Pop Culture

Jamie Oliver: Stirring the Pot

I watched – and enjoyed – it during its first season, so I was looking forward to Tuesday night’s premiere of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Last year, the British chef and food activist took to Huntington, W.V., to change the way residents, especially children, ate. Now, he’s trying to make his mark in Los Angeles.

Jamie was met with a lot of resistance in Huntington, which isn’t surprising – Jamie is affable, but no one likes to be told what to do and how to eat, even if it is in an attempt to teach children how to enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables and not McDonald’s. I try to eat relatively healthy, but the show was still rather eye-opening; I’ll never forget the episode where Jamie showed a group of school children how chicken nuggets are made. They were disgusted by the process, and even acknowledged that it was “bad” food, but each child still raised their hand when Jamie asked if they would eat the finished product. He was scared, and frankly, so was I.

Will Los Angeles kids act the same way? I couldn’t really get a feel for it during the premiere, which seemed to move a lot slower than the episodes last season. Back then, Jamie was able to get into the schools, and found foils all around him, from a cranky radio DJ to the stern lunch ladies. This time, he rolled into Los Angeles intent on working with LAUSD to change the school lunch offerings. Instead, he was basically told to get lost, that LAUSD didn’t want the conflict and drama that would go along with the show. He then tried to convince a local non-chain fast food place to change their menu, serving better quality food at higher prices. Once again, Jamie was rebuffed.

Seeing a pattern here? Everywhere he turned, doors were slammed in his face. Jamie was not surprisingly bummed out by all the rejection, but decided to do what he does best: make a grandiose statement. This time, he brought a school bus to an empty parking lot and used heavy machinery to fill it with 57 tons of white sugar. Why that amount? Because that’s how much sugar is consumed in just one week by LAUSD students.

It was a powerful and frightening image; too bad there were only about 20 people watching. Jamie said that thousands of emails had been sent out about the stunt and he was sure that a huge crowd would come, but he quickly had to swallow his pride when he saw how small the turnout was. I do think he will recruit more parents as the season goes on, because the parents that were shown during this episode seemed very concerned and open-minded, and many told Jamie that they were scared for their children and did want his help.

School lunches are a very complex issue. Some naysayers say it isn’t up to the schools to feed students, not taking into consideration that for some kids, it’s the only meal they’ll have in a day (which is a whole other, depressing issue). That’s why I appreciate Jamie bringing attention to food in schools; discussion is good, and hopefully more parents will stand up and demand that their children get the best possible food available if they believe it’s not up to their standards. Eventually, many of the most vocal Huntington residents made peace with Jamie and did embrace his suggestions. That could very well happen in LA, too.

While I do like the message he’s sending, I think in this case he’s more optimistic than he should be. As a native of Southern California, I’ve heard all my life from non-residents about how healthy they think we are. Yes, many people take eating healthy and exercising very seriously, but Southern California is also the birthplace of McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Carl’s Jr. For every awesome farmer’s market, there are 100 fast food joints. As one woman during the program said, “It’s easier to get a gun, crack, or a prostitute in a lot of areas of Los Angeles before you can get a tomato.” That might be an extreme example, but I do think Jamie came into this situation with his glasses just a bit too rosy.

By Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

13 replies on “Jamie Oliver: Stirring the Pot”

I, too, am a resident of Los Angeles and I believe the reason JO was turned away doesn’t have anything to do with nutrition. We know how television shows are made – this is a company town. They are disruptive, noisy, messy, and full of strangers. Plus, and this is the big one – I don’t want my children to be on TV. My family living is made in entertainment so we know it very well. School is not the place for it.

I think last night’s episode sounds a lot like the early episodes from his UK “School Dinner”s. There was a LOT of resistance in those as well. I didn’t see the W.V. season, so I can’t compare it in an American context, but this is definitely not the first time he’s had to work through some major problems with motivation to bring about change.

When he was in Huntington, he was met with tons of resistance, but he was given a chance, and was able to get into the schools and talk to the kids and work with the lunch ladies to serve food. I need to watch some of the UK episodes, because I’m interested in seeing how it panned out there. I have a feeling some people in the US automatically don’t want to hear what he has to say because he’s not from here, and they don’t want to hear from an outsider about how they’re doing things wrong!

If I remember correctly, in the UK they were quite enthusiastic initially, and then he met with a lot of resistance to bring about structural change, from the company that supplied ingredients to the schools, but also from some of the lunch ladies, who just wanted to make the kids happy and at first they weren’t very happy with pasta and veggies instead of chicken fingers and chips.

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