Huntington, West Virginia, a city of 50,000 is officially the ‘unhealthiest city in America.’ That makes it the perfect target for Jamie Oliver, a young chef from England who succeeded in revolutionizing the school food system in that country. But will the city embrace Oliver’s attempt?
Tonight was a special preview episode of the show that debuts Friday this week on ABC. Here’s my recap, but if you found yourself watching this show and would like to write recaps of the show for The Disney Blog, drop me a line.
Jamie’s starts his conquest with an interview with local DJ Rod Willis. It didn’t quite go the way Jamie wanted it to as the DJ was being an obstinate jerk about Jamie’s effort to make a change.
Next up Jamie takes on a challenge to makeover the school’s food menu in a week. What he discovers is ‘Breakfast Pizza’ – not eggs on toast, but real pizza with cheese, pepperoni, and everything. I’m in disbelief as was Jamie.
The women in the kitchen are of the mind that nothing is wrong with what they’re doing. Of course, Jamie calling them ‘lunch ladies’ didn’t help. They prefer cook, and why wouldn’t they. Alice runs the kitchen and if you’ve lived in the south for any length of time you’ve met a dozen Alice’s. They are fixed in their ways and don’t see any reason to change.
Along the way Jamie learns the marvelous school lunch invention known as Potato Pearls. Which is just the top of the processed food group that is fed to the students every day. Much of which ends up in the garbage. Jamie makes some good points, that all this wasted food is costing tax payers and that students in South Africa are eating better than American students on a much smaller budget.
Jamie then tries to convince the cooks that they can do food fresh for the same budget and in the same amount of time. The cooks fall back on the ‘guidelines’ they’ve gotten from their superiors and defend their processed food choices as long as a natural ingredient is listed first. Jamie makes a good point that that’s okay for adults who know what choices they’re making, but that kids don’t get that choice. Still the cooks are unconvinced that they can make a difference.
Jamie’s got two strikes so far. So he heads to visit Pastor Steve who is on a bit of a health mission himself. Looks like Jamie has found an ally. Pastor Steve had a wake up call when his congregation started dropping like flies from diseases related to unhealthy lifestyle. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship and a way to reach the townsfolk.
Pastor Steve suggests Jamie work with one family from his flock. The Edwards family is Jamie’s first task. To be honest, they’re the prototypical unhealthy American family. Overweight, even obese, and they default to deepfried or junk food when it’s more convenient than healthy eating. He’ll re-teach them proper eating habits and see if he can’t start making a difference on family at a time.
They start off by cooking one weeks worth of food for the family as they have been eating. It’s a stunning mess of gross disgusting deep friend, cheesy, fatty, processed … I don’t even know if you can call it food. And frankly, it’s probably killing the Edwards family, at least shortening their lives by a dozen years or so. It’s a tough moment, but it’s something to build on. I look forward to seeing what Jamie can do to help the Edwards, and the millions of families around the world who are doing the same thing with their eating habits.
Now, onto building some food habits. One of the Edwards kids, Justin, wants to be a chef. Jamie clamps onto that seed and shows them how to cook from raw. He then leaves them with a week long list of food recipes to follow and a pretty decent meal of salad and pasta.
Part of Jamie’s food revolution includes opening a ‘store’ where people can come along and learn healthy cooking as well as serve as the basecamp for Jamie’s show. The store is right across the street from a “Five Guys Burgers”, which is probably a strategic choice.
His first guest is Rhonda, who is in charge of school food for the district of 26 schools. Jamie tells her his mission, and she immediately unloads the literal mountains of bureaucracy she has to deal with just to get food on the plates. There are calorie requirements, portion guides, nutrition rules, and of course a budget. But she’s ready to work with Jamie as long as he meets those guidelines. So Jamie gets his one week to try and reform that school.
So back to school and getting the cooks to prepare food from fresh. It’s a going to be a battle between Jamie’s food and the standard fare. Jamie’s also battling the nutritional guidelines. Guidelines that accept pizza crust as bread, but won’t let you substitute a more healthy portion of brown rice. With a battle between ‘Chicken’ and ‘Pizza’ I think you can determine the results. Fresh lost to processed food. Jamie has a problem.
On top of that, a newspaper story has put Jamie’s efforts in a bad light. After putting out the fires that creates, Jamie opens his heart a bit to the cameras. It’s a pretty powerful moment, and a good way to end the episode.
As a side note the episode was interrupted by the historical health care vote and I nearly lost the end of the show on my DVR. Luckily rewind worked. Kinda ironic, actually.
I like how Jamie was very respectful to everyone he encountered. He’s serious about what he does, but he knows when to be direct and when to deflect with a little bit of humor. It does come off a little bit sermony from time to time. But it’s hard to avoid that when you need to make a point.
Teaching America to eat healthier is not an easy task. Even if we all followed Jamie’s lessons, it probably wouldn’t be enough to make us all healthier. There’s just so much to overcome. But I think his heart is in the right place and I hope he’s able to succeed. I’ll certainly be watching the show this season to find out.