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David Ross

Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" 2010

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Yesterday afternoon I happened to catch the Oprah show and Jamie Oliver was the guest. The topic was Jamie's new show, "Food Revolution," which debuted on ABC last night. The opening segment focused on the residents of Huntington, West Virginia, and Jamie's campaign to raise the nutrititional standards in the schools and homes in town.

Now I didn't see Jamie's show last night so I'm not yet able to comment on the first episode, but I think the overall topic and the issues of this “Food Revolution,” and Oprah's introduction of it are worthy of discussion.

Regardless of whether one is a celebrity, well-known chef, community activist, or simply someone caring for their family, I am a champion of anyone who works to improve the standards for what is served in our schools, restaurants and homes. But two issues came to mind as I watched Jamie and Ryan Seacrest, (producer of “Food Revolution), discuss how they were received by the residents of Huntington when they arrived in town.

Jamie mentioned that he initially had a hard time overcoming the view that he was a foreigner, a celebrity as it were, trying to force his ethics on their town purely for the entertainmet value and for his own profits. I've followed Jamie's work with schoolchildren in the U.K. through segments that have aired on BBC America and I find his efforts pretty admirable, but I can also see how the image that he's crafted could be a turn-off to residents of a town in West Virginia.

While I understood Oprah's point when she said that Jamie's motivation wasn't to make money, (and I agree, I don't necessarily believe that is his main motivation), am I off when I thought it was disingenuous of Oprah to suggest that producing a major show on ABC doesn't generate profits for the producer and Jamie? Did they have an obligation to the audience to let us know that the motivation is to help us change the way we look at food and the way we eat but in the end, they also profit? Should we assume they profit through those efforts or does it even matter?

They previewed a segment from “Food Revolution” showing a Mother of four and the groaning table of deep-fried junk, fast-food she was shoveling into her family. As Oprah mentioned, “everything was golden,” there was “nothing green on the plate.” When Jamie asked about vegetables the Mom said something like “no we don’t eat them.” Now isn’t that sad. Sad that we’ve gotten away from good food, from cooking and from eating right. Sad that we need television to tell us that.

I had a quiet little chuckle about this new effort being called a “Food Revolution,” and I thought about two people and what they would think about Jamie’s “Food Revolution.”

My Grandfather, Ralph Pink would rail against pork being called “the other white meat.” He’d be aghast that there was no longer a local butcher in town where he could go and buy a pork loin roast with a thick layer of fat. He would hate a supermarket "lean" pork roast that didn't deliver a juicy roast to the table with a ring of crackling fat on the outside. Ralph Pink’s “Food Revolution” would be against today’s pork.

My Mother, Janet Ross, will only serve asparagus in the spring and it will only be asparagus from Walla Walla, Washington. It is local and it only comes out of the ground one hand-cut spear at a time--in spring. Mother didn’t know what the word “seasonal” was in 1952 when she got married and first served asparagus for Easter dinner so she only served it once a year when it was fresh and at the peak of flavor. The tradition continues today. Mother’s “Food Revolution,” would be against imported asparagus in October.

Yes, Jamie, Grandfather Pink and my Mother would certainly agree with you that America has lost it’s way and I guess some need a “Food Revolution” to bring them back. But really, some of us, a few I suppose, never lost our way and we’ve been farming, eating and cooking the same way, the right way, all along.

So did you watch "Food Revolution" and do you think it will change the way America eats?

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I saw some sort of preview for this last week, then forgot to set the TiVo to record the series. I need to see if it will re-air on ABC. Otherwise, I'll get it on line from ABC or Hulu or iTunes or something like that.

The issue is certainly an important one. And I think no matter where he went, locals might have viewed the whole thing with skepticism. I hope this isn't done like "Kitchen Nightmares". That wouldn't be really fair. If it was, then they would be right. It would be all for pure "shock" and entertainment value.

