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Weighing in on 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution'

Jamie_oliverI've just spent the last hour and a half catching the first two episode of the six-part series Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and, boy, am I depressed. 



Jamie Oliver, TV's Naked Chef, has come from across the pond to reform the eating habits of America's least healthy burg according to the CDC. Upon his arrival to Huntington, WV, Oliver is not met with the sort of fanfare and gratefulness afforded to, say, Gordon Ramsay when he comes to clean up a Kitchen Nightmare, or Ty Pennington when he comes to give an Extreme Home Makeover. 

In many ways this is understandable. For one, Ramsay and Pennington come to the aid of others as invited guests. Oliver, on the other hand, has come to a town that doesn't want him to give them advice they never solicited. That said, it's clear that this town needs a little waking up, as do many other towns like it, about how the residents feed themselves—especially their kids, who can't even identify a tomato in its raw form upon first sight.

Jamie_oliver
"Kids, this is where a McNugget comes from!"

 
The largest part of Oliver's campaign is reforming the lunch program in Huntington schools, which is no small feat. He must overcome a huge bureaucracy, ridiculous USDA standards that require two starches at every meal and count potatoes as a vegetable, budget concerns, and some formidable lunch ladies that you do not want to call lunch ladies to their faces if you know what's good for you. Oliver's only ally in the town seems to be a church pastor who is tired of seeing his parishioners die too early of obesity-related illnesses.

Oliver also goes into the homes of some residents to help them see the error of their ways. At the Edwards house, he has matriarch Stacy cook a week's worth of meals and lay them all out to see what she and her family eat. It is all dripping with grease and golden brown—not a speck of green, not even on any of the myriad pizzas. They eat a lot of pizza. He takes the family to the doctor, and while their 13-year old son hasn't yet developed diabetes, the doctor tells them he's well on his way if he doesn't lose a bunch of weight and start eating better. 

Watching this show made me want to go bury myself in a vat of spinach to counteract all the starchy, greasy food I witnessed, but there is a glimmer of hope. It seems like Oliver may be able to make inroads in Huntington. It helps that he's staying in one town over several weeks rather than hopping from town to town telling people they should eat their vegetables. Of course it's not as simple as all that, and it will take more than a short visit to reform a lifetime of bad food habits and misconceptions. 

If there is one hope I have for the remaining four episodes, it would be that more attention be paid to economy of time and money. It's not enough to hold up a mirror and say to people, "how can you eat this crap?" That's easy enough to answer: it tastes good, it's cheap, and it's fast. The two largest hindrances to healthier eating are its cost and the fact that it takes longer to prepare a meal from whole foods than to assemble one from prepackaged ingredients. If Oliver can demonstrate that, while healthier living may take more money and time, it needn't be cost prohibitive or overly time consuming for a family where both parents work, perhaps his Food Revolution can achieve a level higher than simply evoking shame-inducing horror at our nation's abominable eating habits. Fingers crossed.







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Comments

Jessi

It's not a coincidence that Huntington also has some of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Eating healthy is expensive and given the choice, most parents choose to fill their children's bellies, rather than give them not quite enough to eat of really healthy foods. These families also mostly have two working parents and may working different shifts to cut down on child care costs. I think you are dead-in with the need to focus on economy of time and money. It's frustrating for people to act like people do this because they want to. No one wants their child to be overweight, or to die young. These choices are made out of desperation and generational wisdom. What also needs to be addressed is that these people (and me) cook like our grandparents cooked, but they worked outdoors most of the day in an agrarian society that has more or less been murdered.

kdiddy

I haven't watched this yet, but I was a little concerned about the overall approach. While I am ALL FOR empowering people with knowledge, I hope that Oliver acknowledges that shitty diets are not entirely due to bad choices on the part of people like the citizens on Huntington. Poverty drives people toward foods that pack the most calories per buck and which are very rarely healthy or fresh things. Also, government policies on and subsidies for food are completely fucked up. To a great degree, these folks are victims of circumstance in a cycle that is very hard to bust out of. Like I said, I think it's important for all of these issues to be highlighted, especially for the people that are most at risk because of them. I just don't want to see a freakshow of shame, ie, "Oh, look at these terrible fat, poor people! They're so bad and irresponsible!" That's just exploitative entertainment for the privileged.

