Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Must Watch: Jamie Oliver's New Series

I'm so frustrated by what I'm about to say that I'm not even sure where to start... Seriousy. Ever see something that you were just so shocked at that you didn't know how to respond? Ever feel powerlessto do something about a situation that you know is just plain wrong? That's how I felt the other night while watching a new series on TV.

Jamie Oliver, the famed British Chef from "The Naked Chef," has teamed up with Ryan Seacrest to produce a television series for ABC called Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Jamie has long been an advocate for local eating, knowing where your food comes from, simply prepared foods, and the importance of healthy eating. When I heard he had a new program coming out and that it was going to be on network television, I was excited and quickly set-up the Tivo to record it.

What I saw really and truly surprised and depressed me. It turns out that the premise of his show is that he's traveled to a community in West Virginia that has recently been named the fattest and most unhealthy community in the country (and effectively, the world). The town leads the entire nation in adult obesity, death due to heart disease and diabetes, and even elderly with few or no teeth. This community is a looking glass into the future of America if we don't change our eating and exercise habits very soon and curb the problem with childhood obesity immediately.

In his new series, Jamie has set-up shop in the community for several months and has pledged his own time and energy to start, "A Food Revolution," to get the townsfolk into better eating habits. His first stop is the school lunch system.

Here's what really bothered me about the lunch system:
  • He arrived on day one to find the kids being served "breakfast pizza" for breakfast (it had sausage on it...that apparently made it breakfast) and chicken nuggets for lunch. Both meals were accompanied by sugary flavored milk (there was no white milk or juice in the cooler). The nuggets were accompanied by extra bread and the sauce on the pizza counted as the veggie.
  • The lunch ladies were outright pissed that he was there and blatantly told him they "couldn't" make better food because they didn't have time or money and that they were making perfectly balanced meals by the book.
  • As it turns out, "The Book," a 3-inch 3-ring binder, comprises of the USDA guidelines for school lunch programs nation-wide, supposedly based on the food pyramid. It actually dictates how many "units" of each food group should be served for each age range at each meal and the meal is not reimbursable by the Feds if it doesn't have the required number of units.
  • At one point, the woman argued with Jamie that he needed "Two Breads" because the book said so--even though he had prepared a perfectly balanced meal containing vegetables, lean meat, and nutrient-rich brown rice.
  • In a more recent episode, he had a great veggie stir-fry he was serving to the high school students. The same woman began arguing that there weren't enough vegetable units in the dish and, get this...french fries count as a vegetable.
After the lunch program fiasco, he went to a first-grade class with a basket of veggies and began to play the "What's This" game. Holding up a bunch of tomatoes, one of the kids thought they were potatoes. Holding up a potato, the kids had no idea what it was. Holding up french fries, they knew what they were but didn't know they came from potatoes. They couldn't identify ANY of the veggies he held-up. These kids had never seen a fresh veggie in their short little lives.

Then, there was the nugget test--one he's done numerous times in England, always with fantastic results. He took a small group of kids into his kitchen and showed them a whole raw chicken. He cut-off all of the "expensive" parts (breast, legs, wings, etc.) and was left with the carcass and meat that was clinging to it. He explained that in many countries, chicken nuggets are made using this piece of the bird. He then illustrated by grinding up the bird--bones and all in a food processor, straining the bones out with a sieve, mixing in spices and thickeners. He then rolled it out like a dough, cut with a round cookie cutter, breaded them and fried them. Of course, the kids were sufficiently grossed-out. Once the nuggets were out of the fryer, he asked for a show of hands as to who would STILL eat them after they'd seen that. ALL the hands went up...I mean it. Every single hand. So he handed the nuggets out, they devoured them, and the experiment was over. Fail.

I take for granted that I use very little prepared foods and that I can whip-up a meal from raw ingredients. I always knew other people ate more prepared stuff than I do but I never realized it represented 100% of the family diet for a huge number of families. That first-grade kids can't tell a potato from a tomato really scares me.

If you're able to, I highly recommend watching this new series. This is not a documentary made by earthy-crunchy, tree-hugging folks. This show is about real everyday people in a real town and is an eye-opening experience no matter who you are or how you choose to eat. This show makes "Supersize Me" seem like small potatoes.

...or is that tomatoes?

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