Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution – Preview Episode

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.

16 thoughts on “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution – Preview Episode”

  1. I was almost in tears . I see my family in the same spot as all the families there. What are we doing? Its time for a major change.

  2. Take heart. Something can be done. Even if you just start small by introducing carrot sticks instead of french fries or salad instead of dessert, you’re making a positive change. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Pingback: Reeds Cooking

  4. The show does make one wonder where the citizens of West Virginia have been for the last 10 years. Huntington gets the Internet, TV and newspapers just like everyone else. I don’t understand why the concept of eating healthy is new information for them.

    Nice blog post, BTW.

  5. Firstly nice post John.

    People of America – As a brit, a chef and somone who has followed Jamie’s career for years i have one word od advice for you all – Trust!

    The work that Jamie did here in the UK was ground breaking. My wife and i were in tears, I for one am greatful that my childrens school food will be much better than it would have been without Jamie Oliver.

  6. I have followed Jamie’s career since the beginning and I thought I could prepare myself for what I was going to see. Disturbingly shocking! I feel for the family and am thrilled they were so receptive. Isn’t it interesting that this show begins the same evening the Health Care Reform bill was passed. Health care begins with what we put in our bodies. It’s a choice three times a day, 365. The cost is obesity is simply staggering but is secondary to what an obese person has to go through in life. Jamie, I’m with you all the way. Stay strong.

  7. One comment here has it right, although Cham’s comment is just a bit offensive. The city is in Huntington, WEST Virginia. Would appreciate your correcting the post. There are 50 states in the union and WEST Virgina is proud to be one of them. Thanks. Cham, I think you’ll find that obesity and eating healthy is a problem in MANY areas of the US – so please don’t pigeon-hole us when your neighbor probably has the same problem.

  8. Really nice recap. I agree that every part of the US needs to wake up to this problem. I sure hope that some of this is just extra drama to make the show interesting, but the overall problem is very real. I have two girls in elementary school, and this is definitely the type of food they are getting on a regular basis. We don’t eat this way at home, but making their lunch for them everyday seems like just too much. I hope that this series will help put some pressure on school districts and the Federal government to make some meaningful changes. What a disgrace that a serving of whole grain brown rice is not a suitable equivalent to frozen pizza crust!

  9. I emailed Cham separately and let her know I’d change the post as soon as I could. Which I have now done. I love West Virginia, it’s one of the most beautiful states. I was doing a recap live, which sometimes leads to small factual errors, and I apologize for getting the state in which Huntington resides wrong.

  10. The people in W.V seemed really narrow minded. I just can’t believe people have no idea of what they are eating. It’s large companies controlling our food industry and more people need to be educated and informed of what’s in your food.

  11. I watched the show on Sunday evening. And I was not one bit surprised by the townspeople attitude about healthy meals. Some Southerns think Mac and Cheese is a vegetable…when you go to restaurants in TN atleast, they are okay with serving two starches on one entree, so I always ask if I can swap the two sdes for a salad with the dressing on the side. I grew up in an Italian family and vegetables were a staple for us as well as pasta. I see what some of my friends eat and it totally sickens me. I hope the people of Huntington, WVA give Jamie a chance to help them.

  12. I have lived in WV for 1.5 years and I agree with Jamie: many people here are anemic in their food education. With up to 70% of school children receiving free or reduced-cost meals in some counties, many families depend on school meals to carry their children through until the next day. If they are fed junk, no wonder they are unhealthy. The schools need to get educated on what is good for our children. This is what Jamie wants to accomplish.

  13. oh my god..I am from Rhode Island these people are in danger. These people don’t seem to give a crap when Jamie leaves so will there attention to it the “lunch ladies”who called themselves cooks.. who don’t know how to cook raw foods or take an order!! so I am a cook they are not! they are all overweight and all seriously narrow minded when he said that the were anemic to the food they were eating he was not saying they were dumb!! it meant they were never thought!! that’s the whole problem this man is actually doing this to care look at the parents they are mostly overweight..when i was a kid we had the choice of 2%milk or2%chocolate fat and only two days a week. I live in NC now and it is so gross how everyone here has beer bellys and half are not even 10 its so nasty.those lunch-ladies are arsenic thanks jamie you are changing amrica as a vegan you tough me how to make a watercress salad when i was 18 it my favorite food..now i drink sweet tea he is talking about eating in doses not pizza for breakfast and lunch then probably dinner as well there is a reason he came to your town you are all really overweight wake up and stop putting blame on those who are tiring to help and i will not change this post that show had me in tears..it is so disturbing to now this is what is fed to kids no wonder why they are add adhd because they are frigging being fed sugar and starch which is turned into sugar in our belly’s by inslin that our bodys naturally make what is going on in this world…oh my god when he said south African kids in camps eat better I checked he is 100%right so eat that fat, LUNCH LADIES!!

  14. I am loving this show! I am so sorry that Jamie is put up against such horrible attitudes. All you have to do is look at these children and see that something is not working. The red tape by our government interference on two breads a meal is ridiculous! And then saying that french fries count as a vegetable. It is no wonder we are such an obese nation!

    The resistance to change in this town is out of pure ignorance and laziness. The DJ Rod Willis should be fired for his attitude. Who does he think he is?

    I am learning so much and Jamie — You go Boy! Don’t let the turkeys get you down. We are behind you all the way!!!!!!

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