Monday, March 29, 2010

Food Revolution

I saw "Jaime Oliver's Food Revolution" on TV, and recently read that it did very well in the ratings. This is good.

Jaime Oliver is a celebrity chef from the UK who took a TV show to a West Virginia town that was identified as the unhealthiest in America. He came to show them, and this nation on television, what is causing their (and our) obesity which is causing an epidemic of disease and death.

Now, as someone who has defended this great country, unequivocally, in numerous debates while in Europe, I have no problem applauding this Brit in holding an unflattering mirror to America. And those grotesque and bloated images are not from mirrors taken from a Fun House, either. It is the sad fact that nearly 50% of this town is obese, and America? Not too far behind. I was one (and technically, still am!).

The food that we serve our children is appalling, and the misguided rules established by well-meaning, but utterly clueless school administrators, is embarrassing. For instance: greater importance is put on making sure cafeteria workers are wearing plastic gloves, and preventing school children from using the Oh-so-lethal plastic fork and knife (kids are only given spoons!), than in feeding the children nutritious meals - I mean, pizza for breakfast?

Clearly, it is easy to pile on, and display outrage over a carefully edited "reality" program, but I am going to go down the dreaded road of being judgmental and say, yes, I am angry at how we are feeding our kids. Again, I am not a parent, so I have never struggled having to take the path of least resistance and pull into the Golden Arches to feed screaming children. I know it is easy to play armchair quarterback here, but, there has to be a point where you have to say, "C'mon, what we feed our children is horrendous!" And it bares no resemblance to what I ate as a school child.

I think it is appalling that grammar school children at this school had no idea that french fries came from potatoes and catsup from tomatoes, let alone identify any vegetables! Those teachers should be hanging their heads in shame! Now, once again, I am speaking as a bachelor in an apartment in New York City with zero experience in parenting, nor working with a school system, so it is easy to pile on these parents and school teachers, but, c'mon. Now, after a tutorial by the teachers, the children did a splendid job, and they were all up to speed on vegetables. But, why does it take a UK TV show to prompt this?

I remember being kid in Kindergarten, and I remember the plastic vegetables on my teachers desk for instruction - yes, I do. Classroom 1, Germain Street School, Mrs. Mortenson. And I remember having hot dogs, and potato chips, too, just not every day! But we never had pizza for breakfast, and we played before school, at recess, and after school...outside.

I have read many of the reviews of this program, and although some cringe at the harsh honesty of Mr. Oliver's words on the tender, plumb ears of the townsfolk, most are quit positive of this endeavor to change the school cafeterias.

In the end kids will pick chicken nuggets and pizza over fresh chicken and rice pilaf, of course they would - I would if I were their age! But, it is not up to the children, it is up to the school and the parents to feed the children healthy meals. No doubt there will be those who still put the blame on corn subsidies, but I think it is simpler than that. Feeding children lentil soup, steamed broccoli, and mango slices on a daily basis is unrealistic, but feeding children on a daily basis processed chicken nuggets, pizza, and strawberry milk is, in a way, a death sentence. Now, there is a huge gulf between those two examples, plenty of room to fill up a million combinations of food to feed kids the way my generation was fed, and my parents, and their parents.

This national mirror we must look into, in the form of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," is necessary, however uncomfortable or embarrassing for this small town. Simply put, I do believe it will extend the lives of millions.


Emma Adam said...

At the end of the day this all starts with the parents, over there in the US and over here in the UK. But, criminally, the 'food chain' is so messed up now that unhealthy food is very cheap and a stock of nice, organic vegetables and a decent cut of organic meat (if you eat meat) cost a small fortune. There are millions of families who literally just can't afford to eat healthy food, which is outrageous. And then, of course, they become actually physically addicted to cheap, simple carbohydrates and high levels of animal fats.

Jamie Oliver gets a lot of stick over here for being too 'preachy' and self-righteous (not as much bad press as Heather Mills though!), but he has worked tirelessly to improve the $h!t that kids are fed at school and was successful in persuading the Prime Minister to increase the budget for school dinners so that they could actually afford to put some vegetables and unprocessed meat in them. It's all about the Benjamins. Always.

If you ever get a chance to watch any of 'Jamie's School Dinners' it's very telling. It was a massive deal over here, with the head dinner lady at a school trying really hard, but she just didn't have the budget to feed the children any nutrients. Awful. And everywhere she went to help Jamie's campaign she was talked down to because she was 'just' a dinner lady. Oh, and then there was the sight of some very fat mothers selling burgers and chips to the kids through the school gates after the school had brought in the healthy dinners. Outrageous!

This is all completely off-subject, of course - just a pro-Jamie rant! Some parents literally can't afford good quality food, but some parents are just downright lazy and want their kids to be as fat and unhealthy as themselves so that they have an ally and feel better about themselves.

PS Dr Gillian McKeith does some good programmes, too, and you literally see these families go through withdrawal when they come off the processed meat, white bread and sugary puddings. McKeith is also a vegetarian. You HAVE to feed children correctly right from the start, otherwise you're facing years of tantrums and poor nutrition. As soon as they get a taste for it, you've had it.

Vegan Epicurean said...

I agree with you that what we feed our children and ourselves as a country is an abomination. Something has to change before we kill off our entire society with food.

Great post!


hebba said...

I saw the UK version of this show several years ago on a sleepless crosscountry flight. (yay Jetblue for giving me my own direct TV!) I really really like this show. I think the information is very down to earth and easy to follow. ANd really? He just should have put his healthy pizza up against the processed pizza. I think the kids would have went for it!

Terrence said...

Great comments all! Thank you!

Heather said...

Terrence, I just found your blog and love it, and this post.

I have been following this show every week.

Yes, it is hard as a parent to do the right thing with so many bad things looming and easy to access. However, it is our job as a parent to do that. If we do not look out for our Children, who will? Obviously you can tell that it will not be the fast food industry or the schools.

I wish I started my journey to fight this all earlier in life. Granted, my Children have never eaten as bad as some of the stories I have seen(on this show). However - how comforting is that? "Not as bad" - is still Bad.

Thank you for your blog and posts, I am enjoying reading them all.

Terrence said...

Thank you Heather!

Courtney said...

Just stumbled across your blog today via twitter. Glad to see that other people in the US see a problem with the way we, as a society, are neglecting our bodies.
PS - Reading your entries is making me want to move back to NYC even more so I can get back in on all the yummy vegan fare. :)