Silver

I really like this show. I don't think it's an exploitation of the town or poking fun at the obesity problem in the poorer parts of the country. It is an attempt to educate people what healthy eating is. As in: just cuz Mickey D's makes 'em with "all white meat" don't mean McNuggets is good fer ya.

Anyway, looks like Jamie has an uphill battle in this town/country and I am rooting for him 100%.

bd

I did watch and felt that it was a little cocky of Jamie to come in just try to reform everything. While his intention might be good, he had NO background information on school budgets and how they operate and seemed genuinely shocked when he was informed that there were no knives for the elementary school kids. Um hello? Plastic dispensible knives equals money (and in my district, a weapon). Money that might be allocated instead on books or other classroom supplies or teachers salaries. While I might not agree with the current state of public school lunches, at least I DO have some understanding of my school district's budget and how it is, for the most part, distributed. I was shocked that he was so unprepared for the undertaking. Do your homework if you want to reform something.

tonya

So far I have really enjoyed this show. I do agree that he should have had some more knowledge regarding the school budget & guidelines. The biggest pull for me is the family he's trying to help. While we don't cook like that, how often could a couple days worth of food look like that? More often than I'd like to admit. Fast, easy, and not thrown away often beat out arguments over dinner. I would like to see some kind of exercise dynamic brought into the show, but being that's not the premise, it may not be.

Tracy

Okay, I'm going to comment against my better judgement. I do agree that I hope this show isn't exploitive, but my feeling is that it was truly eye opening, if not a little short on the "educational." Meaning, like Amber has pointed out, I hope that Jamie shows HOW a family can actually cook healthfully on a budget of both time and money.

This is where I may get slammed - I do not think that budget constraints drive people to eat fast food. Granted, fast food restaurants do very well when money is tight, but that's because people eat out altogether too much and when money is tight, they can't afford the more expensive restaurants. We have a family of four, and I will tell you we are hard pressed to leave spending less than $10 ANYWHERE, off of any budget menu. For far less than $10, I can cook a pound of chicken with vegetables in my crockpot that will feed my family for several meals and takes virtually no time and is healthy. Far less time than it would take to drive to McDonalds. I would argue that Americans, impoverished or not, eat shitty food because it's easier and they're lazier (our family is included in this at times...sometimes it's easier to pick up a pizza than think about what to cook for dinner. I'm not pointing fingers without pointing them back at me!) NOT because it's cheaper.

Lisa Kay

While well intentioned,I think Jamie should have taken some more time to learn about the community (or at least they should have shown that process on the show). You have be really careful when you have a show like this one. While shows like the Biggest Loser and Celebrity Fit Club are popular and contestants lose weight, we cannot use the obese demographic for entertainment or a show to give us a full perspective on obesity in the U.S. I think the school staff had a right to question Jamie's intentions and to ensure that they were shown in an appropriate light. I hope that he is able to share his lesson with the community and the children can learn more about adopting healthier lifestyle.

Lisa Kay

While well intentioned,I think Jamie should have taken some more time to learn about the community (or at least they should have shown that process on the show). You have be really careful when you have a show like this one. While shows like the Biggest Loser and Celebrity Fit Club are popular and contestants lose weight, we cannot use the obese demographic for entertainment or a show to give us a full perspective on obesity in the U.S. I think the school staff had a right to question Jamie's intentions and to ensure that they were shown in an appropriate light. I hope that he is able to share his lesson with the community and the children can learn more about adopting healthier lifestyle.

kdiddy

@Tracy, money isn't the only thing budgeted when your resources are strapped. Time and energy are also severely budgeted. So while it won't always make the most economic sense to go for fast food, if it's 6 or 7 pm and you just got home from work, and you're running on inadequate nutrition to begin with, you might just be too tired to do anything remotely related to cooking. I am not what most people would call poor and I am very mindful of nutrition, but even I am just too tired to do anything some days.

jodifur

I haven't watched this show yet, but I will say this. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years. About 6 months I gave up all processed foods, all food dye, and tried to go as all Organic as possible. And man, it is hard, and expensive. And it is a lofty goal.

