On Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

by DaniGirl on March 27, 2010 · 21 comments

in Happy @ home, Life, the Universe and Everything, Mothering without a licence

I admit, although I’d heard of Jamie Oliver before yesterday, I had only the vaguest idea who he was. A friend of mine cooked up some of his recipes for a dinner party once, and I was impressed. But I’d heard he called feeding your kids junk food child abuse, and I was not impressed. So it was simple curiousity coupled with a lack of anything more compelling to do that made me tune in to his new TV show last night.

In case you, like me, have been under a rock for the last half decade or so, here’s the backgrounder: Jamie Oliver is an admittedly fetching British chef who seems to star in most of the shows on the Food Network. He’s a one-man empire: beyond the multiple TV shows, he’s got a product line with in-home parties, books, cafes and cooking schools, and a couple of restaurants. He’s taken on the cause of leading a movement in healthy eating and wholesome cooking, especially for school children, and turned it into a six-episode TV series. In Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, he takes his message to Huntington, West Virginia — the “unhealthiest city in America” — where he helps families and a school cafeteria learn how to eschew the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and pizza for simple, unprocessed and nutritional meals made of real food.

Which brings us to last night’s show. In fact, there were two — I made it through one and a half before I ran out of steam and PVRed the rest.

I went in cynical. I’d bristled at the attribution I’d read, where he said feeding your kids junk food is equivalent to child abuse. I am very cognizant of what my kids eat, and feed them healthy, wholesome, home-cooked meals most of the time. But you know what? They also get McDonalds and pizza and (gasp!) chips, and a lot of the other crap kids love. Occasionally. And I’m fine with that.

But by half way through the first episode last night, I was hooked. This is not the “Wife Swap” brand of exploitative reality television that I was expecting. He seems genuine in his belief that by empowering one family, one school, and by extension one small city, he can sow the seeds of real change in how America eats. Not only do I think he is genuine in his belief, but I think he may just achieve what he’s set out to do.

Of course, in me he is preaching to the choir. I look back over the last ten years and am amazed at how my outlook on food has changed since we had kids. Even over the last year and a half, I’ve radically changed how I choose and prepare dinners. In fact, I’ve more or less taught myself how to cook real food from scratch, something I rarely did before we had kids. Turns out that convenience foods are neither the best nor the easiest choice — didn’t see that one coming!

For instance, I’ve gone from buying frozen chicken nuggets in a box to making my own with shake and bake to making my own with bread crumbs and buttermilk. And you know what really surprised me? It takes only a few minutes longer, but it tastes so much better! I make hamburgers from ground beef instead of buying boxes of frozen patties. I serve a fruit or a vegetable to the boys with every single meal. I found out the boys love certain types of salad, so we serve those often. Simple things that we weren’t doing just two years ago. Small things, but important things that are cutting out heaping helpings of preservatives and sodium and mystery ingredients.

This is in pretty sharp contrast with the obviously overweight family that Jamie took under his wing in last night’s episode. They had stacks of frozen pizzas in the fridge for snacks, and their deep fryer was the most-used appliance in their kitchen. When Jamie cooked up an entire week’s worth of their food — largely pizza and pogos and fries — it was alarming not only in its quantity but in its uniform golden brown colour.

Even more disturbing was the school cafeteria that served pizza for breakfast, fried food at every meal and neon-coloured milk. I have a hell of a time making sure three kids eat properly at lunch time each day, so it can’t be easy to manage 400 of them, but I’m still trying to figure out if it was the sheer wasted food or what they were eating that was more disturbing to watch. (Much was made of the six-year-olds who confused potatoes and tomatoes, but even my kids who have grown tomatoes in the garden and eat them regularly occasionally confuse the similar-sounding words.)

Overall, I think some of the conflict in the show was gently contrived, but they generally stayed away from overt exploitation or holier-than-thou mocking of the residents of Huntington. There’s little arguing with his message, far as I’m concerned, and I wish him every success in evangelizing it.

Did you watch it? What did you think? Is this just another way for Jamie Oliver to line his own pockets, or might he really achieve his noble goals? And if this isn’t the way to wean the populace from pogos and chicken nuggets — what is?

Edited to add: I should have thought when I was writing this to link to the newly launched “Know More Do More” campaign in Ottawa. Check them out for healthy active living tips for families!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jen March 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I haven’t seen this specific programme, but I am in the UK and my children have reaped the benefit of Jamie’s attitude to school meals, they have lovely meals now and chips (fries) are offered only once a week.

As for lining his pockets, I honestly think if that was his sole aim, he’s going about it all the wrong way. He has a chain of restaurants called 15 with the sole aim of training up kids from the wrong side of the tracks to learn their trade in the kitchen, as well as the school dinners campaign. Yes he makes money out of the TV series accompanying all these acts, but he is earning a living in a compassionate way. He does have a family of three kids and one on the way to support!

2 Judy March 27, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I have been a fan of his since the Naken Chef series as he has easy to follow, great tasting recipes.

Truly, I think he is out to make eating REAL food a daily activity for everyone.

