Monday, April 19, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Our family has been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on ABC. As he has done in his British shows, Oliver gave himself a mission to get people cooking and eating healthily. In this show, produced by Ryan Seacrest and Oliver, Jamie headed to Huntington, West Virginia, one of the most unhealthy places in the US, according to a recent report.

He took a multi-pronged approach to the task of getting Huntington to start eating healthily. He took over the kitchens in two schools. In an elementary school, he started by observing what the kids were being fed: pizza (for breakfast and lunch!), french fries, chicken nuggets, and so on. Changing the menu, he was met with considerable resistance by the cook in charge of the kitchen, although other cooks were more supportive. He also got out into the classrooms, and was horrified that the children couldn't identify even the most common vegetables. A second visit yielded much better results, after a teacher took it upon herself to teach the kids about vegetables. One revealing segment showed Jamie in front of a group of children, cutting off and discarding the "good bits" of a chicken, then throwing the leftover carcass into a blender, before grinding it down and forming and cooking chicken nuggets with it. In Britain, kids had been disgusted; here, the kids, pulled faces while the preparation was taking place, but were quite happy to eat the resulting nuggets.

In a high school, he took a different approach, getting a group of students to work with him. One girl had lost her Stepfather to obesity-related heart disease. Another girl had had been told that she might not live more than seven years, unless she radically changed her diet. One boy had anger-management issues and had been in trouble a lot. Jamie and the kids took over a local restaurant for an evening, and invited the kids' parents and various local dignitaries. They thought Oliver would be cooking, but he had taught the children, and they cooked. He brought the kids out at the end of the evening to let them tell their own stories. Jamie also took over the high school kitchen, where he met with some challenges due to the USDA guidelines for school meals. While his stir-fried noodle dish containing seven vegetables did not meet the requirements, a chicken patty in a bun with french fries, and the option of a salad (the kids were steadfastly ignoring that option) did so easily. Oliver argued that the guidelines encourage the use of processed rather than healthy food for kids.

Jamie has also been working with individuals and families, teaching them to cook simple, nutritious meals from fresh ingredients. He set up a store, "Jamie's Kitchen" where the public could get free cooking lessons. A local radio DJ who started off as a very vocal opponent of Oliver, was gradually won over. Jamie bet the DJ he could get a thousand people through his kitchen learning to cook during the course of one week. The DJ was the thousandth and lost the bet.

Although the show seems a little more scripted, and more manipulative than the British equivalents, people seem to have become very emotional about it, and there has been quite a lot of discussion on Twitter, Facebook and various blogs. Will it succeed in its goal? I think that if it makes a few people want to do something about their unhealthy lifestyle, it will have helped.

Have you seen the show? What do you think?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Healthcare Reform, Lively Debate and The Third Place

On Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010, President Obama signed the Healthcare Reform Bill into law. A lot has happened since. Republicans have been very negative about it and have said that they plan to get the bill repealed and replaced. Some have suggested it might be unconstitutional. A large group of ultra-conservatives calling themselves the Tea Party Movement have protested against Healthcare Reform, calling it socialism. And, most worryingly, there has been an extremist fringe who have engaged in violent acts, threats of violence, vandalism and even gunfire.

Many people have been surprised at how quickly this behavior has spread. On my Facebook page, myself and some of my friends were talking about it and why it might have happened. It certainly appears to be true that the popular media has been whipping these people up into a frenzy. A recent video clip from the Rachel Maddow Show reports how the Republican Party themselves seem to have encouraged dissent, and how they would not stand with the Democrats to denounce even the most extreme acts of this nature.

I think part of the problem is that many of us are reluctant to talk about politics face-to-face with others. I can understand people not wanting to offend their friends, but I think we should try to overcome this hesitation. I think it is important to remember that you can nearly always find common-ground with the people you are talking with. If, for example, you're in a bar talking with someone whose political beliefs are the opposite of yours, the chances are that at least you like the same bar - that's common-ground! Of course, we should avoid personal attacks. One friend of mine, Asha Hawkesworth, said, "I think it's helpful to see where others are coming from. I know many, many conservative people, and I do understand why they feel the way they do. I don't always agree, though sometimes I do, but whether I do or not, I can see why they feel the way they do. This allows me to have compassion and respect for their point of view, which is also crucial for any reasoned discourse." Another friend, Susan Jones, says, "I'm working on the art of asking questions that prompt the other person to have to do more than recite propaganda."

Another reason why we seem to be losing the ability to engage in lively debate about politics is the decline in what has been referred to as the Third Place (the first place being home, the second, work). I'm referring to bars, coffee-shops and places of that nature. Some may think that Social Media sites such as Facebook or Twitter can replace the "Third Place." While one can always find a group of people on-line who feel the same way as you (which can often be an advantage), its rarefied atmosphere can also become a breeding-ground for lunacy. If you were sitting in a bar with an average group of people, you would probably very quickly get a strong feeling whether your thoughts were reasonable or not.

The danger of us not talking to each other about politics is that it opens us up to manipulation by the media and politicians. Many people seem to be content with getting their politics spoon-fed to them. If we don't make the effort to be informed and to discuss these matters with others, we risk being walked over by the politicians.

I do, of course welcome lively debate here, via the comments section.