This post really intrigued me to watch this show, and before I was like, hey, i already know all this stuff.

Donna

Oliver did the same thing in Britain, and it was riveting television (I happened to be visiting there when the original series aired on the BBC). He faced the same kind of resistance from the "lunch ladies" there - until he managed to persuade the Alice in that group that cooking fresh could work and make a huge difference in the lives of those kids.

Public outrage at what people saw on that series forced Parliament to take action. Jamie Oliver is credited with the impetus for a huge boost in the budget of the UK's school lunch program.

I think he does understand the economic issues faced by these folks - that's why the centerpiece of his plan is to start with the school lunches. And he also gets the time constraints. That's why he is encouraging the parents to let their older kids help with the cooking, and why he set up a kitchen in town where he's giving free cooking lessons.

Karen

It's a great show even without all the research on the town. I agree that money & time certainly can be restrictive in eating healthy, but I don't believe that to be true for every single meal. Any improvement on that family's eating habits would be a step in the right direction. I think in this case it's about awareness. I really felt bad for that mother - but when she knows better, she will do better.
Great post Amber.

Laurel

One of the things I liked when he went to Stacy's home was that he had menus that would allow them to make good, healthy food on a budget. I know he said "cheaply" a lot in the show, so I think he gets the economic constraints. And his interaction with the 13 y/o kid was really, really sweet. I love that he's giving him cooking lessons and really trying to involve the kids in understanding what he's doing.

Also, watching him make the chicken nugget was kind of revolting.

Rhonda

Agreeing with Tracy – when my hubs was out of work we NEVER had fast food. It was a total luxury and still is for our family of five. A huge part of the luxury is the convenience without a doubt. It is vastly cheaper to have beans, rice, in season produce and some kind of protein. My kids hate it. But I don’t care. I’m a bitch that way.

Meadow

Don't forget that they had to make this interesting to watch. Perhaps the research on budgets and lunches WAS done, but they opted to show Jamie having a conversation with the person in charge of budgeting rather than having one person sit down and explain the guidelines to the camera.

Samson

I'm afraid the "unhealthy because poor" argument just doesn't stack up. Buying staple foods (like beans, rice, pasta, oatmeal) in large quantities is significantly less expensive than eating out. And it only takes 5 minutes to cook a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Bad eating habits are a result of many factors; lack of funds is generally not one of them. I know: I grew up very poor but my parents emphasized healthy eating. Sometimes we ate the same meal several days a week, but we were (and still are) very fit and healthy.

I'm afraid the "unhealthy because no time" argument is also bunk: 5 minutes for oatmeal; 5 minutes for PBJ; 15 minutes for spaghetti and salad. It takes the same amount of time to drive somewhere, order the food, and wait for it to arrive. And unless someone's job involves hard physical labor(in which case excess calories would not be as much of an issue), too tired doesn't cut it, either. Have we really become so weak and soft that we can't manage to stand in the kitchen for 30 minutes making food and washing dishes?

There might be other excuses for obesity, but neither of these is it.

Samson

I'm afraid the "unhealthy because poor" argument just doesn't stack up. Buying staple foods (like beans, rice, pasta, oatmeal) in large quantities is significantly less expensive than eating out. And it only takes 5 minutes to cook a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Bad eating habits are a result of many factors; lack of funds is generally not one of them. I know: I grew up very poor but my parents emphasized healthy eating. Sometimes we ate the same meal several days a week, but we were (and still are) very fit and healthy.

I'm afraid the "unhealthy because no time" argument is also bunk: 5 minutes for oatmeal; 5 minutes for PBJ; 15 minutes for spaghetti and salad. It takes the same amount of time to drive somewhere, order the food, and wait for it to arrive. And unless someone's job involves hard physical labor(in which case excess calories would not be as much of an issue), too tired doesn't cut it, either. Have we really become so weak and soft that we can't manage to stand in the kitchen for 30 minutes making food and washing dishes?

