Yesterday, I had some time available and took it upon myself to watch the first two episodes of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I'm actually really glad I did this. You might not be though, because now you get to listen to me talk about it! This is going to be a very long entry, and I know not everyone will read it, but I hope that someone will find it of interest.
I'm sure most people these days have at least a vague idea of who Jamie Oliver is. He made his leap into fame with his first television show, The Naked Chef, in which he taught viewers how to make stripped down meals using only a few quality ingredients. Since then, he's hosted several shows, published several cookbooks, opened some restaurants, and begun his crusade to make the world a slightly healthier place.
I've always enjoyed watching Jamie do his thing. Although much of his food is not at all up my alley, I think he is a very talented chef and I enjoy his personality and approach to cooking. So when the Jamie's School Dinners program popped up (I still lived at home then), I of course tuned in to see what it was all about.
This program began with the idea of changing the food standards of schools in Great Britain. Jamie was of the opinion that the foods were unhealthy (never fresh, but processed) and unbalanced, and that this was unfair to the kids because they had no choice in the matter. They were eating what was fed to them, without hesitation, and it was setting them up poorly to be able to manage their dietary health in the future.
Now let's take a break. I understand that you can't go around telling people what to eat/do/say/think. I get that. But children don't know any better. And in the circumstance that existed when this program began, the people that should have been teaching them (i.e., teachers and other school officials, and the parents) weren't - either because they didn't care or they were ill-informed themselves. Being healthy is important. I will argue that until my dying day - a stable, healthy diet and exercise are just priceless. I understand that everyone can make his/her own individual choice as to whether or not to be healthy. I don't understand why anyone would actively choose to be unhealthy, but it happens - because being healthy is difficult. It takes work, and even costs more. Bottom line is, whether one chooses to make decisions to better his/her life is not my business, but I feel that people should at least have the education necessary to understand the choices that they're making for themselves and their children.
Jamie experienced great success with his program to improve school food systems in Great Britain. And this is how we have reached the current day, where Jamie's Food Revolution begins.
The Food Revolution series begins in the town of Huntingdon, West Virginia. This city is one of the unhealthiest cities in America, a statistic based on death rates and other factors I don't understand (I don't work for the government, but I'm sure they've published some more information on this somewhere). Upon his arrival in the town, Jamie is met with much opposition and skepticism. He is given no respect and no appreciation for his efforts. This, although upsetting, is the world we live in - people don't like change initiated from outside sources. We are wired to assume that if someone is trying to change us, whether for better or for worse, it must mean that we're not doing a good enough job on our own, that we're incompetent, lazy, stupid, or just plain incapable.
It seems that Jamie spends a lot of his time trying to reassure the locals that he's trying to help and that he doesn't mean any disrespect to them. I can understand both sides of the situation. But I think it's admirable of someone to leave their home and their family for months to try to help others that are just strangers.
In the first two episodes, we see a week of Chef Oliver trying to get kids in a school to actually eat the healthy meals he's prepared while jumping through hoops to make sure he is preparing them to meet the USDA school lunch standards. There is a very disconcerting scene in which, while trying to get the kids excited about healthy food, Jamie holds up various vegetables in front of a class of first graders. A child identifies a bunch of tomatoes as "potatoes", another an eggplant as a pear, and after a hint "egg salad", and so on. It was terrifying to think that, not only aren't these kids learning these things in school, but they're not learning them at home either.
Jamie also takes the time to visit a family (we only see one on the show so far, but he says there were a few) in an effort to help out with health at home too. The family that he visited, the Edwards, had a freezer stacked full of frozen pizzas, and a little fryer on their countertop which was used at nearly every meal. They made all of the food they would normally cook in a week and piled it onto the kitchen table. It was a huge pile of golden brown. Nothing in the pile was fresh or colorful. The mother of the family was upset when she saw it all in one place and agreed to try to change the situation. They had a funeral for the fryer, and vowed to start anew. Jamie took them shopping, and ended up leaving them with a week's recipes for simple, healthy dishes. He also spoke to one of the sons in the family before he left. The boy was very overweight and often teased at school. He stated that he wanted to change his weight and knew that the food choices his family was making were not the right ones. He even let it slip that he wanted to learn how to cook and maybe to become a chef one day. Later in the show, Jamie gives him some private lessons at a kitchen set up specifically for the show, where any of the townspeople can visit for free cooking lessons or a square meal.
In the second episode, Jamie returns to the Edwards home, where the family says they've been cooking the recipes and loving them, only to find way too many leftover ingredients and a daughter who let's slip that they had "pizza" (not one of the meals in the recipe plan). Jamie takes the family to the hospital for check-ups, which the children have not had in years. The boy who wanted to learn to cook has a diabetes scare - he is showing signs but does not test positive. This seems to be a turning point for the family, when the doctor tells them that a change needs to occur for their son's sake and it needs to occur now.
The second episode ends with the school superintendent and the woman in charge of enforcing USDA standards give Jamie permission to spend a few more weeks in the school, and declare his first week successful.
>> INTERMISSION <<
Okay. So I'm sure that if anybody has made it this far, they're curious as to why I'm waffling on and on about how great this guy is and blah blah blah. And while I do think Oliver's a good guy, it's not him that I'm so pleased with, it's the initiative. While I was watching yesterday, on more than one occasion, I felt tears start to well up. I cry at movies all the time, but I can't recall instances of television tears. And it wasn't watching other people cry that upset me - it was the poor kids. They have been set up for failure, and it kills me. And I know that it's not only in Huntingdon, it's all over the U.S.A., and I'm sure in some other countries as well. And I'm also upset by the lack of willingness to stop it.
If I were in the place of one of the parents of a child at this school, and I were to not have any food knowledge AT ALL, at the very least my jaw would be hitting the floor when some of the information was revealed to me. I would be demanding change or creating it on my own. It's just shocking to me that people see their weight approaching ridiculously high numbers and don't feel the need to change it. I know sometimes there are external circumstances for folks being overweight, but there aren't enough of those external circumstances in the world to justify the obesity in American society.
This cause is a cause I really believe in. As life expectancies are dropping and weights are rising across the country, we should be welcome change in with open arms. The generation of children in primary school now is the first generation whose parents are expected to outlive them, according to a statistic given on the show. I can't verify this "statistic", but I believe it. All signs point to yes.
I'm lucky enough to have the means and the information to live a mostly healthy life right now - I'm not perfect, but I try to do things that are generally good for me and try to keep myself mostly in check. Not everyone is as lucky. I can't give them millions of dollars to shop at Whole Foods and buy all natural and fresh ingredients for their meals. But I can do my best to inform those who will listen, and I can give my support to someone, in this case Jamie Oliver, who has a far wider reach than I ever will and who isn't willing to accept failure.
So I'm done ranting and carrying on. I really encourage everybody to watch the show if possible, just once, and give it a chance. The information is really shocking, and even if you already understand the problem, it's an interesting program. It's on Friday nights on ABC, or you can watch it for free at abc.com like I did.
And lastly, if you believe in this cause and you feel so inclined, sign the petition. I'm not typically a petition type of girl, but this is one change I'd like to see happen.