Jamie Oliver tackles school lunches- even on pizza day!

For the most part of my schooling, I was a brown bag kid.  Once in a while, usually on pizza days, I would forget my lunch and be provided with hot lunch from the school.  This is the most thought I gave school lunches until documentaries like Super Size Me started pointing out the lack of quality foods being served in schools.  The fight for healthier lunches in our school is now coming to television, and it premiered this Friday on ABC.

“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” is the first show to send a real chef (Oliver) into public schools to attempt to revamp the way they serve hot lunch.  While we’re ready to welcome an enlightening show like this into our homes, it seems that the town of Huntington, WV was not ready to welcome it into their lives.

Based upon previews, I thought this show was simply going to educate the people in the town and the viewers on how to eat healthier.  But as I began to watch the show, I realized that Oliver really had a fight on his hands.  And while a bit of the show does teach healthier eating habits, it really documents Oliver’s struggle to try and change how people eat.

The town of Huntington, WV was chosen, not randomly, but because a government survey found it to be the area with the highest death rate due to heart disease.  This stat would scare most people but the people of Huntington don’t seem to want help.  In the first scene, Oliver goes to promote his mission on a local radio station and even the DJ greats him with resistance and close mindedness.  The local DJ’s attitude is nothing compared to the hard time that school cooks give Oliver (and don’t call them lunch ladies… Oliver learned that the hard way.)

The school cooks see nothing wrong with frozen, processed chicken or potato pearls.  The mere suggestion of peeling actual potatoes brings scowls on the ladies’ faces.  The comparison of potato pearls to cement is not that far off, but for some reason, Oliver is the only one that seems to know this.

The children in this school are not quite sure what an eggplant is (they suggest it  might be a pear) or that a french fry comes from potatoes.  Frozen foods, deep fried foods and processed foods seem to be the new food pyramid in this town and nobody is listening to Oliver’s pleas to change this.  It isn’t until Oliver takes his case to the parents of the school that a smidge of momentum shifts his way.

The show takes a scary look at the causes of childhood obesity and childhood diabetes.  When Jamie wants to give one family a wake up call, he actually takes them to the doctor and the doctor’s diagnosis is not perfect.  Diabetes lingers in teenager Justin Edwards’ future.  For such a young age, to have such a grim diagnosis is heartbreaking.

The people of Huntington (which seems to be a lovely town) aren’t stupid or slow- perhaps they just don’t know any other method.  Nobody seems to be doing actual cooking (and not just microwaving or adding water) but it also seems that nobody has ever taught them how to do actual cooking.

Oliver’s upbeat attitude and determination is inspiring.  Although his tears on camera may be a bit much, he truly comes off as passionate about changing this town’s health.  He constantly insists to people that he is on their side but the biggest problem is- none of them believe him.  Until this town sees results, Oliver is not going to be treated like a hero.

The show is fascinating and heart wrenching at the same time.  Everything Oliver says makes complete sense but until some one actually takes his advice, nothing will change.  I am excited and optimistic about where the next couple of shows will lead- will we see this town take a turn for the better?  Will people get healthier?  Will they follow Jamie’s methods?  But I am also nervous.  Will they ignore his advice?  Are they set in their ways?  It seems like since the show is dealing with real people, with real struggles; any outcome is possible.

Watching the show inspires me to change my own eating habits; a definite sign that the show has a positive message.  Perhaps if a young version of myself was watching this show, they would remember to take their lunch- even on processed pizza days.

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