I’ve just watched the first two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on Hulu. I have to say I’m surprised by how moving it was: shocking, inspiring, emotional. I’m a bit blown away.
Not to say that it is not a great idea – surely this country is sorely in need of a food revolution and what better place to start than with the next generation? I guess I am generally a bit suspicious of celebrity chefs, especially ones with cute floppy hair and accents, touting ‘easy’ food and a line of home products, who seem made-to-order for television but not so much for cooking. I’d never before seen one of his TV shows, hadn’t bought one of his dozen cookbooks (didn’t even know he had his own magazine), and haven’t tried any of his recipes, but I have to say – I’m a convert.
That’s not to say that I think he’s a brilliant chef; I have no idea if the man can cook (but I suppose now I have reason to find out). Frankly, I don’t much care if he’s a great chef. Great cooking is an art, and a rare one: exceptional meals are, well, exceptional. They don’t happen every day, and when you can pull them off consistently, then you are a great chef. But everyday cooking should be, and can be, easy and simple every day. Cooking, mind you; not re-heating, not microwaving, cooking. Taking raw ingredients, fresh, nutritious food, and transforming them into something tasty to eat. Somehow in America we’ve convinced ourselves that this simple act, that has been going on for thousands of years, is too difficult, too expensive, too time-consuming.
The show has been generating a lot of chatter in foodie circles, on Twitter and in the blogosphere. And there has been some celebration, but also a bit of snark from the serious foodies. Suffice it to say that talking to me about the importance of real food, cooked from real ingredients, is preaching to the choir, and I thought I was pretty well aware of the state of things in mainstream American ‘cuisine.’ But even I was shocked that 6 year-olds are served pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch nearly every day (since when did we start feeding kids breakfast at school, anyway?). Even I, who know too well how few people cook at home anymore, was shocked when these same kids couldn’t identify a tomato or a potato, let alone cauliflower, broccoli and eggplant. Even I, as one of the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance, was shocked to find a family with four kids that do not take their kids in for regular check-ups, and to see a 12 year-old boy facing imminent diabetes.
I thought at first that it was a mistake to have a Brit, especially a young and fairly cheeky Brit, attempt this, especially down South. I mean, yes, sure to make for controversial television, but what’s the point if you don’t ultimately succeed in changing any behaviors in Huntington, WV and in the rest of the country? Better to go with an Emeril or Bobby Flay; sort of a good ‘ole boy who can help people see that you can cook real food and not be considered elitist, a food snob, a wuss, what have you. But of course – it’s not their thing, is it? It’s Jamie Oliver’s thing. He did it in England and now he wants to do it here. And it works – to see his utter bafflement when presented with a stack of USDA regulations for school meals that looks like half a dozen phonebooks; and the same bafflement when pizza and chicken nuggets meet those USDA requirements, but freshly-cooked roasted chicken drumsticks with rice and salad do not; and the complete shock and dismay when he suggests forks & knives for the kids to eat with, and discovers that this is a radical suggestion, that the kids never get anything but spoons, that they don’t know how to use forks & knives. It’s a wake-up call to us, to notice the things we have come to take for granted as commonplace.
Of course, the show could be all about the ratings; maybe he’s a right bastard and doesn’t give a shit about these kids, this town, this country. Maybe he’s just a great actor, milking the tears and the emotional scenes for ratings. But I don’t think so. It just doesn’t seem worth it: the rude lunchladies, the asshole DJ, the slanderous newpaper article, the attitude of the townspeople in general. I think you have to have a real passion for what you are doing in order to put up with that environment. He’s got plenty of money, plenty of other projects he could be working on; there is no reason for him to go through this if not because he is truly passionate about the cause. At any rate, that’s what I believe, and I sincerely hope it’s true. Because I say I want a revolution – it’s about time.