Back when we lived in Ireland Melony and I used to like watching this young hip chef named Jamie Oliver on the BBC. His show was called the Naked Chef and it was basically him energetically cooking a simple Northern European style meal for his friends. His recipes weren’t particularly “healthy” as we Americans typically define the word, but they were constructed of whole ingredients and assembled without pretense. He was fun to watch and he taught me how to roast a chicken.
Jamie got married, had kids and inevitably started to grow up, and when he did he realized that his children were going to be fed total crap when they started public school in Great Britain. So began Mr. Oliver’s second incarnation (actually it was his third as there was the 15 campaign in there but who’s counting) as an advocate for improved school lunches. In a BBC show entitled Jamie’s School Dinners he goes up against a set in her ways lunch lady and tries to improve the lunch program at a suburban London public school. I must admit to feeling a bit tearful as I watched these kids toss out Jamie’s beautiful food and literally go on strike demanding the return of chicken nuggets and pizza. He did find some moderate success – most of which was the physical makeover of the lunch lady – but it’s tough telling a bunch of kids addicted to sugar, salt and fat that they should chose asparagus soup over chicken nuggets.
Now Jamie has taken on the herculean and thankless task of transforming the eating habits of Huntington, West Virginia – labeled America’s most unhealthy community. His efforts are chronicled in an ABC series called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution which began last Friday. His first mistake was to go on a conservative radio program where the shock jock was savvy enough to recognize that he’d get more publicity out of opposing Mr. Oliver than supporting him. The blowhard is cut from the Howard Stern model – screw civility, screw respect, screw intelligent conversation, bring on conflict, bring on controversy and then sit back and count da money. I felt bad for Jamie as I watched him getting a good dose of the tried and true shock jock formula.
I expected push back from the lunch ladies as he is asking them to do one heck of a lot more work: cooking from scratch is much more time consuming, difficult and risky than opening a can or reheating some processed nugget type thing. The big shock, however, came from the superintendant and the woman who is in charge of the district lunch program. I mean a world class chef is volunteering his time and heart in an effort to teach what is undeniably true and they treat him like some kind of high minded radical. The poor guy says you shouldn’t feed kids pizza for breakfast the lady treats him like he’s talking about tai chi or zazen meditation (both of which, by the way, would probably be good ways to start the school day).
I wish the guy the best of luck but as the old saying goes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t get him to drink. I think folks who are healthy and aware just naturally want to spread the good word – not unlike a religious missionary. But also like a missionary you’re going to have to experience a lot of heartbreak just to find that one convert. Bottom line is that folks don’t like to be told what to do and the more you tell them the more they will resist. This line of thought comes to a screeching halt when it comes to school lunches however. Our children should taste some real food at least once a day and there is no excuse for serving our children crap processed foodlike substances and sugar drinks. Let’s hope this is the start of a true revolution.