I'll try to get around to watching this soon and set the TiVo so I can keep watching it.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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This program is on Hulu already, both of the shows that have been aired so far. Myself, I think it is an interesting show and am looking forward to seeing what comes of it in the future.

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I am watching this. It's an issue I care a lot about - not the "children" issue specifically, but overall.

The producers have used the cultural issue (British chef) to create friction and tension in the series, which is unfortunate. Jaime seems like the opposite of the cartoon of the snotty Englishman, but they've set him up to be seen that way.

The ignorance of the people in the town, while I"m sure also overblown for effect, is astounding.

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I am watching this. It's an issue I care a lot about - not the "children" issue specifically, but overall.

The producers have used the cultural issue (British chef) to create friction and tension in the series, which is unfortunate. Jaime seems like the opposite of the cartoon of the snotty Englishman, but they've set him up to be seen that way.

The ignorance of the people in the town, while I"m sure also overblown for effect, is astounding.

I'm glad you brought up those two issues. The DJ that was featured in the Huntington episode focused on the British/celebrity-chef element and the producer's seized on the issue. That's the aspect of a show like this that I often find distasteful so to speak but I applaud Jaime's efforts in ultimately turning the guy around to realize why eating right will extend his life.

I've followed a lot of Jaime's career and cooking and I've found he's brought a refreshing personality to food and cooking to America. I think he fits a young demographic where he can relate to an audience that might need help in understanding simple ways to appreciate food and cook more healthy without forsaking flavor.

In the episode played back this morning, I thought that burying the family's deep-fat fryer in the yard was a bit over the top, but it is television and yes, it is astounding to find people who in this day and time eat the that way some do--all fried food all the time with nary a fresh banana or peach in the house. On the other hand, I hope that "Food Revolution" doesn't cross the line and portray a sense that everyone in America is this abusive in terms of their eating and cooking habits. It's a fine line between "entertainment" and truly putting forth an effort to help people. I'm behind Jaime and I hope he's successful.

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I could only watch the last part of it, and am in agreement with you all on some of it being 'entertainment': the pouring of the chocolate milk and sloppy joes with all kids screaming was a little over the top for me. Was appalled at the lunch lady that didn't want to get out forks for the kids, how sad they only eat with spoons. And to think some of the kids had to be taught to use a knife. What the heck are the parents serving night after night? Obviously the need for a show and school program like this are needed. I too hope it does well.


Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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I don't think we need worry that he is portraying all of America as abusive in terms of their cooking and eating habits. In schools all across America this is exactly the kind of food that is being served. Also, the point is made that our government declared this town the most unhealthy in America. Jamie Oliver didn't create this particular situation, we did. I don't think there is any question that the network and he will make some money while doing this show. Michael Pollan made money on his books and also performed a great service to all that would listen to him. I'm going to look at this as a part of a new (albeit slow moving) movement to get America to pay attention to the statistic that claims that this generation of kids are not going to live as long as their parents. I can tell you that because my kids ate only whole foods without preservatives, even when they were envying their Wonder bread eating friends, they continued a healthy lifestyle and my granddaughter eats remarkably better than her classmates. If he gets these parents to start giving some thought to what they're feeding their kids, they'll carry on that practice. He can make all the money he wants if he gets even some of America to eat better.

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It will be interesting to see Jaime meet the challenge of parents who seem to think that fast-food not only tastes good but is cheaper and more convenient. It might be cheaper and more convenient in the moment, but I don't suppose it is when you end up paying more in the end for visits to the doctor for the associated health care issues that come from years of eating a poor diet.

Of course, that can be like telling someone who eats off paper plates every night that serving dinner on real plates enhances the experience and pleasure of a meal. You can't win over everybody.

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I was also watching it this past week. It was disgusting to see the food served at school and the eating habits of the kids. Granted, some of this may be due to editing, but I found the attitude of the school cooks despicable. When asked if they recognize the ingredients, one responded, the first ingredient is chicken... and what about the other 20+ ingredients?

