Who Will Win the New Revolutionary War?

Back in the day when I had cable and the Food Channel was brand spanking new I spent hours watching Emeril bam and Sissy call out "Ready Set Cook!"  My favorite show was The Naked Chef.  That Jamie Oliver and his thick blond shag and studly lisp; he could woo a nun with his  "Darlings" and his "Sweethearts."  But it was the simple and pretty foods he put out that earned my respect.  Honest!  When the Naked Chef franchise turned a motley crew of at-risk teens into the kitchen staff at Jamie's new restaurant, I was intrigued.  When I heard rumblings of Jamie speaking out against the crap food served to England's school children, I was inspired.

Anyone with a half a finger on the pulse of modern entertainment has heard of Jamie's Food Revolution.  He hit American shores last year with an agenda of anti-obesity, pro-activity, and healthy food (that tastes good) for all.  He (and his editors) selected a city known as the fattest town in America (a notable title considering America's obesity epidemic), Huntington, West Virginia, and set about to change the habits of its unwilling citizens. 

Like millions of other Americans, we tune in each Friday to watch the highly edited series.   Jamie scowls and purses his lips while the chubby lunch lady tells him off and the unruly elementary school children drown in high-fructose sweetened pink and brown milk.  He scowls and purses his lips while the radio show host publicly berates his ideas.  He scowls and purses his lips while an obese family gets their obese children weighed and tested (presumably for the first time ever) at a doctor visit.  The scowling and pursing are interrupted occasionally as Jamie talks directly to us through the camera, and tells us there is no way he can change America if he cannot change this town.

On one episode, Jamie rents a truck full of crap food and fat and demonstrates to the parents of the elementary students how much bad food is poured into their children during a typical school year. The horrified parents blame the schools and the school administration for allowing this kind of food into the lunch rooms.  I knew that those same parents were likley feeding their children the same crap food for breakfast and dinner every day. But it is easier to blame the system than to take control of it. 

With or without the extreme edits and gimmicks, I get Jamie's point.  And I support it.

Since the debut of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution I've read multiple reactions belittling these efforts.  Once the film crew left Huntington the town went back to its crap food ways.  The children are eating their cheap crap food lunches washed down with sugared milk.  The families are crowding into their local fast food drive-throughs rather than cooking the simple healthy recipes that Jamie provided.  And it seems everyone is crying foul because Jamie used his own money to fund much of the higher quality food experiences. 

A bag of frozen French fries is more expensive than a 5 pound bag of potatoes.  A bag of chips is more expensive than a head of lettuce.  White milk is cheaper than sugared milk.  A pound of fresh chicken or fish is cheaper than pizza delivery.  Forgive my pun but I'm not buying the expense excuse.  Yes, it takes more resources to cook from scratch, whether at school or home, but the cost of raising our children well is our responsibility.  What does it tell them when we act as though they aren't worth that expense?  Too few are rising up to remind us of the true expense of eating junk.

It is easier to moan about the impossibility of fixing a problem than to actually take control of it.  And that kind of negativity is as infectious as an air-born virus.  Thankfully, from Operation Frontline to Michelle Obama, across this country there are volunteers and food professionals that are tackling this problem.  I take pride in rolling up my sleeves and becoming part of this movement.  Once you determine to be part of the solution you rise above the negativity virus.  

My mother raised young foster children when I was a teen.  One of her favorite bibs had this phrase scrawled across it: If you love me, don't feed me junk.  America needs that bib now.  Maybe Mom will loan it out to Jamie Oliver.


Andrea said…
Another thing that people seem to be forgetting is that most children only eat one meal a day at school. Even if the school is providing crap food for the children to eat at lunch, it is a parent's responsibility to make sure their children are eating healthy snacks and meals at home.
patrice said…
You are so right.

Even worse - some children only have one meal a day - the one they are served at school.
stephaniesays said…
i was going to say what you responded with patrice - many parents can't afford to feed their kids which is why their kids are on the free-meal program at school to begin with...when your only food is the junk they serve at school, it's nearly impossible to do well and focus in school.
Amy Boland said…
Quite aside from the costs, the reasons for the existing system, and JO's nobility, rightness, or lack of either, are the very real reasons why he failed, and why his failure was all but guaranteed.

JO ostensibly attempted a public service. The first rule of public service is don't do FOR. Do WITH. He ignored the most basic steps of establishing any kind of service organization:

1. Get invited. Swooping down on a town that your editor selects doesn't count. JO could have asked the town whether they wanted his help with a problem the town has already acknowledged.

2. Find out what help is wanted and welcome. Rather than staging a circus of demonstrations to embarrass citizens into enduring his help, JO could have conducted dialogue with them to find out where they were willing and able to accept incremental changes to the problem, what obstacles had prevented this change so far, and what positive measures the community could sustain.

3. Involve your clients in the solution. That's right, clients. In service, you're not an angel of mercy bestowing your brilliance on grateful invalids. You are serving them as they build a solution that has legs--a solution that can and will gain momentum and strength as more people work toward a shared goal.

JO's efforts did not look like a respectful, genuine, and well-thought-out effort at working with people to change a system. It looked like a self-serving, ego-driven hit-and-run. It failed at permanent change because it was not planned or designed well enough to achieve permanent change.

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