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Generally Recognized As True: On Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Full disclosure: I am a fan of Jamie Oliver (search my blog if you don't believe me), and I am starting to really dislike Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

In the space of a few weeks, he seems to have:
  • overcome the "outsiders telling us what to do" sentiment of the southern US
  • solved the school food crisis in Huntington, West Virginia
  • proven his central premise wrong without recognizing it
Having appropriated the "reality TV" format for this series, I am naturally suspicious that we are seeing anything to do with real life whatsoever. And if this really is real then he should immediately get his overweight self over to Israel/Palestine and work on their problems as an immediate next-priority.

How has he proven his central premise wrong? Well, let's identify this central premise first -- which is that children who are not raised on healthy food are setting themselves up for a lifelong distaste for healthy food which will therefore lead to an increased likelihood of being obese and of ill health.

But he went into one of the Huntington high schools, and these are schools which are presumably fed students from the same elementary schools whose own meal plans he is also trying to change. And he offered healthy food to these high school students. And, by his own account, the vast majority of them ate it and preferred it over french fries and pizza on only the second try.

So, where is the recognition that his premise was wrong? Where is the recognition that you can quite clearly feed kids rubbish at an early age and quite rapidly change them over to healthier food when they get older -- that it is not difficult to foster an appetite for healthy food. That we do not need consultants to study how it must be done or to endlessly counterproductively convince people that it is difficult and that you need their special skills to accomplish it.

Of course, this doesn't mean that it's OK to feed unhealthy food to children, but in a rational world the above would be pretty earth-shattering to the world view of people who keep on with this idea that you "have to get them early" that is so profitable for them but so expensive for the rest of us.

It is also quite hard to ignore the fact that the vast majority of students caught on camera are not obese, nor are they lethargic. When he dresses as a podded pea, the elementary school children are energetically chasing him across a field. Very few of them seem sleepy, and very few of them seem hyperactive. The same is true of the high school students.

He has picked out a few large people and scattered them into his vignettes. He has found someone with a sad story about someone in the family who died and was obese. You could find these anywhere.

Jamie Oliver even found time to cry for the camera. In the UK version of this campaign, rather than crying there was all kinds of aggressive effin'-and-jeffin' at his detractors. What changed? The audience? The presentation format?

So, I'm not convinced. I'm not sure this is an honest account of events.

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