The big question remains... how do we roll out changes in the schools our children go to? Some ideas...

Ask chefs at local restaurants to help with recipes and educate students about food, cooking and eating.

Give schools a larger budget for food purchased from farms in the state.

Dan


"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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I was also watching it this past week. It was disgusting to see the food served at school and the eating habits of the kids. Granted, some of this may be due to editing, but I found the attitude of the school cooks despicable. When asked if they recognize the ingredients, one responded, the first ingredient is chicken... and what about the other 20+ ingredients?

The big question remains... how do we roll out changes in the schools our children go to? Some ideas...

Ask chefs at local restaurants to help with recipes and educate students about food, cooking and eating.

Give schools a larger budget for food purchased from farms in the state.

Dan

Those are excellent ideas and would certainly educate kids on how our foods are grown and go from the farm to the table.

Jaime's show reminded me of when I was in school in the 60's and each of our schools had their own cafeteria with real cooks who actually baked the breads, cakes and pies fresh each day. The meats and fish were all prepared right there and weren't prepped and flash frozen in another state then shipped in. We had fresh peach cobblers when the peaches in Oregon came into season each fall and fresh strawberry shortcake each June when those berries came into season. Our head cook, Mrs. Fox, was best-known for her cinnamon rolls. Now this was of course in the days before shopping mall Cinnabons.

Somewhere along the way school budgets couldn't support individual kitchens and cooks, so they disposed of the expense and now most of the cafeterias in our school district don't operate the old-fashioned way. The food is shipped in from central warehouses and the food is either frozen or prepared and all that is done locally is to reheat it, steam it or fry it and put it on the line for service. It really isn't fresh like it used to be when I was a kid, but then again, the budget constraints are a lot different today.

I hope that "Food Revolution" is more than a one-season wonder and can take this discussion further. There has to be a better answer for kids.

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I was also watching it this past week. It was disgusting to see the food served at school and the eating habits of the kids. Granted, some of this may be due to editing, but I found the attitude of the school cooks despicable. When asked if they recognize the ingredients, one responded, the first ingredient is chicken... and what about the other 20+ ingredients?

I've only watched the preview ep from last week so far, but I was bothered by this too. The school cooks really resented Jamie coming in and criticizing what they were serving, and honestly didn't see what was wrong with it. I think their problem is that they trust that the food industry is providing a good product and that the USDA has the kids and their best interests at heart in the guidelines, when in reality it's all more about politics and profit than health. I know far too many people who rely on processed foods and think they're eating healthy because the package says so.

When Jamie tried to serve his chicken with rice, wasn't he told that the USDA guidelines specified that there had to be 2 servings of bread? Why on earth? I could see if it possibly said 2 servings of grains, but the principal was reading the guidelines and it said "bread" and the rice didn't count. Plus the quantity of food on those trays – I don't have kids but have friends with kids that age and there's no way they could consume the amount of food that's being dished out – it's no wonder they're picking and choosing their favourite bits (chicken nuggets) and the rest is going in the trash.

I too hate the reality show drama that we're going to see, but I really hope Jamie is somewhat successful in this campaign. The entire food industry needs an overhaul (don't get me started on subsidies and the "food pyramid"), but I don't see that happening as long as people are buying what they're selling.

Personally, I'm not sure I would have learned to cook at all if not for a home ec class in 9th grade. My mom cooks because she has to, not because she enjoys it, and she's always been big on cooking shortcuts – I'm sure she would love Sandra Lee – but as it wasn't something she enjoyed, she just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible and having a kid underfoot wouldn't help. I'd love to say that cooking classes need to be reintroduced in schools, but I'm sure they'd be governed by the same guidelines and budgetary constraints, and the classes would end up being sponsored by Campbells or Kraft and the kids would just learn how to cook all those lovely Campbells soup casseroles that my mom was so fond of. I think Jamie's got the right idea with this sort of grassroots campaign. Not everyone's opinions will be swayed, but hopefully enough for it to be passed on.

