Jamie's Oliver's new book

I’ve been a fan of Jamie Oliver since his first show, “The Naked Chef.” So when I heard that he was going to have a new show on ABC about changing the food habits of the US I got pretty pumped. And it lived up to most of my expectations…besides the fact that most of the people in the West Virginia town of Huntington were not as thrilled that he was there.

Huntington named fattest city in US by the CDC

In 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) named Huntington, West Virginia the fattest city in America. Almost half of their adult population is obese, and it doesn’t help that their poverty level stays at about 19 percent, which is higher than the national average.

Oliver led a mostly successful campaign in the UK to change their school lunches (or school dinners as they call it). Now he has moved on to Huntington in hopes of changing their eating habits as well.

The first place he started was at an elementary school, where the kids were eating pizza for breakfast and pouring strawberry and chocolate milk over their cereal. He knew that processed foods were a main staple of the diet, but he didn’t think it would be that bad in the schools.

Jamie Oliver at an elementary school in Huntington, W. Va.

Oliver’s Met With Resistance

The cooks don’t want to spend more time making Oliver’s from scratch food, and the kids don’t want to eat it. He made a great roasted chicken and salad but it was going up against pizza and so of course the kids chose pizza.

Oliver also went into a classroom of five-year-olds and showed them fresh produce. None of them knew what any of it was, but as soon as he showed them french fries and pizza and chicken nuggets they named them right away. Their teacher then took it into her own hands to teach the kids about food, and Oliver came back and they knew the names of everything!

When he finally starts making head way with the kids, the school board doesn’t have enough money in its budget to buy less processed food, and so Oliver is forced to try and get local businesses on board to donate.

He also set up a kitchen in the middle of town to help teach people how to cook. Many people still deeply resented this “foreigner” coming in and telling them what to eat… Despite the fact that he is a chef and is an expert in these things.

Oliver actually taught 1000 people to cook in only five days, and completing this bet against a local radio DJ finally brought more people to his side.

Oliver with the board of 1000 residents he taught to cook

Progress is Made…And Then Back to Their Old Ways
Oliver successfully gets rid of the processed food and flavored milks in the schools, and leaves Huntington. He returns three months later to find that the milk is back, and that the schools have been forced to have “Processed Food Fridays” to get rid of the back stock of frozen food.

Ultimately it didn’t go as well as Oliver had hoped, but I think that if he got even 10 people to change their habits and think about what they’re eating, he did something. Also bringing it to a national stage on TV hopefully reached out to even more people.

Strong Criticism of Show from the Media
A lot of the articles I read reviewing the show were pretty critical. This article in the Washington Post states that the show “regurgitates the worst of reality TV pap.” At least this is a reality show about a serious topic that ultimately helped change some peoples’ lives, it’s not a show like “Rock of Love.”

Oliver dressed as a pea to teach the kids about veggies

Another of the author’s complaints against the show was that it didn’t comment on the politicization of food in the US. In some ways they did, like the fact that Oliver was outraged that french fries count as a vegetable. He also met with a local senator in hopes of changing food policy.

I can concede with the author’s point that he’s “tired of trying to get the nation to eat right.” A lot of people in Huntington say that they see nothing wrong with the way they eat… but with how much obesity in the news lately you would think they would start to get it.

Even if this program wasn’t a complete success in Huntington so far, it’s made it better than it was. You can watch the episodes on Hulu, and you can sign Oliver’s Food Revolution petition on his website.

Do you think the Food Revolution will ever fully catch on in America?

Photo Credits (in order)
Book photo: Randy Snyder/AP
Lunch photo: Holly Farrell/AP
Photo board photo: Holly Farrell/AP
Pea costume: Holly Farrell/AP