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?


Leora said...

Graham, I haven't seen the show, but I've heard much about it, and I love the idea that people are finally talking about nutrition.

"people seem to have become very emotional about it" - yes, food does have this huge emotional component. Even friends that know that changing their diets would help their health are very resistant. I feel fortunate that I love vegetables.

Graham said...

We're big veggie eaters too, Leora. In fact my daughter eats very little meat.

I was making my daughter a sandwich the other day, and we were talking about going to a vegetarian restaurant. That led to talk about what a vegetarian was. My daughter said "I'm a vegetarian too." The sandwich I was making for her (that she had asked for): Salami and chicken breast!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of Jamie Oliver but I love the concept. So excited to be planting my little garden this weekend. I tried to compost over the winter but my dogs dug up the veggie peelings and ate them!


Graham said...

@Carriebga - good luck with your planting! It sounds like you need a "proper" compost bin. I like the "layering" concept of adding compostable material in layers when preparing a bed (Patricia Lanza is a pioneer of this "Lasagna Gardening" technique), but if you have digging doggies, perhaps this technique is not for you!

Can you put your finger on what you don't like about Jamie Oliver?

Anonymous said...

I don't know...maybe it's the hair. But he was funny in last night's episode when he got pulled over by the cop! I'm amazed that the school can't find a sponsor or money to feed the kids nutritious meals though. I would think that would be as high a priority as education. That's Jamie's mission though, isn't it!


Graham said...

@Carriebga - I think the great irony is that the major hurdle by the end of the show was the USDA - the very body that is meant to be looking after our nutritional needs. Seems that they're looking after food-processing companies instead.

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