Jamie Oliver, the famed British celebrity chef, has come to America to help American kids eat better. His new show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution airs friday at 9:00 PM EST on ABC, and follows Oliver as he attempts to help the residents of the rated unhealthiest city in America, Huntington, West Virginia, to eat healthier. This is an American version of his documentary TV show School Dinners that follows Jamie as he attempts to improve the school dinner (lunch) program in England. I have seen School Dinners having bought the DVD. The American show has all the same elements the British series. There is tension between Jamie and the “lunch lady” staff. There are appallingly small food budgets to work with, nutritional guidelines to follow, and battles with an intrenched processed food industry in the school lunch program. Jamie does successfully fight a political battle to change policy in England to push for more funds. I am not sure Jamie will take on American Food and Agriculture Policy, but his show is a strong symbolic gesture of caring and goodwill.
Another theme is basic food education. When shown vegetables and asked what they were, none in a 1st grade class could identify a tomato, or potato, let alone recognize what vegetable Jamie was dressed up as ( A Pea Pod).
Even if the many challenges are overcome, the real challenge is winning over the hearts, minds and taste buds of the sugar and junk food addicted kids. Between a crappy frozen pizza, or roasted chicken with rice, the pizza wins out almost all of the time.
Part of the drama of the Food Revolution is a sink or swim attitude with the school. Jamie only has a few chances to win over the kids to his meals. The moment of judgement comes at the end of lunch time when the kids hand over their trays for clean up. The large amount of Jamie’s uneaten foods goes into the can, which tells the story of how he is doing.
The large amounts of the non-Jamie food served for that matter is thrown away. The nutritional balancing veggies, and fruit make it in the trash. The sugar sweetened milk, and the pizza, burgers, fries or chicken nuggets and sauces are eaten. I would like to see a nutritional study of the actual food eaten compared to mathematically calibrated nutritional “balanced” meals. After all, if the meal is chicken nuggets with broccoli and carrots, and the kids throws out the broccoli and carrots, is there really balanced nutrition.
I feel this show does a great job showing the reality of the school lunch program in America, and it is a call for change on a local, national and home level. One of Jamie’s strategies to get the kids to eat his food is to reward them with stickers that say, “I Tried Something New.” I feel that is a great slogan for food in America.
Did he succeed? Meaning did the kids, teachers, administrator, and parents convert to Jamie’s food? Probably not, at least not to the level they could have in the limited time Jamie was given. A follow up article by Marion Nestle in the Atlantic shows some stats.
But I say the score card is not the real story. The real story is showing America the sorry state of our school lunch program. It may take a 1000 Jamie’s to fight for the change that is needed, but I think it is a great effort and noble gesture to take it on.