I feel pretty strongly about the importance of high quality food as it affects our health in so many ways. And when I learned that the first episode of Food Revolution, which was shown on Friday night on TV, could be viewed online (search at abc.com if you’re interested), I figured it would be interesting. Since my ds16 was still awake, he watched it with me.
The theme of the program is that Jamie Oliver, a British chef, goes to Huntington, WV – the fattest city in the US to bring some change to the school lunch program in a particular district. Since I have nine children, avoid virtually all processed foods, and believe that we all benefit from cooking from ingredients in their natural state, you’d probably anticipate I would embrace every aspect of this program.
Here’s the basic rundown of the first part of the program (101) – it opens with him showing his disgust of the food the kids are served and expressing that to the women who work there. Then it shows a local pastor preaching about the importance of good health expressing support of Jamie in his goals. Then he meets with an individual family (all obese) – this was the best part of the program, in my opinion and I’ll write more below. He then meets with the woman in charge of the school foods, gets an agreement from her for a week’s trial to prepare his healthy food in a local school, and prepares a healthy lunch that is mostly refused by the kids. A newspaper article in the town appears in which he seems to have made some negative statements about the towns inhabitants (which he claims were taken out of context – knowing that this frequently happens with print media, that’s likely), he then gets all teary-eyed about how hard he’s trying, and then the episode ends.
I honestly was irritated within a few minutes of the program beginning when I heard how dismissively Jamie was speaking to the women who worked at the lunchroom, preparing the foods for the kids. He spoke down to them and had an condescending attitude that anyone could pick up on – and then acts like, ‘poor me, these ladies are so mean to me’. I thought that all the women who worked in the cafeteria were pretty tolerant of him considering how he was speaking to them – I’d have been less pleasant than even the toughest of them was if spoken down to like that, and felt they were unfairly portrayed as defensive and negative.
I really had to wonder what his goal in dealing with them was – it seems to me he got their backs up against the wall and made them defensive from the get go, which could have easily been avoided. I was wondering if he had the ability to effectively communicate the importance of healthy food, but when he got together with the family and I saw he certainly can be sympathetic and understanding one on one. It’s a shame he didn’t take time to meet with the women who worked in the cafeteria and educate them from the beginning, treating them with respect and honoring their desire to feed the children they are responsible for good food, would have gone so much further – every one of them seemed willing to try something new and I’m positive if approached differently could have been very helpful allies for him in getting his ‘food revolution’ going. I kept trying to push the thought out of my mind that it was set up like that purposely to create interest in tv viewers.
When he got together with the family, he prepared all of their typical food for the week, and put it on the table in front of them at once. I thought that was a powerful way to bring home to them what kind of garbage they were eating all day, and the mother’s emotional response showed that it hit her viscerally that what she’s feeding her kids is killing them. Then it showed him speaking to the extremely overweight 12 year old (over 300 lb), who shared about being bullied for being fat, and poignantly got across how hard it is to be a fat kid, and he expressed how he really wanted to be thinner and healthier. That’s the reality for so many kids in this country.
Jamie went on to cook them a ‘healthy’ meal from scratch, but I wasn’t extremely impressed with the food, though it was loads better than their typical diet of processed foods. White pasta with salad and sauce – no protein, no high quality carbohydrate, and to be nitpicky, he sauteed the garlic in olive oil (which isn’t heat stable and shouldn’t be cooked). Anyway, a family that unhealthy would be better off with his selection of food, but he seemed to be a proponent of low fat/high carb cooking, which I’m not a fan of.
He then met with Rhonda, the head of the food programs, who was very willing to give him a chance. Actually, everyone there seemed willing to give him the chance to see what he could do. He was told (reasonably, I thought) that his food had to conform to the government regulations. He made some delicious looking chicken drumsticks and brown rice (never would I have thought it a good idea to start offering brown rice as the first new option for kids who are used to processed garbage – he could have made oven roasted potatoes or something more familiar), and seemed to conveniently ignore that he needed 2 starches for his meal to fit into the mandated structure. Okay, I think the rule about two starches is unhealthy and idiotic, but he agreed to work within the rules that everyone else had to follow so why was he bowing out of his side of the bargain in the very first meal? Again, I was left wondering how much about this was for tv – it would have been pretty easy to have prepared healthy versions of familiar foods (eg – whole wheat pizza, homemade chicken nuggets made from real chicken meat without all the preservatives) and to have eased the kids into healthier foods.
I was surprised that the kids were offered a choice between his healthy meal and the typical school pizza. The vast majority of kids will stick with the familiar and anyone who knows kids could have predicted the outcome – that most kids chose the unhealthy foods. My kids all enjoy healthy foods but if I gave choices of: a) fresh raw whole milk or b) pink strawberry pasteurized/homogenized milk; a) whole wheat sourdough bread or b) Pillsbury cinnamon rolls; a) a fresh apple or b) canned fruit in syrup – how would they ever have a chance to develop healthy tastebuds? I’m confident that all kids can learn to enjoy healthy foods, but the choices offered have to be between two healthy food choices or no choices at all.
There were some other ways he interacted with people of the town that I thought weren’t appropriate and he didn’t express himself authentically, which affected how he was viewed by those who could or should have been his allies. It’s hard for me to overlook his personal behavior – to me, character is very important, and having a worthy goal doesn’t make bad behavior okay.
Setting aside my negative feelings about some aspects of his personal interactions, generally the show is positive: it showed the kind of garbage kids are being fed by well-intended people, food that meets government guidelines. It shows how much food is wasted every day in schools. And I think that it indirectly showed that people are serving this kind of food because they simply don’t know it’s bad for them. I thought it was telling and sad that the six year olds asked to identify fresh vegetables couldn’t accurately label them – my three year old could easily identify any of what was shown. Clearly the issue isn’t just what kids are being fed at school, but what they’re eating at home as well – it’s all the same kind of processed foods.
My ds thought that Jamie had a dynamic and engaging personality, which is true. All in all this was an entertaining and enjoyable program, and I think that Jamie Oliver has a true passion to help improve the kind of food people are eating. Taking on this project – to transform the food lunches in the school system in Huntington, WV – is a great goal and has a lot of positive ramifications. I hope he’s successful; any step in the direction of improving the food that people are eating is a good step!