“Seven billion American dollars are spent every month in Afghanistan,” British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver says. “But we can only get 4.5 billion out of the government for a 10-year-plan to keep the obesity epidemic from killing children. Your children!”
In Oliver’s new ABC show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” he and his team head to Huntington, West Virginia, which has been called the unhealthiest city in America, to examine attitudes about food in homes and schools. Though the show officially premieres in a 2-hour event this Friday (March 26), the first hour is already available to watch on ABC’s site and a sneak peek aired this past Sunday.
“Local press didn’t exactly help,” Oliver says of the town’s reception. “They thought that I was, I don’t know, making them look stupid. Why would I ever do that? There was a month when things were quite tough.”
First lady Michelle Obama has recently been urging the nation’s food giants to put less fat, sugar, and salt in their foods. She is also pushing a child nutrition bill through Congress to tighten up the standards of food served in public schools.
Oliver says that while the bill is a step in the right direction, it’s not a victory. “It’s great that we’ve got new standards, but if the right amount of funds aren’t delivered in conjunction, then we won’t be able to meet those standards.”
The bill is offering an extra six cents per lunch in order to help put healthier food on children’s plates in school. “Everyone who knows what they’re talking about in this industry knows that what we actually need is an extra 35 cents per plate. Standards are wonderful, sure, but we need the back end to back that up.”
“Food Revolution” follows Jamie Oliver into people’s homes, schools and workplaces. It’s the natural progression from his UK series, “Jamie’s School Dinners,” where he used his show to get a billion dollars out of the British government to change the standards of school food.
“TV is still the premiere communicator in the country,” Jamie says. “It’s a wonderful force for good.”
Still, it hasn’t been an easy road for Oliver in West Virginia. “All humans hate change, and it’s change that we need,” he says. “It’s so simple and so important, and yet when there are grown adults looking at you like you’re an idiot, it’s hard. Kids are open-minded and up for trying new things. It’s not the kids, it’s the adults, adults that are in trusted positions of power.”
It’s an issue very close to Jamie’s heart. Not only has he spent the last five years working on a grassroots level to change children’s eating habits in England, but he’s also got children of his own to worry about. His daughters Poppy Honey (8), Daisy Boo (7), and Petal Blossom Rainbow (1) will soon have a new sibling, as the family recently announced that Jamie’s wife Jools is pregnant with their fourth child.
“I don’t know how I had time to do that,” Oliver jokes. “I’m obviously very efficient.”
Parents, Jamie says, are the key to his revolution. “Look. Parents of America can watch the show. They can laugh, they can cry, but in the end, what really has to happen is that they need to get p****d off. They need to get p****d off for that extra confidence to go to the schools and look at the menus. ‘Can I have a look at the freezer please? I want to see if those look like a science lesson.’ Parents need to get p****d off, stand up, and be counted.”
Even with a television show behind him, he knows the limits of his own influence. “I’m not bloody Superman,” he says. “You can put someone on the moon and you can communicate through all your clever wireless Internet gadgetry, but yet we’ve now got the first generation of kids expected to live a shorter life than their parents. That should p**s you off. It p****s me off.”