e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


food revolution

I caught most of 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution' last night. The new "reality" show tries to project the ethos of a socially aware documentary, and even succeeds sometimes. Oliver goes to Huntington, West Virginia, to try to start a "grassroots" campaign to eat healthier foods. Oliver, a British celeb-chef, is obvisiously an outsider and the fact that he's brought along cameras from a major tv network in part negates the whole notion of "grassroots."

And yet he does aim for genuine capacity building among both families and institutions (much of the action centers on Oliver's work with staff at a local school cafeteria). The show offers an interesting representation of outsider-insider relationships as well as the priveleged and working classes. Oliver sometimes comes across as snarky, calling cafeteria staff members "lunch ladies," a term that makes them bristle. And the camera definitely focuses heavily on their ho-hum reaction to all the processed foods they serve, playing "clueless" looks for laughs and adding wacky music that underlines what they don't know about health.

But give the show points for acknowledging there's a broader context for why the meals they serve are both carb-intensive and processed (horrific looking pizza and chicken nuggets seem to be in heavy rotation on the menu). We encounter USDA guidelines that mandate multiple starches. Sadly, that broader context so far has mostly consisted of 'the government' and not the private interests that profit from screwed-up standards in all kinds of ways. No mention of the corn industry, big junk food companies that make dough from sugar and salt addictions, or the equally problematic diet biz that then swoops in and makes people feel shitty about themselves. I don't think the USDA spends as much advertising on ABC compared to Burger King and Slim Fast.

What of the amount of food that's wasted? I also credit Oliver for monitoring what kids throw away: their scoops of canned fruit and the two celery sticks that sometimes come with their meals. (related question: how come this district isn't recycling those plastic milk cartons?) Rightly, Oliver points out in his narration that these are tax dollars getting scraped into the garbage bins. For three decades, my dad brought home for his chickens and pigs all the food scraps from the elementary school where he taught. Are there no farmers in and around Huntington, West Virginia, who could use the slop?

I'm going to give the show a chance and keep an eye on the show's attitude toward workers, waste, and profiteers. This one could go either way.

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