By Mark Traphagen on March 27, 2010
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution premiered last night on ABC television. Although the premier was a double episode, i watched the one hour first episode available online. (UPDATE: the second episode is now up at ABC.com.)
Oliver is a British celebrity chef and cookbook author who has been given credit for initiating what became a complete overhaul of the lunch program in British schools. In this series, he comes to the town of Huntington, WV, named “the unhealthiest town in America” with the stated goal of starting the same revolution here.
In the opening episode, Oliver finds that, with a few exceptions, he is not going to be greeted with shouts of “viva la revolution” by the powers that be in the town of Huntington. The show kicks off with him rendered nearly speechless by a local radio DJ, who tells him on air that the people of Huntington don’t want to be told to “eat lettuce” by an outsider. But that’s only the beginning of his troubles.
His real nemesis is the collective ill will of the cafeteria workers at the elementary school where he has been given one week to try out his ideas to change the way the kids eat. Oliver’s brash manner and stark bluntness doesn’t get him off on the right foot with the ladies. He tells them straight out that everything they are doing in their kitchen is wrong and is sentencing the children to an early death. He’s right, of course, but his oven-side manner could use some work. It doesn’t make matters any better for him when he calls these mature women “girls” (not a demeaning term in his native Britain, but not appreciated here) and “lunch ladies” (they prefer to be called “cooks,” even though they do very little actual cooking).
Oliver may be brash and a bit naive about small-town American sensibilities, but its obvious he is on a mission, and he comes across as very sincere. I believe that much of what we saw tonight that wasn’t directly about food was typical trumped-up reality show “drama,” but if that gets people watching the show and thinking about what we eat, and more importantly what we are requiring our kids to eat in schools, then bring on the drama.
I think the segment of the show that made me most angry this evening was one where the woman in charge of meals for the school district lays out for Oliver the government requirements for school meals. The USDA which mandates what must be served in public school lunch programs serves big agriculture lobbyists at the cost of our children’s health. An example of this is the requirement that each meal must have two servings of bread. When Jamie Oliver makes his first lunch for the school, he is shocked that the principal demands he add another starch when he has already prepared brown rice. He ends up borrowing buns from the cafeteria’s regular lunch. This flies in the face of nearly every nutritional expert today, who are nearly unanimous in condemning the amount of bad carbohydrates we consume.
Overall, I think this program has a message Americans need to hear, and contains enough melodrama to keep them watching. At least the “deep fried coating” of drama won’t do them as much harm as the real one on their chicken nuggets.
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