TV Review: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
By Monsieur Anton
Reality television has a well founded reputation for being exploitative. It is often the fast food of our culture, tasty and easy to consume, but with little to no substance and never really good for you. Jamie Oliver‘s Food Revolution is at least a step toward making the programming more relevant. Oliver would lead you to believe that this show has a mission, and that mission is a revolution, and it is, in as much as a television show about food can be.
Oliver has traveled all the way from his native England to the unhealthiest city in the United States, Huntington, West Virginia, to teach its residents how to eat properly. In doing so, it his hope that the alarming obesity levels of Huntington’s populace will go down, and with it the many associated health risks such as diabetes and heart disease. He bases most of his efforts on the children of Huntington, because as we all know, the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way! I guess it’s too late for the hefty adults. How about the concept of parents and teachers as role models? Should Oliver ignore people just because they’ve attained puberty?
In fact, Oliver likely focuses his attention on the youth because the grown ups are largely too entrenched in their ways, like the radio host who mockingly retorts to Jamie, “what do you expect us to do, just eat lettuce?” What Oliver would like them to do is to decrease the consumption of processed food, and dine on meals made from fresh ingredients, not an unreasonable task given the nutritional and culinary benefits.
To accomplish this goal, Oliver uses a three-pronged strategy. He attempts to revamp the grade school lunch programs, focus on one family as an example, and set up a kitchen in Huntington to demonstrate sensible nutritional cooking.
The kitchen so far takes up the least screen time, probably because it is the most mundane. As a focal point for the community, it is a valuable asset. As television, it is uneventful. It is more useful to pay more attention to the scenes that will tug on our collective heart-strings, and what could be more moving than an obese youngster facing impending diabetes. Some of the most touching scenes are when Oliver attempts to get the morbidly obese Edwards family which strikes a stunning resemblance to Eddie Murphy’s Crump family, to change their eating ways. Once the parents see that their food habits are leading their young son down the road to diabetes, well what parent wants to see their child sick? Will this be the motivation needed to force them to eat more healthy. Stay tuned.
The crux of the show’s focus, and Oliver’s as well is on the city’s school lunch program. Oliver asserts that we are raising a generation of fat kids through the institution that is supposed to be looking out for them, our schools. To this end Oliver goes to work in a grade school attempting to upgrade the nutritional, and flavor aspect of the food served to its students. Upon arrival, Oliver is appalled at the food being served to the young lads, with some glaring examples being chocolate milk, chicken nuggets and god forbid pizza for breakfast. Now any fool knows that you shouldn’t eat pizza for breakfast until you’re old enough to use it as a hangover cure after an evening out during your college days, unless it’s one of these pizzas.
Oliver runs into some not unexpected obstacles in his efforts to feed proper food to the kids. There are the skeptical uncooperative “lunch ladies,” the school administration, and most of all the kids who have been brought up to expect pizza and processed food in the cafeteria. The hurdles Oliver faces are further complicated by the bureaucracy of the school lunch program that among other things places certain restrictions on a bogus nutritional system, and most of all cost. Here is where I’m going to get political on you, and ruffle some feathers along the way, something Oliver seems hesitant to do in this instance.
As a nation we have just gone through a drawn out, heated and divisive health care debate. Sadly, the school lunch program was not a part of the health care bill that passed. Michelle Obama has laudably made childhood obesity her signature issue, but even with her passion she didn’t get her husband to address the problem in the health care bill. Well meaning people like Jamie Oliver can try all they want to emphasize better food for children, but the reality is that better food costs more money. As a nation we have to place a value on the health of our children, and in doing so their future health as adults. Can you really put a price tag on the well being of your boys and girls? In my mind this is not a financial issue, it is a moral one. Nutritional meals in our schools come at a price, one that we cannot afford to not pay.
Jamie Oliver who has been dubbed “The Naked Chef” in his native Great Britain clearly has his heart in the right place. He has fought this fight before in his home country, and has had some positive results, but can he be successful on this side of the pond?
One thing Oliver needs to be careful of is to not be too preachy. It is clear that cares deeply about the subject, and who can blame him? But like the cranky radio host we spoke of, none of us like to be preached to, especially from a foreigner. Not only that, but it doesn’t make for good TV. Americans don’t like to be told what to do. The good news is that we have shown a proclivity to be brain washed by the boob tube. If the mild mannered Brit can entertain us while he informs us, he may have a fighting chance. In the meantime what we have is a rare instance of a reality show that is not exploitative, and has its heart in the right place, and that is to be applauded.
You can read more about Jamie Oliver’s attempts to improve nutrition in American schools and the nation as a whole at his website. While there you can also sign his online petition stressing the need for better nutritional standards in our nation’s schools.
Chef Gusteau says: I totally agree with the mission, or at least the intended mission, of this concept show. I also understand that in a selfish way, this is great publicity for Oliver to add to his culinary empire. Why so cynical Gusteau? If you really wanted to succeed in this pursuit, here are some critical points that should have been noted:
- Partner with a knowledgeable and influential chef WITHIN the United States you Donkey! Do you really think you won’t experience a little backlash when you come from overseas and begin telling people in West Virginia how unhealthy, lazy and obese they are? Come on, you could have the cure for cancer, and if you don’t approach it the right way, you blow the whole mission! Doesn’t he understand that this is NOT a new topic in the US? Many chefs and nutritionists are fighting this same battle and have been for some time. Coming here with a “Now here is how you do it” attitude isn’t helping anyone.
- Understand the local politics and economy. Hate to say it, Jamie, but this is as much a political/economic issue as it is a health one. Not to say that this is justified…it’s just the way it is right now. Schools are under very serious budgetary constraints. Sure, fresh foods and vegetables would be great, but they tend to cost more. Additionally, you need more skilled cooks in the kitchen to work with raw foods. Anyone can grab processed foods, toss them in the microwave and get them to the kids…these types of workers are of a much lower cost than experienced cooks that need to clean and cook raw foods for kids. Whether or not fresh, healthy foods are better for the kids is not the main issue. School budgets don’t have room for more experienced staff or better ingredients. This is a fact right now…once again, I don’t disagree with the objectives; I just understand that it takes more than Jamie is portraying.
- Although focusing on school lunch programs is important, I believe that the bigger issue might be the food provided in children’s homes. Think about it…kids like the cheap pizza and chicken fingers at school, so it makes sense for the school to serve these foods. If the kids instead preferred chicken, salmon, brown rice and healthy soups, then schools would eventually have to alter their menus to meet this demand. The question is, do kids eat like this at home? Mine do, and it isn’t that difficult. Does it take a little more time and money preparing these foods for your children? Absolutely, but isn’t this worth it? So a bigger, more pointed mission would be educating parents in how to prepare better foods at home in an economical fashion (both time and money). Jamie does spend some time on this, but it needed even more emphasis. Gusteau sounds crazy? Not really…I actually offer cooking classes at my sons’ school for parents, teachers and their kids, to prepare better foods at home. I may not have the global reach as Oliver, but I wonder if my success percentage might be slightly higher…
To the very least, Jamie Oliver is bringing more attention to this important topic. But the solution will come from within the US, and from US families/parents. We need to want to change, and practice the proper habits at home first, and then drive the forces at work (schools/government) to meet this new demand. The biggest challenge is no one believes that we want to change. Sound crazy? Not really…go grocery shopping or to farmers markets and look at the crowds…then watch the lines outside a McDonalds, Chipotle, Taco Bell, etc. In one fist we pound the tables demanding change, and in the other we have a handful of greasy fries.