think that there isn’t a growing number of people who want better fast food? maybe his current customers wouldn’t pay more for a hamburger and fries, but maybe there is a new crop of customers he could harvest if he started serving grass-fed burgers and smoothies with real fruit. i would take my family out for a meal like that, and I would pay 2-3x what it would cost me to eat at the average burger shack.
we are still a nation hooked on convenience, i think the new menu would sell to a different set of customers. let his “price is king, nutrients don’t matter” customers go get their gut bomb burgers down the street from a business owner who doesn’t give a hoot about his customer’s health.
Jenna, you’re right on so many levels. BUT. This guy, this one guy, this one restaurant owner whose whole life hinges on his family business, does not have the market research, the know-how, the financial resources, or any other necessary piece of the puzzle that would allow him to confidently take and absorb the potential consequences of that risk. It doesn’t scale. I wish I could say that things were different, but they’re not — and while J.O. can’t get in the door at the big boys like McD’s and Wendy’s, that’s really where things have to start. If THEY started substantially changing their menus and their food sourcing…then you’d have something. Because 1) they can take that risk, and do so with lots of knowledge, expertise, and money to back it up; and 2)if they did it successfully in any sense, then people would logically be saying to this small business owner and others like him, “Hey. I can get a grass-fed burger at McD’s. Why can’t I get one here?”
I agree about a new crop of customers, but that’s an AWFULLY big gamble for him to take. If he ADDED some of these things to his menu, he might be able to see what’s what. But asking him to totally change everything he knows from 50 years of business, just taking a leap of faith on (arguably very noble and worthy) principles…I think that’s awfully unfair for anyone to expect.
Great discussion, guys. If this were a more intellectual show, I might say that the restaurant storyline was a parable about the struggle between economic constraints and doing the right thing. But I think that’s giving it too much credit. Still, I keep thinking this has to be going somewhere. Why on earth would the owner have let Jamie in there if he didn’t intend to do anything different? Yes, the publicity, I get that. But that could be counterproductive if he comes off looking bad. So maybe we’re going to see something radical yet.