There might be other excuses for obesity, but neither of these is it.

Leanne - Momcast

Well, I think the cost of eating all those cut rate boxed unfoods is far higher than anyone really realises.

IMO, Oliver walked into Huntington and said, "Look, you're in an abusive relationship. If you stay, you'll live a life of pain and heartbreak. I can give you the tools to leave. It's up to you."

The average family can easily eat whole foods if they learn how to source their food and how to prepare it. If "time" or "effort" is an impediment to creating healthy eating habits, well, that's like saying "but I LIKE smoking a pack a day!"

Bunny

Ive been watching this show, and I like. I liked it the first time it was on when it was called Shaq's Big Challenge.

I think Jamie is a goofball, and he really gets on my nerves at times. But I like the show, and I like what its trying to do.

@Tracy, you're not alone. I agree with you. I don't see how the economical excuse is relevant. We're also a family of 4, and to feed us ( a value meal per) its over $30. That's just ONE MEAL. That's a full day (3 meals for each person) worth of groceries EASY. And if I'm going with the crock pot that week thats atleast 2 suppers...

I also dont think the "time" problem should really be an issue either. Im a SAHM now, but I was a retail manager for 6 years and worked anywhere from 60-70 hours a week over an hour away, and still managed to COOK. With crockpots, slow roasters, and THANK GOD for freezers - time is an EXCUSE but its NOT really an issue if you plan ahead.

I think Jamie should also be teaching the families how to PLAN out their meals a week or two in advance (depending on how often they grocery shop) so they can keep their grocery spending in control - while PLANNING their meals.

Wow, I wrote a lot. I just want to add, I'm not trying to be preachy! We are guilty too. We eat out, fast food, no less then once a week (either pizza or burgers) and we also do donuts on Sunday morning. We're all heavy in our house, but its because we cant give up the snack cakes and soda pop!

Bunny

Ive been watching this show, and I like. I liked it the first time it was on when it was called Shaq's Big Challenge.

I think Jamie is a goofball, and he really gets on my nerves at times. But I like the show, and I like what its trying to do.

@Tracy, you're not alone. I agree with you. I don't see how the economical excuse is relevant. We're also a family of 4, and to feed us ( a value meal per) its over $30. That's just ONE MEAL. That's a full day (3 meals for each person) worth of groceries EASY. And if I'm going with the crock pot that week thats atleast 2 suppers...

I also dont think the "time" problem should really be an issue either. Im a SAHM now, but I was a retail manager for 6 years and worked anywhere from 60-70 hours a week over an hour away, and still managed to COOK. With crockpots, slow roasters, and THANK GOD for freezers - time is an EXCUSE but its NOT really an issue if you plan ahead.

I think Jamie should also be teaching the families how to PLAN out their meals a week or two in advance (depending on how often they grocery shop) so they can keep their grocery spending in control - while PLANNING their meals.

Wow, I wrote a lot. I just want to add, I'm not trying to be preachy! We are guilty too. We eat out, fast food, no less then once a week (either pizza or burgers) and we also do donuts on Sunday morning. We're all heavy in our house, but its because we cant give up the snack cakes and soda pop!

Susan

One of my favorite reality shows is on BBC America called "You Are What You Eat". A registered dietician goes into a person's home, has them keep a food diary for a week, then spreads it all out on a table (or four) to show them how unhealthy it is. I love it because it's all British folks, proving that Americans aren't the only ones who use the excuse of lack of money, time or energy to consume vast amounts of junk food. Over the course of a few weeks, the person/couple/family learns to cook healthy recipes, work exercise into their busy schedules, and sees measurable results.

I am more fortunate than others, I guess, in that somewhere along the way, I learned to love to cook. I'm far from appearing on the Food Network, but I enjoy researching recipes that are relatively quick, easy and economical; shopping for fresh ingredients (and frozen if I'm craving strawberries in December); and sharing dinner prep with my husband, which is how we decompress after a long day at work (I even narrated making pasta sauce to my toddler this evening).




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