Jamie Oliver, who first crossed our consciousness as the Naked Chef, has taken his commitment to simple, unpretentious, healthy food to a whole new level by embarking on what is arguably an ambitious endeavor – change America’s unhealthy eating habits.
Jamie has always been at war with unhealthy fare and believes that cooking is a dying art that people need to get back in touch with. In 2005, he was part of the show Jamie’s School Dinners, a documentary that featured him running a children’s school in Greenwich for a year. He began a campaign to improve the standards of Britain’s school meals and because of his efforts, acknowledged by Tony Blair himself, the UK government pledged £280m on school dinners for 3 years.
Jamie was the 2010 TED Prize winner, and his wish was also related to the same advocacy. Who’s Ted, you ask. It’s not a name of a guy, actually, but it stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design which started out as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Every year, they give The TED Prize, a $100,000 award given to the individual with the most exceptional “one wish to change the world.” Jamie’s wish was this: “I 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.”
Now he has set his sights on America with its high statistics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes and where the nation’s children are the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents. In a six-part documentary series, Jamie’s Food Revolution, heads to Huntington, West Virginia, the unhealthiest city in America, where he will try to save 50,000 lives.
In the first episode which was aired last week, Jamie visits a school where he is shocked to find that they serve pizza for breakfast. He helps out in the kitchen and is surprised that they don’t peel actual potatoes for the mashed potatoes because they have “something much better”: processed potato pearls. He shows fresh food to kids that he asks them to identify, but one boy doesn’t even know what tomatoes are, calling them potatoes. He also visits an obese family where he asks the mother to show him what she feeds her children – an ugly picture that starts off with deep fried donuts with chocolate icing for breakfast.
He then uses the shock and awe strategy to create awareness of how unhealthy all these food they are putting into their body are. He dumps a vat of the fat consumed by the entire school for one year in front of everyone. In the family home, he cooks a week’s supply of the food they eat – corndogs, pizza, bacon – and dumps them all on the table for the mother to see and then telling her: “This is going to kill your children.” While it’s a striking visual, we can’t help but compare it to another TV show that aired earlier, Gillian’s You are What You Eat, which used the same shock strategy.
As expected, his moves were met with some resistance. “We don’t want to sit around eating lettuce all day,” a radio DJ told him. “Who made you king?” At the end of the day, Jamie was reduced to tears and he sobbed, “They don’t understand me, they don’t know why I’m here.”
Well maybe they just don’t right now, Jamie, but it’s only day one. A seed of change needs time to grow.
Do you believe in Jamie’s revolution? Sign his petition here.