I’m hooked on Jamie Oliver’s new TV show, Food Revolution, and I’m appalled by the food being served in our children’s and grandchildren’s schools. Really? Pizza for breakfast? Sugary and fat-laden donuts? Chicken nuggets every week for lunch? Several of the children interviewed said they had also had chicken nuggets for dinner the previous night! Good lord, what has this country come to? I grew up right across the river from Huntington, West (by God!) Virginia, in little Ironton, Ohio, so I know these people and I know how they think. Most of my family who still lives there, eat the same way and don’t see the least thing wrong with it. Jamie has his work cut out for him.
When I was in school, granted, back in the stone ages, we had real food! Our very skilled and talented cooks took fresh chicken, coated it with flour and salt and pepper and fried it. I realize that frying is not the healthiest version, but at least it was the real thing! They put real potatoes in pans and cooked them and mashed them. They didn’t add water to “potato pearls”!! When we had Thanksgiving dinner, they baked whole turkeys and made dressing from scratch and you had a choice of white meat or dark meat. And then on the Monday after Thanksgiving, we always had creamed turkey over mashed potatoes or noodles that they made from the leftover turkey meat. It was delicious! That’s still my favorite after-Thanksgiving meal.
I realize that it isn’t the cooks who are to blame. I’m certain if the federal guidelines required them to cook actual food and not chemicals disguised as food, that they would do a fabulous job. The thing that scared me the most about the cooks in the show was the fact that they didn’t see one thing wrong with what they are serving their little customers. They probably cook the same way at home. Two out of four of the women are obese, which seems to follow the obesity rate in the area. And the attitude they have doesn’t make it seem likely that they are open to changing their ways. Of course, I understand that they feel threatened by this “foreigner” who has come to take over their domain. The one that they have reigned over for years, some of them decades. I would probably feel the same way if someone came into my kitchen and started telling me that everything that I have been doing is all wrong. I was hoping to see at least one of them have a glimmer of acceptance in her eyes. But it is early days yet. I’ve only seen the sneak preview.
Another scary thing was the fact that many of the children didn’t eat the few healthy items on their trays, most of those items went into the trash. A fruit and vegetable is required at every meal served in the Federal school lunch program, well only fruit for breakfast, and some of the things that fall under these categories are questionable. Ketchup and pickles are vegetables? Well, I guess we can thank President Reagan for that one. Remember the controversy when they gave those two items vegetable status? Ketchup does have one redeeming quality, it is high in antioxidants, but it is also high in sugar and sodium. Most of the food items are nothing more than highly processed junk, and we have the powerful lobbying skills and money of the food industry to thank for that.
I’m not sure how Jamie got this project accepted by the hierarchy in Huntington, because obviously it puts their city in a terrible light. Huntington has many wonderful things going for it. It’s a beautiful city, surrounded by the Ohio River on one side and mountains all around. It has a major mid-southern university–Marshall University, made famous in the movie “We Are Marshall”. The people are friendly and open and love to have fun. I love Huntington and wouldn’t mind living there. But it is a city with an extraordinary percentage of people who are obese and quite a few of them are morbidly obese. Everything seems to be centered around the consumption of food…and not healthy food. Obesity-related disease runs rampant through the population.
I can’t wait to see the two-hour premiere this evening. I think the first hour is the sneak preview that was shown this week, but I won’t mind watching it again. It will be interesting to see how this project develops and if it ever gains acceptance. If you are interested in watching, you can find information here at ABC‘s website.
Also, if you are interested in learning more about First Lady Michelle Obama’s quest to end childhood obesity, visit this site.
UPDATE 3/27/10: After watching the show last evening, I would have to say that Jamie’s quest seems as if it might have a slight chance. On his final day at the elementary school, the children actually ate some or most of the food given to them. The previous days 99% of it had gone into the garbage. It required extraordinary effort on his part, including visiting classrooms to teach the younger children what raw vegetables were (in one class, the children didn’t know what tomatoes or potatoes were…he had to reference them by their fast food forms–ketchup and french fries!) and dressing up as a giant pea pod, which was a smashing failure! In the teaching kitchen he has established in the downtown area of Pullman Square, he taught a class to kids who are 8 or 9 years old. They didn’t seem to be familiar with seeing a chicken in its entirety, so Jamie cut up the usual parts which dinged a few bells. But when only the carcass was left with some meat attached, he showed them how the chicken nuggets are made. He ground up the whole thing in the food processor, bones, skin and all, and then put it through a sieve to extract what looked like pink goo. He added some “stabilizer” and seasonings, formed small patties, dredged it in bread crumbs, and fried it in oil to make…voila! chicken nuggets. They all preferred the nugget over any other chicken part. After seeing how gross it was in the process, they still wanted it in nugget form. That tells me that anything he accomplishes there will be short lived for most people, and they will revert back to their old eating habits as soon as they see his tail lights heading out of town. It will be interesting to see what happens next week when he heads into the high school and involves the kids in cooking for the adults. Stay tuned.