Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

I've been excitedly watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. It airs Friday nights on ABC and I think everyone in America should watch it.

Jamie Oliver is a British chef who ran a similar program to great success in England as the one he's attempting here. He has come to a town in West Virginia where the eating habits are some of the worst in the country. Despite much resistance, he aims to change the nature of school lunches so we can start teaching our students to eat healthy diets. A kid who eats healthy normally grows into an adult who eats healthy.

This is a project near and dear to my heart. A few years ago I decided I wanted to eat healthy, but had no idea how, so I started studying. I read every book on nutrition I could snag and started changing my eating habits to reflect a healthy lifestyle. I still eat tasty food, and I still have cookies, but I make certain that I never put anything toxic in my body. Except that time I decided to taste the juice from the cactus in my yard - do not do this ever.

Anyway, ever since I learned exactly what food does I've been fascinated with how many of us have no idea. If I did learn anything in high school about the different fats and why you eat fiber I don't remember. I know most of my students never learn anything about eating habits. In fact, I'm not sure they learn anything in health class because they don't seem to learn anything about herpes either. But I digress.

If you watch the show you may be astounded by what you learn about what kids eat at school. At most public schools in America kids are offered pizza and fries every single day. And they eat them. At our school the kids are also offered chicken nuggets, cheap prepackaged PB&J on processed white bread, and lots of chocolate milk. They usually supplement their meals with hot Cheetos. I occasionally see an orange or maybe some lime juice squirted over the Cheetos.

But I never in a million years thought our administrators actually thought this food was good for the kids. When Jamie Oliver put out a pasta dish with seven different vegetables in it, the woman in charge of the food service for the county's schools told him he needed another vegetable. She looked at the pasta and decided the kids needed a separate vegetable to make sure it met certain guidelines, so she insisted he put out french fries.

French fries. With a straight face and with complete conviction, the woman told Jamie Oliver that french fries are a vegetable. I suppose she considers ketchup a fruit. It never occurred to me that anyone actually believed french fries counted as a vegetable.

I'm doing my part. I talk about nutrition constantly, and when my kids open up their chips I read the labels and explain to them what they're putting in their bodies. Now the kids have started coming up to me and asking whether or not the snack they've chosen is healthy, which tells me the kids want that kind of guidance.

The Biggest Loser makes a big deal about healthy eating but in reality, the way they lose weight on that show is not healthy, and most of their features about eating habits are thinly veiled product placement segments, so I'm thrilled to see a show that gets to the core of the problem. This is a huge issue in America, one we've allowed ourselves to ignore for too long.

I have a student in my class right now who is so hyper he's almost uncontrollable. He shows up at 7:25am bouncing off the walls and does not know how to be quiet. I asked him what he ate for breakfast. Candy bars, sodas, whatever sugar-filled item he picked up that morning. I asked him to do me a favor and eat something with fiber in the morning instead. The next day he came in with a banana. He was calm, attentive, still wide awake and energetic but without the out-of-control behavior. And it's not just him. Whenever I have a student behaving erratically I'll ask what they ate for breakfast and about 95% of the time it was a sugary drink or snack. I don't think we realize how much what we eat affects how we behave, and it's amplified in kids who have less self-control to begin with. And that doesn't even bring up the long term effects of poor diet like Diabetes, bad skin, heart problems, failing livers, poor sleeping habits, indigestion, lack of energy, and the numerous other complications that can come from poor eating habits.

Your meals should be colorful. If your food lacks color or is all one color it's unhealthy - and no, candy doesn't count. You should have at minimum five fruits or vegetables per day - and no, fries don't count - and lots of water. This seems common sense, right? Apparently not. There are people who've replaced water with coffee or soda or who go through an entire day without eating a single vegetable.

That's why Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is one of those rare shows that can have a genuine impact on society if we let it. It's something many of us desperately need.


  1. wow. that's nuts American high schools feed so much junk to these students. I cannot believe that woman insisted that french fries were a vegetable!?!?!

    I always had a brown bag lunch to school everyday. I remember the school cafeteria served iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, but always served Pizza Hut everyday. yuck!!

    btw thats hilarious you drank juice from your catcus in the backyard... LOL wtf

  2. Not sure if I've mentioned it on this blog before, but you should trry and see the Australian version of Biggest Loser. It's on 5 or 6 nights a week, so goes into a lot more depth. On fridays they have a masterclass episode, which basically covers healthy cooking and nutrition, which might be interesting to you.

  3. Thanks. I'll have to give it a look. Remember Snackwells? There were cookies loaded with white flour and sugar that were sold as healthy food. Health, no. Profitable, very! Food produced from sugar, corn and wheat are extremely profitable.

  4. DIMA: Yeah. Apparently you can't just drink from a cactus like they always tell you. It makes your throat burn. A lot. Ice cream helps.

    Leif: I didn't know there was an Australian version. I'll see if I can find an episode.

    ISWAW: I ate Snackwell's like gangbusters because they were so good for you.

  5. It's that woman's job to, among other things, enforce guidelines imposed upon her by the Federal government if the school district wants to get reimbursed for their breakfast/lunch outlays. It was Jamie, actually, that asked if french fries would be considered a vegetable for the purposes of that Federal program (as potatoes are, last I checked, vegetables).

    Regardless, yes, it's horrifying what the school was presenting to the kids, but it's a combination of Federal food guidelines designed for the diet of a field laborer and the school district providing what they think the kids will be willing to eat.

  6. I get that she's enforcing rules, but Jamie said "So what do I do?"

    And she said with a completely straight face "We'll have to put out french fries."

    He asked if french fries were a vegetable and she said yes, again with a straight face. I would have expected at least some semblance of "I know it's ridiculous, but..."

    She seems to buy into the whole thing. Perhaps it's in the editing, but I'm sort of appalled anyone can say french fries are a vegetable without laughing.

    And the diet for a day laborer does not need to be anymore unhealthy than the diet of a lawyer.

  7. To be more clear, "diet for a field laborer" is what the FDA food pyramid is based on, which the school district is responsible for enforcing. How they choose to enforce it (flavored milk! fries as a vegetable!) is another issue, but there's a fundamental problem in suggesting that much carbohydrates is as "good" for someone sitting at a computer in an office as someone slinging hay bales all day.

    My favorite part is watching long-time "government worker" and head cook Alice realizing that she's going to actually have to, you know, COOK again. Ha!

  8. I did love that part. She straight-up said she took the job for the money. She could give a rat's ass about food.

  9. My wife and I love Jamie's show ... we rarely watch many tv shows together (and no "reality" shows) but we love this one.

    Loved it when he put the one family's entire week's worth of meals on the table and let them look at it.

    Priceless. And scary.

  10. I may be dense here, but why wouldn't they count a fried vegetable as a vegetable ?

    If they think that a vegetable is no longer nutritious if they cook it with oil or cheese, then they should put that in the rules.

    But until they do that - a fried vegetable should count.


  11. When you fry a vegetable you negate most of its nutritional value and coated it with fat. If it's fried in hydrogenated oil you've actually made it unhealthy as hell.

    Also, a potato goes not count as a vegetable when you're adding up your nutrition for the day. It's a starch.


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