How successful were his campaigns in the UK?


I'm gonna go bake something…

wanna come with?

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The chicken nugget example was disgusting (fowl?) -- for not only what is was, but because the kids didn't care one bit.

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I don't blame the schools or the lunch ladies - if children had any foundation in real food, they would be able to identify basic vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes. Clearly the schools 'get away with' what they do because there is an utter vaccuum of knowledge about whole foods on the part of the majority of adults.

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I was appalled that the kids couldn't even identify basic vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes (but knew what ketchup was – duh). As I stated upthread, my mom was always a big fan of shortcut cooking when we were kids, however, she also made a lot of basic meat + potatoes + vegetable meals. A lot of times those vegetabes were just Green Giant Frozen Medley, but we also got fresh vegetables and I knew where they came from. I could go into a garden and identify and happily raid the peas and baby carrots. :rolleyes:

However, I can identify somewhat. Yes, we got fresh vegetables, but they were limited to the basics. We got potatoes, carrots, peas, & tomatoes. At Christmas dinner we usually got cauliflower and brussel sprouts too. But that's pretty much it. I distinctly remember a time after I'd moved out on my own, wanting to get a little adventurous with my cooking and going to the grocery store to get zucchini for a new recipe, but not finding it because I didn't know what it looked like. I ended up buying an illustrated encyclopedia of food (which I still have to this day – awesome resource!), just so I could identify these things in the store.

But this brings home the fact that while I may not have gotten a great variety of vegetables at home, these kids must not be getting any.


I'm gonna go bake something…

wanna come with?

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While Huntingdon, WV, the "Unhealthiest City in America" is the focus of this program, the problem is utterly pervasive in every city, town and village in the country. There are few places where the choices of institutional foods even barely graze that which is healthy or diverse. I've seen horrible choices even in a hospital cafeteria when I'm there for a doctor's appointment. I'm reminded of the Reagan administration labelling ketchup as a vegetable! As if. Combine that with overburdened two-income (because they HAVE to be) families with time constraints and it's a recipe for disaster in terms of balanced meal planning and proper nutrition. Getting soda machines out of the schools is a good first step, and I truly believe that Jamie's heart is in the right place in following up on that. The very idea that this generation of children will live shorter lives than their parents even in the face of much advanced medical care and treatment is a condemnation of the status quo. Someone has to be the first to sound the trumpets. Even if it's a foreign chef with suspect motives. But I believe he's right and deserves to be heard and more importantly, his advice to be followed.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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but I found the attitude of the school cooks despicable. When asked if they recognize the ingredients, one responded, the first ingredient is chicken... and what about the other 20+ ingredients?

To be fair, it's the first ingredient on this list that counts for the most. Sure, many of the following ingredients may have scary names but they're present in largely trace amounts in the food and are often unfairly demonized. People have the mistaken assumption that "from scratch" = healthy but it's very easy to make something equally if not more unhealthy from scratch.

The chicken nuggets were made from real, actual, white meat chicken, unlike the awful nuggets that Jamie faced in his British television show. He acknowledged this as a brief aside during his mechanically separated chicken demonstration but I thought it was slightly disingenuous as the disclaimer was easy to miss.

That being said, I think the show is absolutely amazing and bringing an important focus on the problems with the food industry in a real visceral way. That it's on ABC is huge. The foodie elite have known about this issue since forever but all the Michael Pollan's of the world can't replace the visceral impact of what Jamie is doing on television. I wish him all the luck in the world!


PS: I am a guy.