3 Scatteredmom March 27, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I have watched Jamie Oliver for years, starting way back when he began doing “The Naked Chef”. Honestly, I haven’t tried a lot of his recipes because by the time I was really into learning more about cooking, we moved and I couldn’t watch Food Network anymore.

I’ve worked in schools for 18 years though, and I have seen the junk that is given to kids. In some places, it’s completely appalling. I’ve also been a foster parent for 10 years to kids who have only known highly processed food, and have first hand witnessed the change in their behavior and health when their diets are changed to fresh, home made, healthy eating. It’s been a cause that I supported a long time before Jamie Oliver came on the scene. The problem is that I was always viewed as a pain in the butt or just crazy for suggesting things like fruit and veggies being offered in the school canteen, or that perhaps the once a week hot lunch should have things that are not fast food. Jake was made fun of because he had healthy things in his lunch, and no prepackaged, preservative loaded ingredients. I’m not judging people who do love fast food, but we, as a family, made a conscious choice not to eat it.

When we vacation in the USA for 3 weeks a year it is incredibly difficult to get anything that is a reasonable portion size or that isn’t covered in cheese, bacon, gravy, breaded, or deep fried. Waitresses always look like their heads will explode and we get strange looks for requesting veggies (no butter), dressings on the side, skim milk, wheat bread, or share meals. At one point when ordering a BLT, the waiter literally could NOT wrap his head around the fact that we wanted it single layered. We have been told, repeatedly, that most people order TWO of what we’ve ordered, or they can’t believe how little we eat. Everything, from a cup of coffee to a stick of gum, it portioned larger than in Canada.

I don’t believe that Jamie Oliver is doing this to make himself rich. If he did, I think there would be more ads about his books, his products (I didn’t even know he sold products until I visited his website), and more pushing that “you can eat healthy the Jamie Oliver way!” He’s more into teaching basic skills than pushing his own stuff.

As far as I’m concerned, my blog is behind him 200%. I even started Revolution Fridays, where I’m cooking up some of his recipes and blogging about it, and people can join in on their blogs by either cooking, or talking about lunches, or whatever. You’re welcome to join if you’d like to πŸ™‚

4 Shan March 27, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I haven’t watched this latest series, but I did watch the one he did with a school in Britain. I think he seems entirely genuine in his crusade. You can tell just listening to him speak on the subject. I agree with Scattered Mom and her suggestion that if he was in it for the money he’d promote himself a whole lot better. I get the impression that he does what he has to do, cash wise, to fund what he’s truly passionate about.

5 ewe_are_here March 27, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Jamie Oliver’s show were quite popular over here; they’ve been showing the American one over here this season. I think he’s done a lot of good pointing out some of the crap schools were feeding children; he got the food standards changed. I think his next focus should be on hospital food, as it’s dreadful in a lot of places.

The only area I think he is nuts is in his personal life and the names he has given his children. He has three daughters: Poppy Honey; Daisy Boo; and Petal Blossom Rainbow. His wife is currently pregnant again (they’re desperate for a boy) and the public guessing about the next horror of a name is hysterical. I’m betting on ‘Oakley Acorn’ if he finally gets that boy. heh heh

I bet his kids eat well, though. πŸ˜‰

6 Fawn March 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I’d heard his name but didn’t know of his crusade, either, until about three weeks ago, when I watch him speak on Ted.com. I say go, Jamie, go! πŸ™‚

7 Karen March 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I adore Jamie Oliver. I watched the British version of his show and I watched last nights. I don’t think the confict was at all contrived. I watched him on Oprah yesterday (I love my PVR) and the towns people really were not happy that his was there. He won them over though, the radio dude said he went out and bought a crockpot.

8 Amber March 27, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I did not see the show, but I want to. This is one of those times when having no TV isn’t working out for me.

And I agree on the tomato / potato thing. My daughter loves potatoes and hates tomatoes, even the fresh-picked ones from our garden, but she mixes up the words. That doesn’t seem overly alarming, in and off itself. Little kids mix up words sometimes, just like they put their shoes on the wrong feet sometimes.

9 Chantal March 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I haven’t watched this show but I need to. I will set my PVR to record it (I hope they will repeat the first two). I have been a fan of his for years and I have watched his British shows before. I too have changed my eating habits since having children. I had actually started to think up a post about it just today. Hopefully I will have it written and posted before D2 turns 1 πŸ™‚

10 A Crafty Mom March 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I do love Jamie Oliver and I’m thrilled with the concept behind this show – I missed last night’s episode but saw the preview last Sunday.

I try to feed my children healthy, we eat mostly organic, unprocessed food. Let me state that I am in no way in favour of serving unhealthy garbage to kids . . . BUT, as a teacher who has worked in an inner city school where roughly 60 per cent of my students came to class each morning having eaten no breakfast at all, I was very happy to see that at least all the students were getting *something* for breakfast. The same kids in my class who hadn’t eaten breakfast often didn’t have a lunch with them – so at some point it becomes a matter of kids being undernourished or at risk for starvation. It’s very difficult to learn under those circumstances.

