Why Jamie Oliver’s new show matters
(even if you’re not a food snob)
“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” series premieres on ABC with a sneak preview tonight*, and already the criticism has begun.
To wit: Jamie Oliver is a food snob. He’s a rich food snob. And, did you know, he’s British?
Who the hell cares?
Yes, he’s a celebrity chef. He’s pretty and charismatic and he likes grand gestures. But he’s also in possession of some astonishing facts, namely that — because of the way they eat — our kids are on track to have a shorter lifespan than we do (original study here). He’s credited with overhauling British school food. And if you can watch his TED speech without choking up, well, I’m not sure we could be friends.
Huntington, W.Va., where the show takes place, may have been dubbed the unhealthiest city in America (from a 2006 CDC study), but it isn’t all that different from where the rest of us live. We’re all subject to a food system where government-subsidized manufacturers churn out overprocessed, chemicalized food in the name of profit — food that is so unhealthy as to be dangerous. Where schools treat children like mindless eating machines who aren’t worthy of real food. And where low-income communities and neighborhoods face limited access to healthful food. It’s shameful.
This may be a Hollywood reality show with its attendant pomp and slick editing, but this is our reality, people.
One of the more thoughtful critiques, from Newsweek, explores how the good-food battle is rooted in classism. From personal experience helping to advise an urban farmers’ market, I know there’s some truth in that. And if you’ve ever watched the school food-reform movie “Two Angry Moms,” you’ve seen that one of the biggest barriers to change is parents who view criticism of school food as criticism of themselves (since they may not eat any better at home). Plenty of people think we high-minded food folks ought to butt out and let everyone eat what they want.
Another piece, from the Washington Post, takes an even harsher stance. Here’s staff writer Hank Stuever: “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of trying to get the nation to eat right. It’s tempting to just let folks keel over in a puddle of kountry gravy if they like, dead from clogged arteries or scurvy (or both).”
But really? We should bow to the status quo just because change is hard? We should shut up because we don’t know everything there is to know about nutrition, even if a lot of what we do know is indisputably hurting our children’s health? We should be so wary of insulting culture and tradition that we don’t say anything when what we have to say might help people? Really?
For their part, the Huntington residents profiled in the show don’t seem to think they come off as rubes (two takes: the local Herald-Dispatch newspaper and a local news website). Even Rod Willis, the lettuce-mocking radio host who tweaks Oliver on the show, has calmed down.
As Willis tells the Herald-Dispatch: “I had to do research to find out who the hell (Oliver) was and I didn’t like him acting like ‘I’m some big famous chef and you have to listen to me.’ I was thinking why couldn’t they send us Paula Deen,” Willis says.
“After he was here for a while I was OK with it. Once you learn something you can’t unlearn it. If eating healthier makes you feel better about yourself and gives you more energy, obviously you want to help yourself and make yourself feel better.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. What are your thoughts? Are you planning to watch the show? And if you’re reading this after the fact, what did you think?
* “Episode 101” premieres on ABC on Sunday, March 21, at 10 p.m. ET. That episode will repeat on Friday, March 26, at 8 p.m. ET, followed by “Episode 102” at 9 p.m. ET. The series runs for six episodes.
Great follow-up to a great show Chris. I was pretty irritated with Rod Willis. I’m glad to hear that he’s lightened up. How could he not have? You can’t deny study results like Huntington’s. Now I wanna see the lunch ladies get on board! Especially Alice.
When you talk about the unhealthiness of school lunches, there is more to it that what the kids are eating. At Central City Elementary, they have a full-service kitchen. Whether it’s chicken nuggets and potatoe pearls or fresh-baked chicken and rice, they have the ability to cook the food and serve it. There are many schools across the country that don’t have that.
In the RCSD, the elementary schools don’t have full-service kitchens like that. My school has warming ovens and a couple of huge refrigerators and a freezer. We also have a milk cooler. So here’s how food works……
All the breakfast food for all of the elementary schools starts off in Central Kitchen. If it has to be cooked, it is cooked there then delivered tot he schools and put in the ovens to be kept warm until the kids come in. If does not have to be cooked, then it is put in the fridge until they arrive.
Central Kitchen also cooks all of the lunches for all of the elementary schools in the morning. Then they are delivered to the schools where they are put in the fridges. About 30 minutes before lunches start getting served, the food is PUT BACK IN THE OVEN to be cooked again!
IF there were any vegetables for lunch, there is no hope of any nutrients being left in them.
Food is packed in oven-proof plastic trays and wraps. Hot lunches are cooked both times in these plastics, which is a whole other issue in itself.
