So, I know I’m late in writing about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (JOFR), but I really needed to sort out my thoughts on it, first.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m not much of a pop culturist. If I didn’t have twitter already, I might never know what a twitter is. I know that’s shameful, ’cause I’m too young to be this far out of the loop.
The show has its pros and cons.
For me, a major positive is the fact that Jamie discusses the food we’re eating and what’s so wrong with it. As you’ll see in the video linked above, the show goes into detail about some of the food we’re eating. I mean, detail. Be sure to watch that episode I have linked above… it’s rough. It’s also reflective. It makes you think about yourself and what you might be putting your body through.
For example: Jamie opts to break down to a group of middle schoolers what, exactly, a chicken patty is made of. (Mind you, all inexpensive chicken nuggets/patties are made this way.) The breasts, legs, thighs and wings are removed because those can be sold for profit. The remains of the chicken – bones, carcass, all that – are then thrown into an industrial grade processor that grinds it all up into a moldable paste. The paste is mixed with a little water, the hardest chunks are sifted out, and then the rest is molded together to make the chicken patty. Most inexpensive dishes and TV dinners that include chicken get their chicken from this method. At this point, he asks the grossed-out kids if they’d still eat it anyway. They all said yes.
Another plus is the fact that it covertly discusses how our environments affect our eating habits. Our environments enable our good habits as well as the bad. If you look at Huntington as a case study, you’ll see that the community makes it easy to overindulge. Lots of fast food, lots of quick eats, and very little oversight. Not to mention one of Jamie’s “enemies,” the local radio DJ Rod, with quotables such as “We don’t want to sit around eating lettuce all day.”
That leads me to what I dislike about the show. Small in number, but big issues that need addressing. I’m pretty much on the same page as Jamie but I know – as I and many of this site’s visitors have said – that you can’t just go in and ambush a community, essentially tell them “You’re doin’ it wrong. Let me fix you.” and expect full and total commitment from them. I mean, really – it’s more insulting than it is reflective of the message in his heart. I don’t even think that was Oliver’s intention, but the purpose of his mission is important enough to take the risk of offending a few folks and having the local talking head talk down to everything you attempt.
Another thing. When you talk food, you have to talk money:
At the end of one episode, we hear Rhonda McCoy, director of food services for the local county, tell Jamie that he’s over budget and did not meet the fat content and calorie guidelines, but she’s going to let him continue with the “revolution” as long as he addresses these issues. What is not revealed is that the “meal cost at Central City Elementary during television production more than doubled with ABC Productions paying the excess expense,” according to a document obtained by AlterNet from the West Virginia Department of Education.
It undermines the very goal that JOFR set out to reach for the show to ask a school system to adopt a meal plan that is so grossly out of budget. School systems operate on so little as is – school systems and education in general are usually the first place state budgets go to make cuts – that to leave them [potentially] optimistic about undertaking this challenge, only for them to realize they couldn’t afford it without ABC’s financial assistance sets a dangerous precedent. It tells other school systems that they shouldn’t even bother trying unless they can double their budgets for food.
The article lets you in on a little secret, below:
Another reason Central City Elementary uses processed foods is budgeting issues. The federal government reimburses schools a paltry $2.68 for lunches and $1.46 for breakfasts (pdf) for children who qualify as long as the food meets specific guidelines. Goff, of the Office of Child Nutrition, says in Cabell County, where the elementary school is located, “they are cooking from scratch 50 percent of the time.” He adds that “50 percent of the cost to produce a meal is in the form of labor. It’s kind of hard to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. You pay a premium for those.”
Poppendieck says after school districts pay for labor, equipment, administration, transport, storage and other expenses, it leaves them with “somewhere between 85 cents and a dollar” for the actual ingredients for lunches. For breakfast, even assuming a generous ratio for purchasing ingredients, Central City has perhaps 60 cents to buy the food for a government-approved, reimbursable meal. Try buying breakfast for 60 cents; it won’t even get you a Snickers bar.
So, really… keep it real. Money is hard enough to come by in a school system.. if JOFR can’t put together a respectable way for school systems to pay for these additional costs, the entire effort is gone. And you can’t reach the kids without educating the adults first. The adults won’t co-sign (financially or argument-wise) an effort they can’t understand.
So, what do I think? I think JOFR is worth watching, absolutely. There are lots of take-aways, here. I think he highlights major problems in our school systems that need to be brought to the attention of those who care. I think he shows what can be done with the American people when we believe and put forth effort to see it through. I’m not appreciating this news about affordability – as it only perpetuates the myth that one must offer up their first born to eat healthy – but I look forward to seeing some kind of addition to the show that shows how schools are making it work.
In short, on Friday nights – check your local ABC channel listings for the specific time – I’ll be on my elliptical grinding away to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. What about you?