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Mar. 26 2010 - 5:19 pm | 1,316 views | 1 recommendation | 6 comments

Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ Stirs the Pot

“Who made you the king?”

It’s a funny question coming from an American directed at a Brit, given the series of events that led to the Declaration of Independence 234 years ago.

The exchange in question is between Rod Willis, a Huntington, W. Va., radio announcer and Jamie Oliver, the celeb chef who’s embarked on a “Food Revolution.”

Oliver wants to help the residents of the “unhealthiest city in America” to lose weigh and eat better. In the first episode, which premieres tonight on ABC, Willis pushes back: “I really take issue with a guy coming into town and telling us how we should conduct our lives.”

Does anyone else notice the “Don’t Tread on Me” theme going on here?

It’s an indisputable fact; we’ve become a nation of fatties. Exhibit A:

Percent of Obesity (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults in 2008: CDC Map

But as David Letterman reminded us the other night, when Oliver was a guest, “Try as hard as you might, you’re never going to succeed because we are living in a culture dominated by the commerce of selling food which is inherently unhealthy.”

In the days since the show’s “sneak peek” on Sunday night, reaction has been mixed. The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever argues that the show “has all the problems of most network reality pap” and points out that “Not a word is spoken at ‘Food Revolution’s’ outset about our culture’s politicization of food — the whole arugula divide, the high cost of eating right, the class issues over portion size, the constant character judgments strewn between a fine meal and the drive-thru.”

Seattle food writer Angela Garbes wants to know why the show is pointing fingers at Huntington’s resident fatties rather than at the state of this country’s food system :  “To start a revolution, you need to harness people’s anger, not make them feel bad about themselves. I wish Oliver would show WHY the frozen pizzas and deep-fried brown foods are cheaper than organic vegetables. Eating better is just a start. For the Food Revolution to actually happen, people need to get angry at a government system which subsidizes corporate farming of unhealthy foods, and then do something about it. Something more than eating a salad.”

In a press release, The School Nutrition Association takes Oliver to task for focusing on all the negatives of school lunch programs and neglecting to mention the strides that have been made in recent years.

In her Civil Eats essay, Debra Eschmeyer, of the Farm to School Network, expresses her wish that Oliver “would bring to the surface the myriad obstacles to bring fresh local food to the lunch room, most of which can be overcome, but it can’t necessarily be done in a couple weeks even with star-studded British flavor.”

And Eschmeyer has concerns:: “What’s my worst fear in Jamie’s ‘get mad’ approach? That the food service staff get defensive and block out good intentioned parents, farmers, teachers, (you) that approach them to start a farm to school program because Jamie poked fun of their profession on national television.”

Her concerns are echoed by Seattle chef and cookbook writer Devra Gartenstein: “The culture clash struck me as prophetic. Even though he expressed respect for the lunch ladies early on, I don’t think chefs are going to be the ones to change the school lunch program in any widespread way, although I do think it can change. I think the real solution, at least in the short term, is going to have to be some kind of hybrid, transitional school lunch system, with meals prepared on site using some industrial ingredients as starters, like canned tomato products and frozen peas and corn. It shouldn’t be that hard to move away from foods like frozen pizza and chicken nuggets, but the ideal of all fresh ingredients strikes me as more of an obstacle than an inspiration, at least for now. ”

Eschmeyer and others reminded Oliver and his producers that a grassroots food revolution is well underway and should be represented on the show. The Oliver camp has responded with an invitation to participate, in a blog post titled “How are you starting your own Food Revolution?” The public is invited to post comments or send a video (JOFoodRevolution@gmail.com).

No matter where you sit on this matter, one thing’s for sure: Jamie Oliver is stirring the pot.


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  1. collapse expand

    I found the pilot show terribly depressing — children eating pizza for breakfast? Two helpings of bread per meal as a USDA recommendation How?! Those fake “potatoes”?

    The clear annoyance from the cooks of doing anything more taxing than re-heating crap — instead of, as he suggested, even mixing up something as simple as vinaigrette for 450 kids.

    I was appalled and disgusted by what these kids are eating and all their adult guardians — the one the local pastor watches dies every year of heart disease and obesity — think is just fine. So he’s at least trying.

  2. collapse expand

    I am very ANTI “Reality TV”; mainly for the fact that that most of them have dozens of writers. Essentially making them ‘made-up’ reality.
    I want to give this one a chance, mainly for what I perceive to be the intention of bringing a nationwide crisis to everyone’s attention. And what better way to do it than to use the format of what is sadly the most watched type of television.
    Maybe viewers will learn something useful, rather than getting wrapped up in make believe drama and competition.

  3. collapse expand

    I actually managed to get through both episodes last night (that is not an easy thing for me to do, especially with all the commercials).
    My early impressions are that the show did seem to focus a bit too much on the drama of the difficulties he is up against; with the DJ, the local papers, the school staff, and the family he is trying to help.
    However, like I said in my previous post, that is what draws the reality audience, and it could be that they are playing to that somewhat in the beginning.
    My hope remains that this show will open people’s eyes to the culture of unhealthy eating, not only at home, but how it has migrated into our schools. It will be interesting to see if he even approaches the reasons how we got here, like the “government system which subsidizes corporate farming of unhealthy foods.”
    I will keep watching, but I think it is going to have to be DVR’d. I think my unhealthy eating gave me A.D.D. – I can hardly make it through the commercials.

  4. collapse expand

    What chef Devra Gartenstein and writer Debra Eschmeyer failed to learn before writing was that Jamie Oliver did effect change in his own country’s school lunch program, and he continues to work to make food better in schools. He did it in a similar to watch fashion with a show called Jamie’s School Dinners that aired here in the US a few years ago.

    Change doesn’t have to come from a place of anger. It takes education first for people to even know what need to be changed.

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