Food Revolution?

Last Sunday night, seconds into Jamie Oliver's sneak preview of his newest show Food Revolution, I updated my status on Facebook:
Meaghan O'Malley is watching Jamie Oliver's [Arrogant] Food Revolution with a [partially] open mind. I'm already annoyed that he's in Huntington, WV because I think the last thing people in West Virginia need is some arrogant British douche with millions of dollars telling them how to live their lives better when they are ritualistically underfunded, ignored and insulted by the whole of the U.S.of.A. Good luck with that, buddy.
Before I get all wrapped up in my thoughts about food, slow food, comfort food, and fatness let me preface things with this: I have a soft-spot in my heart for West Virginia.  I went to school there, my favorite town in America is there, my mother worked for many years at MSHA (Mining Safety and Health Administration) and fell in love with the people in Beckley, and in general I think it's a woefully ignored and abused state full of potential and charm.

I don't know a lot about what crop-related subsidies mean...nothing more than can be quickly summed up by a few articles on the internet...but it seems to me that, in general, we allow the American government to support a farming industry that satisfies the nutritional needs of a very few people.  Because we're dissolving the quality of the land exponentially every millisecond by not encouraging diverse planting and adequate crop rotation, thereby enriching the soil, we force consumers to rely on things like corn-byproducts or chemically-processed/produced food products to get by.  To just "feel full".  And as Morgan Spurlock can attest, you eat enough Big Macs and your body starts craving them.  Apparently, even scientists have now determined that rats who eat cheesecake show brain changes that resemble addiction which might someday be connected to the need for 12-step programs like Overeaters Anonymous, whose participants have to identify and subsequently break their addictions to certain foods or food groups, almost always of the cheese/starch/wheat variety.

Without deconstructing the socio-economic realities for the people of Huntington, West Virginia, the setting for ABC's newest show produced by Ryan Seacrest and "hosted" by Oliver, I don't really know how we're going to see a dramatic shift in the eating and consuming principles of a town whose median income is $23,234 and whose primary source of industry is in factory work.  To march into a town full of blue collar laborers and tell them how to eat and how to spend their money is kind of appalling, even to someone like me who grew up privileged when it came to food and everything else.  I mean, if anything at all, my mama taught me from a young age that marching into someone's house and demanding things is just plain rude.

Interestingly enough...and contrary to my own compulsions when it comes to the Jamie Oliver Experience...I don't think that's what will happen in Huntington.  I think that Oliver actually has a noble goal.


Yes.  Oliver, who has been but a grain of sand in the beachy wasteland that is my television-obsessed brain, is someone with whom I have been familiar for many years.  I watched his first show, The Naked Chef, occasionally on the BBC when I lived overseas.  He was adorable, and British (!), and he made food that reminded me of the stuff I ate when I was growing up.  Wholesome food, y'know?  We were cool.  Shortly after I returned stateside, and Food Network kind of blew up all over the place, he suddenly went from spastically running around his kitchen to taking us out into his garden and showing us his gorgeous, brilliant vegetables.  And that's when I started losing it.  I felt like he went from palatable to obnoxious in a matter of moments.  It seemed his agenda was progressing from good food to something akin to the righteousness spilling over from the slow food movement.  It just wasn't enjoyable anymore.  Years later I found out that he was fighting with English school officials about the quality of lunches for Britain's school children and I patted myself on the back for sort-of-predicting that.  Then, through his efforts to restore health and color (by way of vega-tah-bulls) to the meals of Britians kids, he was able to secure $1 BILLION in funding to revamp the entire school meal program from the Prime Minister or whomever is responsible for dolling out money over there.  AWESOME.  That's how it's supposed to happen.  Right on, my man!

Spastic Brit Ahoy!  Shit, now he's crossed the Atlantic on his NinaPintaSantaMaria of Hope, Prosperity and Vegetable Morality and we're all supposed to be excited and receptive to this.  Why?  Because Ryan Seacrest is this show's producer and don't we just have a penchant for listening to him, all slack-jawed and doe-eyed?  It seemed like a winning combination, right? Right.

