If you haven't already tuned in to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, I'd encourage you to give it a view. As the series starts off, Jamie Oliver (a celebrity chef out of England, dedicated to getting fresh, healthy food to everyone) heads to the location named America's Unhealthiest City. His goal? To change the way they eat. And he is starting in the schools - specifically, the elementary schools.
Here we find kids from families regularly dining on pizza, chicken nuggets, frozen dinners, french fries, donuts, deep fried, and heavily processed foods. Daily. In fact, many, for every meal.
The 1st graders are unable to recognize a tomato. They don't know what a head of cauliflower is. They've never seen an eggplant. Broccoli is a foreign substance. And none remember eating salad.
Most of the students do not know how to use a knife, and none of them are allowed forks or knives while eating at school. This limits their options to primarily finger foods (highly processed). Jamie takes a poll to see what they eat at home... most do not use utensils at home either. Jamie is floored. "You don't teach your children how to eat real food?" He thinks the other adults are joking... Who needs forks for pizza, hamburgers, fries and nuggets? In England, Jamie tells us, all kids are eating with forks and knives by kindergarten. "I'd like to see documentation of that!" says one cook to Jamie.
Maybe this is why strangers look at our family oddly when we go out for dinner and let our 1-year-old son use his own fork to 'stab' and eat his vegetables (which, I must say, he does quite nicely).
Maybe Jamie would be happy to know that our son's first (non-Mom) word was in fact, "Stab!" as he forked his green beans and tomato slices to eat.
Maybe that was my fault too. I didn't realize that we weren't supposed to be teaching our children the options they have to cut and eat their vegetables at this early age...
Here, instead, Jamie finds kids are well versed in all things processed and all things McDonald's. They know how to heat up chicken nuggets in the microwave, but have no clue about what those little clumps are made up of. French fries are related to a potato? Seems strange... Where does dinner come from? A box. The freezer. The grease joint down the street. Jamie reads the label from the mashed 'potatoes' the children eat and finds the mixture is made up of mostly chemically-altered non-potato ingredients -- processed powder, mix with water.
These kids have never seen a garden. Never held raw produce in their hands. Rarely (if ever?) taken a bite out of a fresh apple, or felt the juice of watermelon run down their little faces.
What Jamie does find are twelve year olds in pre-diabetic stages. The majority of the population over weight or obese. Heart problems that are rampant. And lifestyles - specifically how the people are eating, and what they are eating - is to blame.
The people of this town don't like being singled out as the Unhealthiest City in America. But as Jamie points out, it is not just happening in this town, in this school. No, the problem extends across our nation. And it is epidemic in proportion. School lunches are horrifically processed - void of nutrition and regulated to meet outdated guidelines that do not have children's health as the #1 concern. And if we are honest, the way most Americans feed their kids (and themselves) at home is no better. The S.A.D. diet as some call it -- 'Standard American Diet' -- truly is sad.
What really resonates with me about Jamie's mission is the way that people respond to him. Not with welcoming open arms - "Please, come teach us what you know - help us change for the better! Equip us with knowledge and skills to live healthier and raise our children more optimally - so they aren't dying from heart disease, diabetes, and organ failure."
Just the opposite occurs. Jamie is met with resistance at every turn. No one wants to hear that what they are doing is hurting their children. No one wishes to take responsibility for poor parenting choices, or even consider for a second that what they do, how they do it, directly impacts their little ones - the next generation - the ones they love so dearly. Instead, the "DON'T JUDGE ME!" defensive response is clear and powerful. "You're offending me," is a common response that Jamie gets.
The town is on the verge of kicking Jamie out. And he is heartbroken. He only wants to help. He loves kids. He truly cares and genuinely wants to make a difference. He doesn't want to see a nation destroy their children (either the UK or the US) because of mis-information and no one willing to put forth the truth on the subject. Because parenting matters! And in this case - what we feed our children matters too.
There are a few times that Jamie - this fun, truth-speaking, energetic, lively chef of a man - gets teary eyed because he cannot believe what he is seeing and hearing. That these people just don't want to be helped. They refuse to consider change may be good for them. And they see Jamie as the enemy out to make them all look like 'bad parents'. Oh, Jamie... I feel ya! It is tough when our passions, our empathy, our area of expertise, and our drive to make little differences in the world around us take us head-to-head with the stubbornly naive (and often willfully ignorant) 'don't judge me!' attitude.
I commend Jamie for sticking to the plan and moving forward. For flexibly coming up with new strategies, new methods, to try and get through to the people. To attempt to help the kids. To strive to save them, literally.
Jamie's story is one worth watching - worth fighting for in your schools, and at your dinner table, as well.
You can watch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on ABC Friday nights 9/8c, on Hulu.com, or check back here for more as we update episodes. (Video streaming rights will expire June 5, 2010)
The following resources are excellent places to start for further investigation into this vital subject.
1) Fast Food Nation
2) The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids
3) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
4) Food Inc.: A Participant Guide
5) Diet for a Dead Planet
1) Food Inc. ~ Movie Website
2) Fast Food Nation
3) Corn Kings ~ Movie Website
4) The Cove ~ Movie Website
5) Super Size Me