Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

by Patricia Eddy on March 26, 2010

I like to think that my husband and I eat rather healthily. There are almost no commercial cans in my house (maybe three or four times a year we break down and buy a can of tomatoes, since this year we didn’t can enough of them), and other than restaurant food, which we can’t be 100% sure of, I don’t think I’ve had any HFCS all year. Without even trying, we follow Michael Pollan’s food rules pretty much to the letter. The foods we buy are whole foods. The foods we buy don’t contain ingredients that our seven year old niece can’t pronounce. We eat a wide variety of foods, a lot of greens, some fruits, and try to minimize our consumption of things like white flour, white rice, and white breads (basically those things made with simple carbohydrates).

But we’ve come to this way of eating gradually. We didn’t wake up one morning and say “we’re going to become locavores” or “we’re going to eliminate all preservatives” or “we’re going to eat healthy from now on”. We took some small steps, then some big ones, and then some small ones again. We had a few stumbles (sorry folks, but I love Cadbury Eggs and I’m not ashamed to admit it). In short, our journey to a way of eating that we feel good about and that helps us feel good was a long road and we’re still on it. We are constantly making small adjustments based on seasonality, discovering new ways to prepare foods, and changing tastes.

Today it seems half of my Twitter feed is talking about Jamie Oliver. Jamie, known as the Naked Chef for his love of simple ingredients and pure flavors, has become quite the activist for eating healthy. He even won a TED award for his wish “… for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again, and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”  I’m completely on board with his TED wish. I think all children should be educated about where food comes from and what types of foods are healthiest. Obesity is a disease that is almost completely preventable.  We should teach our children that food is best when it is fresh, seasonal, and not highly processed. We should help our kids understand proper portion sizes and how to balance a meal. We should practice what we preach too.

So I was sort of excited to hear about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, where he would try to “start a revolution” and change one town’s approach to food and eating. I figure just about anything that helps people learn about fresh, local, healthy food  is a step in the right direction. I didn’t figure that his show would result in an overnight change in attitude, but I did figure that it would be a few steps in the right direction. Jamie’s got his passion going for him, the ability to cook delicious, fresh food, and he’s quite good looking to boot. Plus, he’s taking on one of the areas where I think we could make the most impact and improvement – school lunches.  I think some of the examples of school lunch programs that I’ve seen and read about lately are absolutely atrocious. Chicken nuggets? Pizza and pretzels? I don’t consider processed chicken nuggets food. At best they are little pucks of preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, and fillers. And pepperoni pizza, while delicious, does not make for a healthy child’s lunch.

Unfortunately though, from the preview episode that was shown earlier in the week, I’m not sure Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is going to be successful as anything other than a reality show. I’ll cross my fingers and hope that things improve, but so far, he’s thrown out all of the food in one family’s house and tried to get young children to switch from pizza to roasted chicken with brown rice in one meal and he seemed hurt that the kids didn’t pick the chicken but preferred to stay with the pizza. He’s managed to make enemies of half of the town with some poorly quoted press and he’s got the school cafeteria workers up in arms because he’s basically telling them that they’re “doin’ it wrong” when they’re cooking from USDA approved menus.  

Jamie, if you want to be successful, it’s fine to dream big, but you’ve got to start a little smaller. The family who let you bury their deep fryer? They want to change. I know they do. But if you expect them to go from frying every meal to cooking every meal fresh and healthy in one week AND STICK TO THIS WAY OF EATING  once the show is done and gone, you’re likely going to be disappointed. And if you’re expecting children to all of a sudden prefer brown rice over pizza, you’ve lost it completely. Many of these kids have probably never even seen brown rice.

Here’s what I hope for the rest of the episodes of the show. I hope that there’s more focus on education. I hope that there’s less scoffing in disbelief that the cafeteria workers think that sodium steroyl-2-lactylate is good for you. I’d love it if the kids were introduced to how much better a fresh carrot tastes over a frozen one, or how homemade pizza, with some veggies on top, can taste as good as the highly processed pizza they’re eating now. For the family who fried everything, I’d hope that Jamie realizes that their lifestyle (Dad is on the road for weeks at a time and Mom’s got 3 kids to raise, largely by herself)  probably doesn’t allow them to cook every meal from scratch and introduces them to organic frozen vegetables, and helps them educate themselves so when they can’t cook from scratch, they can choose a frozen meal with good quality ingredients and healthy dose of vegetables instead of frozen processed pizza.

I’m sorry if this post sounds like I’m ragging on Jamie Oliver and his message. I’m really not. If anything I’m ragging a little on the turning of his message into a reality show. I live this life of local, sustainable, healthy food every day. I preach it every day. There are days it’s not easy. I can’t tell you how much I occasionally miss a Big Mac or a slice of greasy, crappy, CAFO meat laden pizza. Processed foods (for the most part) taste good. They are engineered that way. They might not make you feel good, but taste? Yeah, they are quite often very tasty. I understand how hard it can be to change because I’ve done it. I’ve changed. But I didn’t change overnight.

Be patient, Jamie. Start slow, realize the change you’re asking for us HUGE for many of these folks, and most of all, be understanding! I really hope you succeed. I do.

Good luck with your revolution, Jamie. You’re going to need it.

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Yvette March 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I whole-heartedly agree with you–the only way to make any kind of lasting change is taking it slow. However, I think the biggest culprit here is not Jaime Oliver, but the network and show producers. Slow and steady, unfortunately, does not make for good TV. If it did, the Biggest Loser would take a year or more to play out, not 15 weeks. I admire Jaime and hope like you do that the show can teach not just the families involved but viewers the way to change their eating habits. Let’s see if the TV producers let it play out that way.