On Friday afternoon's Oprah, she spoke with Seacrest about his life then and now, going on a quick jaunt with him throughout his day to all of his awesome jobs.  He name-dropped people like Merv Griffin, Casey Kasem, Dick Clark.  These are people that America fell in love with, people that America STILL listens to; Ryan Seacrest wants you to fall in love with him and listen to him too.  Oh look!  He was a fat kid!  Now we should identify with him on a personal level.  This shit is getting deep, y'all!  Cut to commercial.  Now we're back, and who does Oprah call on stage but Ryan Seacrest's latest import, JAMIE OLIVER!  *screams cheers weeeee*

Jamie sits honestly and patiently on the stage, though sometimes his mannerisms remind me of my brother when he was battling the worst of his ADHD which makes me wonder if he's staying fit and trim simply because his body never rests.  He's manic, almost, and literally exploding with energy.  He's got kids!  And a hot wife!  And a mission to attend to!  He went to Huntington to help turn around the nation's, and I need to bold this because it's important, LEAST HEALTHY CITY.  No, not the fattest city.  We're rightfully dubious about his assertion that this isn't, explicitly, about fatness.  However, he does make a point to not only show fat people as the prime examples of Huntingtonites in poor health; it doesn't help either, really, that he takes the cranky radio host from Huntington on a trip to a funeral home to see Venti-Sized Coffins.  These fat-average-thin people are dying in droves.  It's maddening to think about a city kicking the bucket en masse because all they can eat, choose to eat, or want to eat are 49 cent frozen pizzas.  Somebody get Jamie Oliver a cape!

The City of Huntington, their adults and their children, is eating that crap because over the past century America has gone from mostly-agricultural to almost completely industrialized.  Even the lunch ladies balk at Jamie's suggestions when I can almost BET MONEY that they ate the goodness when they were little.  Why?  Because just like my grandpa, a poor farmer's son from Manassas, Virginia, they probably grew up in farmhouses dotted throughout the mostly undeveloped West Virginia countryside, eating vegetables they learned how to grow in their own backyards.  America doesn't let us do that now; not because we can't, or we won't, or because pizza is just too damn good.  And maybe they're just worn down by all the bureaucracy, too.  The USDA guidelines for school food are off the chain, people.  Even my mom says potatoes aren't a vegetable (I mean, they are, but they aren't, but they are).  Anyway, it's because we subsidize corn instead of CORN, we subsidize war instead of STRING BEANS, and we let asshole, people-hating politicians tell us what's up (and how to spend our money; or they just steal it outright) instead of ensuring that if our citizens don't have access to a plot of land big enough to grow some tomatoes and a few bell peppers, that they can at least afford enough at the grocery store for themselves, their kids and whoever else needs to be fed in the community.  And that what they buy is a quality product.

And I believe, despite the chiclet-toothed talking heads like Ryan Seacrest, that Jamie Oliver understands this and wants this for America.  I mean, he uses real butter*.  There is a small, yet hopeful, part of me that believes he just hopes to make sure that if American kids get one good meal a day, at school, that it can help stave off disease and bad health.  He also made sure to illuminate his belief that a person can also be healthy AND fat, which I appreciated immensely.  This Food Revolution is about health, and I get that, and I want that.  I want kids to know how amazing and glorious snap peas taste when you pluck them directly from the source.  I want kids to go to school and have more choices to pile atop their styrofoam trays than strawberry milk and pizza with french fries.  I don't want them to go on field trips to learn about planting food their parents will never be able to afford; I want them to be able to have it whenever they want!  Huntington is not culpable for the situation they are currently in; nay, it's the American government who is responsible for this mess.  And maybe, just maybe, Jamie Oliver will make them notice.**

* I trust him.
** Because peer pressure is a bitch, right? And America wants to be better than everyone else, especially Great Britain.

1 comment:

  1. I think the problem of "health" has less to do with food itself than with poverty. Its all tied in together.

    Yeah, basically the gov subsidizes insanely huge farms that produce corn and soy and smaller, more sustainable farms get shit.

    Don't even get me started on Monsanto.

    This is a really, REALLY good book on food security:

    When I worked at a CSA in 1997, he was still the director of the Hartford Food Program, so the farm he talks about in the book is our CSA.

    Also as far as school lunches go, I am reading this book now:

    I believe that people want to eat well. There are lots of things at play here, but the main one is poverty and ACCESS. Then I would say third in line is education.

    THose are my humble thoughts, though.


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