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I'm nearing retirement and I've wondered what I should do with my spare time when I have no job to go to. I've watched some of the young women at my office who are at the lower end of the pay scale either eating garbage from the vending machines or constantly coming back with greasy hamburgers to mindlessly swallow in the remaining 10 minutes of their lunch hour. When I've had friendly conversation with them about food, I find out that this is the way they also feed their children. They tell me they have no time to fix dinner. I've begun to think that what I should do with those retirement days is have classes that are based on that "I have no time" theory. Here's how it works. I start making tacos (with good ingredients bought from my saturday shopping) and they get in their car and run to the taco fast food restaurant. I keep the kids with me and I involve them in the prep in some appropriate manner and we talk about the food, their day, whatever. By the time she gets back from the taco place, I will have the tacos made and we'll be ready to eat. With the extra money they save, my husband can show them the advantages of putting that money into their 401K that they all tell me that can't do because they have no extra money! Now I understand that this might not work for every meal because of schedules, etc. but at least it's a start and hopefully, gets them wondering if there isn't something else they can do to make eating better and often times cheaper. Of course, the biggest challenge for some of these moms is that their kids think they know what a taco, burger, chicken nugget should taste like and the real deal is a far cry from that. Luckily for me, I never introduced my kids to that food and by the time they could try it on their own, they thought it was disgusting.

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I've even used that "no time" excuse myself when I've been working long hours. But it really doesn't take much time to throw something together. As annoying as I find Rachael Ray, I love the message of her 30-Minute Meals show – that yes you can cook real food in a really short amount of time.


I'm gonna go bake something…

wanna come with?

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While I think they project him like an idiot, I mean the crying was over the top I do believe he has honest motives.

That just seems to be his thing, the "15" restaurants run as a charity and even if he makes money from this let it be. He is using his status well in my opinion. Compare him to Rachel or Martha. And lets not get started with Alice Waters who has the same message yet doesn't manage to get onto major television.

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Jaime should post himself at a checkout stand at any Walmart Supercenter in America and see what some people stuff into their shopping carts. That would make for an interesting episode.

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I liked both shows. It was shocking to see 6-year children not recognize any fresh fruit or vegetables and not to be able to use a knife. It was still even more shocking to see the chicken experiment. Even when they saw the fresh pieces that were good to eat, and they saw the chicken carcass being whirled around to gook. As soon as stabilizers were added and they were shaped into nuggets and bread-crumbed to fry, all of them wanted to eat it. :unsure: There was a 6-grader that was proabably about 300 pounds and already showing signs of diabetes.

It's a real problem, and at the very least, it's a start. If we all do something to help, we might can make a change. His interest appears to be pure and genuine, and God bless him for trying.

Rhonda

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Ive seen some of this show. My wife seems to like it, but I find it to be less about food and more about playing off of the current conflict between the conservative, Christian, tea-bagger types (as played by the West Virginians) and elitist, liberal, European socialists (as played by Jamie Oliver). Food is merely a metaphor.

However, the shows premise does appear to be remarkably similar to Slow Food USAs Time for Lunch ( http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/campaign/time_for_lunch/ ) campaign. As I havent watched all of the show, I do not know if there has been any reference to Slow Food or not.

Edit to fix link


Edited by Florida (log)

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Finally got around to watching the first two episodes via Hulu. TiVo ought to be set to get everything else now.

I can see where the people of Huntington are coming from. Wet Virginia gets beat up pretty good, and this may seem like more of the same. I think it was unfortunate that they never really fully explain the study. They sorta do, but at the same time, it seems like they just picked Huntington "randomly".

Calling the workers at the school cafeteria "lunch ladies" got Jammie into more trouble than he already was. The workers there are really powerless to do anything. Really, it's not their responsibility. They know all to well that they are given very strict directions on what is to be served. It's a bit surprising that Jamie didn't really know this in advance. It's really the root of the problem. Yes, the guidelines can be dumb. But if they aren't followed, trouble can come about. It's a real tough battle. Can you do a "grass roots" effort like Jamie is trying to do at a school system like the one they have in Huntington? It seems like a tall task. But so is the task of taking it from the other direction.

What else will we see in this series. Is the focus the school for the entire run of the show? Or does he move on to other things?


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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