I recognize that obesity is a huge problem in America (and in Canada), but I can assure you in many cases that parents are just uneducated and unable to afford the healthy food for their children. I think Jamie is doing a wonderful thing, I think this could really go somewhere, and I look forward to watching the upcoming episodes.

11 smothermother March 28, 2010 at 6:53 am

i’ve been a fan of jamie since the naked chef days as well. and i too believe he is genuine. sure he is making money, but the projects that he works on and the things that he tries to do for kids and kids health, is pretty impressive. i really believe he has a big heart. i didn’t watch the show, but know of it and watched part of the british version. i hope it works for him and if he convinces even just a handful of people to eat better in the states, maybe it will be the little snowflake that starts the snowball rolling.

12 Mary @ Parenthood March 28, 2010 at 8:38 am

We don’t get the food network and I’ve never seen the show but it sounds interesting. The Know More Do More campaign has some awesome prizes. I couldn’t help but sign up although I don’t know that we’re really the target.

13 Angela ( jhscrapmom) March 28, 2010 at 10:45 am

jamie oliver is great:). i watched the british version of the show and agree wholeheartedly. i will be catching up with the american version this week.

one of the commenters above made a direct reference to the states being immensely worse off than we are ( canada ) in terms of food habits…i would tread carefully…canada is not so much better in it’s fast food offerings. we have fewer options, of course, just by virtue of our population differences, but as a parent who needs to monitor every bit of food that goes into her child’s mouth ( allergy kid ), I have as much problem in canada as the states in terms of finding healthy offerings for him. the problem is here as well, and i am sure we can learn much from this information…

now, that said, our schools – at least the ones in my school board – have already embraced a healthy eating mandate. this lasts throughout elementary school, with healthy in school snacks available for free, limited junk in terms of school offered hot lunches and a consistent dialogue on healthy eating and the responsibility of families and children in this. high school…it is a little different…but you need to hope that you child’s eating habits are relatively well set by that age. and any bad choices off set by healthy offerings at home.

good topic dani:)

14 Nat March 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Aren’t we all wonderful great parents. πŸ˜‰

I really found his UK series enlightening, not only did it look at nutrition but some of the budget and cost factors as well. (Hence you can feed kids crap for less than you can feed them well.) I think he’s genuine in this quest.

I think treats once in a while are ok. (And maybe homemade treats are even better.) The issue we see here is that treats are doled out all the time instead of occasionally. Kids assume it’s ok. I also wonder if in the end, it becomes a cycle because kids can’t fend for themselves in the kitchen. Dunno…

15 Annika March 28, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Yay for Jamie Oliver. I support what he’s doing, but I find it incredibly sad that he has to educate the masses on such a basic life skill.

What I am realizing from all of this is that there are many people out there who don’t even know how to prepare or appreciate real, honest-to-God food. Feeding a child a pogo stick, or any other garbage from a box, is pure laziness. Cut up some fruit and cheese, and toast a piece of whole grain bread if you’re pressed for time. Low-fat yogurt or applesauce with a side of whole grain pasta and veggies. There are so many easy and quick snacks and meals that are not complicated to make when you are really pinched for time, but offer some nutritional value, genuine ingredients and are not loaded with sugar, fat and sodium.

As you pointed out, Dani, making the healthy chicken nuggets doesn’t take any longer than defrosting the mechanically-separated-chicken-pieces from the frozen “foods” section, and it tastes, well, like how food is supposed to. Flavourful. Nourishing. Real.

Sad that this is considered a revolution. Hopefully the public education will help save some of these people from a life of poor health.

16 Hilary March 29, 2010 at 5:14 am

Jamie Oliver really believes in this crusade. He was very instrumental in lobbying the UK government to improve school meals. He basically single-handedly badgered the government into spending millions of pounds to improve them.

He is extremely wealthy and makes so much money in his other ventures that it’s pretty clear that this one comes from the heart. I would love to see him tackle hospital food next!

17 Some kind of Wondermom March 29, 2010 at 8:52 am

I missed it, but I keep meaning to watch it! I’m interested in your recipe for home made chicken nuggets! Would you mind sharing?

I too make my own hamburgers, and this year for the first time I bought beef from a local farm. What a difference in the taste!

18 kgirl March 29, 2010 at 11:58 am

I keep missing the show, but I watched the UK version and have several of Jamie’s cookbooks. He definitley preaches from a place of privilege – you should see where he lives; he grows a ton of food and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have to do the weeding, but his message is a simple, important one. I am always shocked by the level of resistance he gets.

19 andrea from the fishbowl March 30, 2010 at 10:18 am

Oooh, love this topic. It’s one I’m very passionate about.

I have only watched the first episode of Food Revolution so far (the other one is still waiting for me on the PVR). It was shocking … made for TV, obviously, but still very shocking!

I found the scenes with the lunch ladies very interesting. (Just don’t call them lunch ladies! HA)

And thank you so much for mentioning the Know More Do More campaign! The more people who know about it the better! Have you signed up yet? FYI, we are on Facebook and Twitter too. Find us @KnowMoreDoMore. πŸ™‚


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