Here’s a typical breakfast: 1 mozzerella cheese stick, 2 grahm cracker squares, milk, an apple. Most of my kids will eat their apple. But a cheese stick and 2 grahm cracker squares? Other breakfast options have been cereal, a muffin, a bagel, which incidently have been found to be moldy more than a few times. Imagine my disgust when a student said, “Ms Ferris, what is this green stuff on my bagel?” And he wan’t the only kid who had moldy food.
This was Friday’s lunch: 1 hamburger bun, 4 “meat”balls in some sort of cheesey tomato sauce, milk. No fruit. No veggies.
This is what my school district feed the kids. I have 24 kids in my class. 13 of them are over-weight. I have 1 child who sits at her desk and weezes. We have about 30 students in the school K-6. There are at least 2 dozen who are morbidly obese. There is one young, young child who is so obese that she can not bend her arms or legs. I have never seen her in anything other than sweats or stretch pants. She limps when she walks.
Need I say more?
Wow, Angie, thanks for sharing this. I was struck, too, by that kitchen last night, because you’re right — a lot of schools are equipped to reheat, not cook. I seem to recall reading something about how, during Oliver’s crusade in British schools, they had to obtain funding to outfit the kitchens with actual cooking appliances. That says something, no?
That little girl in your school breaks my heart. I felt the same way watching the family last night with the three boys and young daughter. I really hope that mom is able to make some changes.
Last year I heard Mark Bittman speak about his work with a similar family, and he said it was the youngest child who was the most receptive to what he had to say, and the most willing to try new foods. That goes against the prevailing stereotype that kids will eat only junk, but it’s been my experience as well.
Well i am totally rooting for Jamie! Go Jamie Go! i’d like to know what he did exactly for British Schools and what the results were. It seems like such a TOTAL no brainer that if you eat better, live better, exercise more and generally take good care of your body, then your body will take care of you and the rest of us schmucks won’t have to! That is the thing that I really hope comes out. Just how much money will be saved in health care costs in the long run when people aren’t fat. These bastards in the board rooms want to pump junk into our kids, into our poor, and illiterate so they can line their pockets now and the American tax payer will pay for it later. In the emergency rooms, in the ICU wards, in the dialysis rooms. We will pay and pay and pay. If we don’t act now, our children will not be healthy or smart or able to do anything close to what their potential is. I hope this program succeeds in lighting a fire under our asses, and the asses of those we put into office to do something meaningful about changing these asinine FDA guidelines that do nothing to support a healthy lifestyle. I’d like to take that food pyramid and shove it up one of their fat you-know-whats!
And that is how i feel about that! And that is the reason my daughter RARELY eats school lunch.
Keep up the good work Chris!!! Love the blog! You Go Sista!!!
I will never look at the food pyramid the same way again.
This is by no means definitive (and no, I do not believe Wikipedia is a primary source), but if you want more info on what Oliver did in the British schools, here are two places to start:
I love your new blog!! When I have a few minutes I love to read your new entries! Ha Ha I love the smoothie story, been there! Mike and I sat and watched that show the other night also, ugh, the things the schools will feed our kids is outrageous! Allie and Emma make it a habit to look at the menu online in the morning and decide to buy or pack each day, Allie has even said that there are days the food is unrecognizable! YUCK!! At least our school does offer salad everyday, so they choose that when time is to tight to pack and lunch is less than desirable. I would love to say that we are as good about good for you food as you, but we are definitely more conscious about what is going in to our bodies.
Anyway. just thought I would let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog 🙂
Nell, so great to see you here. Allie and Emma sound like they’re on the right track, so you guys should be proud. That awareness is such a huge thing!
This topic scares me. I watched Jamie’s TED talk after having just read “In Defense if Food” and it frankly got me all riled up. I’m trained as a chef and am now a stay at home mother who has watched her kid eat almost anything that we put in front of her. This is the link from my own rant (http://www.ideasuite.com/~shona/weblog/?p=265) about it because it is too long to post here. We definitely are on the good food bandwagon and yes since I stay at home I have more time then most parents to cook good food from scratch, but I argue that even when I was working I would cook on the weekends and eat leftovers during the week. Not only do we need to teach kids what fruits and veggies are and why they should eat them but we have to educate kids and parents alike about how to cook them. It’s all well and good if you buy fresh foods but if you get home with them and have no idea what to do then you might as well have left them at the store. Thank you for this wonderful blog!
I think it’s good that we’re scared, you know? Because that kind of passion is what makes people take a stand and do something. Sure a show like this is going for shock value, but so what? It *is* shocking what passes for food these days. So glad you’re part of the discussion.