Janet alerted me to Jamie Oliver; DSTB followed up with what is apparently a new show on ABC.  It starts next Friday, but the pilot was shown last night; fortunately it's available both at the show site and Hulu, so I was able to watch it.  Jamie's attempt to get the people of Huntington, West Virginia to take a healthier approach to eating has the faults of American commercial television (just as does Who Do You Think You Are?), but it's not bad and (so far) is not as over the top as what I've seen of his British shows.  If his personality is a little too dramatic for my taste, there's no doubting the sincerity of his preaching and his mission.  His gospel is good, fresh food, and in this episode he takes on school lunches.

[Excuse me, school meals.  The only meal these children eat at home is dinner.  In Oliver's unfeigned horror at the meals served at our public schools, he misses what strikes me as the more important point:  Why are all these children eating school food?  Why aren't they bringing lunches from home, and why, for Pete's sake, don't they eat breakfast before going to school?  If the schools are going to offer food, certainly it should be healthy food, but where are the parents?  There's absolutely no need to subject one's children to American public school food, good or bad.  The school lunch (and now breakfast) program does serve a useful purpose, making sure children whose parents can't provide meals for them aren't trying to learn on empty stomachs.  That's a good thing.  But somehow the whole system got skewed; I know that the goal of the school lunch program at our kids' school was to have everyone participate.  (We didn't.)  I saw not one lunchbox in the show.  I hope that while he teaches the adults how easy it is to put together healthy meals, he also teaches the kids how easy it is to make their own healthy lunches.  But that's another issue; I know I'm taking on a Great American Icon by dissing the school lunch program.]

My favorite character in the show was one of the school lunch ladies, appropriately named Alice.  She wasn't the one in charge, but as Oliver said, "It's obvious that the real boss is Alice," and "Alice is a force to be reckoned with."  There are some delightfully obvious similarities—but the real Boss, Alice Davis Porter Wightman, would have agreed with Jamie about the food.

One place I disagree with him is his incomprehensible aversion to pizza for breakfast.  Granted, the pizza the children were being served didn't look good for any meal, but I'll stake my recent breakfast pizza against anyone's milk-and-cereal or bacon-and-eggs:  Homemade crust; homemade "tomato sauce" which was not only tomato but a whole bunch of other veggies cooked so it still looked and tasted like tomato sauce (only better); green, red, and hot peppers; mushrooms; onions; garlic; and spinach.  Yes, it also had cheese and, yes pepperoni—but so what?  The balance was great...and so was the pizza.  Far more veggies than most American breakfasts—or British either, I'll bet.

As long as I can watch it on my computer, with a pause button and while doing other things, I think I'll enjoy checking out Jamie Oliver's progress in upcoming episodes.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Edit
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I was thinking the same thing about all the kids having breakfast at school.

Our K-2 school doesn't even have a kitchen. There is some accommodation made for kids who need a school breakfast or lunch, but in general, every child brings their own lunch. If I remember correctly, they do get milk.

The 3-6 schools started serving lunches several years ago. T tried it once or twice, but with the lunch period so short, he didn't want to waste his time in line.

Posted by dstb on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 8:06 am

Second episode. What shocked me the most about this one had nothing to do with the food. It was that the elementary school students did not eat with knives and forks: they used only spoons and their hands. The school staff did not expect the students to be able to handle table knives safely; they were shocked when Jamie told them that schools in the UK routinely give tableware to school children. When Jamie did give them knives it was clear that they had never learned to use them. How do you get to be five years old and not know how to use a knife and fork?

This reminded me of Janet's visit to a Japanese family's home, so I went back to pull this quote from her post: The two-year-old helped flip meat on the grill with her little chopsticks! Everyone skillfully got food and ate it using chopsticks. One of the youngest got sloppy and had his chopsticks taken away and was given a fork, but he could use them just fine when he wanted it. So the Japanese let their two-year-olds cook with chopsticks, and we don't even let our elementary school students eat with forks?

It's not a negative episode, however. The teachers rise to the challenge, and lo and behold, the kids learn to use knives and how to identify a potato that's not in French fry form.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Third episode. Best so far; this had me choking up. Jamie assembles a diverse team of high school students and proves once again how much we underestimate kids. The only bad moment was the one teen who upbraided the adults: "You're the ones who are supposed to be taking care of us." I couldn't help thinking of David Farragut commanding a ship at age 12. But we taught them that dependency mentality.

Oh, yes, there was also the part where Jamie serves a healthy, fresh meal with chicken, pasta, vegetables, and fruit, and gets in trouble for not meeting the school lunch nutritional guidelines—not enough vegetables, according to the eye of the inspector. But the lunch of chicken patty sandwiches and piles of French fries gets the okay because (1) French fries count as a vegetable and (2) there is an "optional" (and almost universally ignored) salad available.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, April 05, 2010 at 7:39 am

Fourth episode: I'm starting to be very impressed with both Jamie's energy and his knack for publicity. At first I though his crazy stunts were designed to make good reality TV, if that isn't an oxymoron. There's no denying that his personality fits that style. But his crazy stunts work! A flash mob of dancing cooks on the college campus, a cook-a-thon in the street, a bet with his most vocal opponent, and endless hours spent on radio and television interviews paid off in a big way. I wish healthy eating gave everyone the kind of energy Jamie Oliver has!

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, April 12, 2010 at 9:03 am

Fifth episode: The first one I convinced Porter to watch, but alas, the least interesting so far.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Sixth episode: The wrap-up. Unfortunately, Jamie nearly lost me on this one. It's one thing to change the food served by the schools, but his idea that all children should eat the school's lunch, and that the school should regulate any meal brought from home, is offensive. Granted, many of the brown-bagged lunches were junk, but that is the parents' business and responsibility, and Jamie should have approached the problem the way he did so well in other areas: through education and inspiration.

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 9:31 pm
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