Hippo Flambe March 27, 2010 at 5:53 am

I also have problems with the show, I don’t really see how jumping in a dumpster of fat will change a town’s eating habits. However reality TV sells, so if Jamie can get the country behind him we can all pressure the government to give more money for the school lunch programs.

Our local school ends up with approximately 90 cents per child for lunch. They find ways to save money where they can so they can also send the free lunch children at our poorest schools home with fresh fruit. With that budget they have to serve the commodity chicken patties, chicken nuggets and scary burgers. Other meals served are better but they can be afforded because the commodity garbage is mixed in, and less children eat the other meals.

How to change howe this country eats is a hard question. One that can’t be solved quickly. As for the processed food, try it again. I am willing to bet you won’t think it tastes good anymore. My family used to love Costco rotisserie chickens, when friends served it to us recently nobody in my family liked it anymore.

.-= Hippo Flambe´s last blog ..Liege Sugar Wafles =-.

kitchensink March 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Most eye opening to me was the realization that food and eating (in school or out) is so tied up in government bureaucracy. There seems to be a lot of red tape and weirdness (like not getting to use silverware).

Do we have to rely on government to change the way we eat? I’d rather rely on Jamie : )
.-= kitchensink´s last blog ..Chicken 101 =-.

Patricia Eddy March 27, 2010 at 4:25 pm

I agree. I really do “get” why the USDA exists and why they have all the rules they do. Intellectually, I understand. But at the same time, so many of their rules are completely backwards. Kids need 2 bread servings every meal? Who the heck decided that? And why?

If we have to rely on the government to change the way our kids eat, it’s never going to happen. Or they’ll end up changing it to something even worse, like OK’ing genetically modified food or something like that.

I really do support what Jamie’s trying to do. I just don’t see it working on the large scale here because of all of the red tape.

Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen March 28, 2010 at 7:36 am

I agree that the most horrifying part was seeing how messed up the USDA’s guidelines are for what constitutes a healthy lunch (and breakfast – pizza???) for kids. No wonder Jamie remarked that he had never seen such under-excited kids. They were all sitting in the classroom with no enthusiasm. It was sad to see. I know kids who have been raised on farms their whole lives, and kinds whose parents are locavores, and they are some of the brightest kids I have seen. There is a marked difference between the brain function and zest for life that kids whose diets consist of entirely processed foods and those who don’t.

Plus that family who is trying to change on the show, their kids face very real health problems, that are imminent if they don’t change, and change BIG very very soon. I really do think they need a hard reality check. It is one thing for adults, who have access to the internet, to learn about eating local, and organic, and making changes slowly. But when you have kids, you have to be looking out for their best interests right away, especially when they are already high risk.
.-= Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen´s last blog ..Seriously Succulent Slow Cooked Short Ribs over Creamy Polenta =-.

Hippo Flambe March 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm

The part that I found the saddest was how Jamie thought it was such a great thing when those children memorized the names of the raw vegetables. You know they learned that by being quizzed and playing games, not by coking with them and tasting what they cooked. Last summer my kids could recognize not just an eggplant, but also the plant they grow on.

I have talked a lot with the person who manages our school districts food and I think the problem of school food is so complex. One of the challenges is the kitchens in the schools. To boil water in many school kitchens they need to put the pot in the oven. Our schools do have cutlery though. We also have a well stocked salad bar. However the kids often eat the croutons and pickles and nothing else. I think the most important step would be to have more adults in the lunch rooms eating with the kids!

.-= Hippo Flambe´s last blog ..Liege Sugar Wafles =-.

kitchensink March 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm

I am still obsessed with this.

I am obese. I cook mostly from scratch. But do it so well : ) that portion control is a problem. Plus, I don’t exercise enough. I am trying to make changes (slowly) and my main goal is to not let my daughter fall into the same tracks.

My daughter has friends that eat nothing but Kraft Mac & Cheese, cookies, pizza and very few veggies or fruit. Yet, they are as thin as rails.

This being said, it isn’t just junk food and poor nutrition in schools that contribute to the problem of obesity.

Very complicated & confusing…
.-= kitchensink´s last blog ..Chicken 101 =-.

Janna March 28, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Amen, sister.
.-= Janna´s last blog ..‘spring garden’ spirit =-.

Richard May March 29, 2010 at 1:20 pm

We can apologize all we want, but processed foods, lack of exercise, no parental discipline and a general lack of interest in doing the “right thing” are killing our kids. If we don’t stop feeling sorry for ourselves and indulge the feelings of others who need a quick “food-fix” then we have only ourselves to blame. Do we honestly think that McDonalds and “Big Business” are going to help give our kids a balanced diet? While I feel sorry for the kids, I am angry and upset that it takes a Brit to show up on reality TV to edge aside the Kardashians and Jersey Shore and tell Americans we have a serious problem. Let’s solve it – not talk about it! It’s not rocket science.
.-= Richard May´s last blog ..From Chicken to McNuggets: Is this Evolution? =-.

Mara May 20, 2010 at 7:24 am

kitchensink, I totally agree with you. We need to make eating healthy “cool” to our kids. One way I’ve tried to do this is to cut out all the sugary drinks that my kids love so much. They love them because they taste good, but also because they are “cool” to have. WAT-AAH is a company that is trying to make water “cool” for kids again, and it’s definitely working with mine. Just check out their videos, show them to your daughter, and I bet they might actually ask to try it: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=BC3796CB622E57BB

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