March 29th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

TV Recap: 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution'

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The crumply Cockney teddy bear is not here to South Beach, Atkins, Master Cleanse or Michael Pollan your Cheez Doodle dimpled butt into starvation or Whole Foods-based bankruptcy. He just wants you and your kids to know what a fresh tomato looks like. And maybe eat one once in a while. Or he'll cry.

In his native England, Jamie Oliver - dyslexic, erstwhile Naked Chef, husband of Jools, father of Daisy, Poppy, Petal and another to be named upon his (fingers crossed for "Stamen") or her September arrival, and self-proclaimed "professional s**t-stirrer" - has made a cottage industry of calling foul on vile school cafeteria fare and teaching plain ol' British folks not to murder their families with processed food. In the course of this, he's set up community cooking centers and classes, exhorted Parliament to address national obesity issues, campaigned to ban junk food in schools and garnered Prime Minister Tony Blair's approval for £280m in financial support for improved school kitchens and "dinner lady" education.

Oh, and he's sold approximately seventy five squillion books, owns a couple of restaurant chains (albeit one of them, Fifteen, is non-profit), regularly ranks on annual lists of richest Britons and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2003.

He, with the aid of BFF/show co-producer Ryan Seacrest, has decided to bring his manifesto of fresh, clean, from-scratch cooking to Huntington, West Virginia - cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Associated Press to be one of the unhealthiest, most obese cities in the US. This should go well.

After the de-rigueur montage of massive, headless bodies strolling by in free-form mom jeans and XXXL-sized sundresses, Jamie pilots his SUV (on the correct side of the road, no less - Advantage: Oliver) over to the local radio station (97.3 "The Dawg") to sway a popular talk jock, one Rod Willis to his cause. In a shocking (shocking!) turn of events, Willis takes umbrage with Our Hero's characterization of his city's state of health, and stridently expresses doubt about his mission's potential for success. Quoth he, "We don't wanna sit around and eat lettuce all day" and "I don't think that you should come in here and tell us what to do. I mean, who made you the king?"

Playground bullies everywhere high-five. (Advantage: Willis) Antagonist #1: established. Redemption arc sequence #1: activated. (This is not a spoiler, by the way - just hardly our first time at the reality rodeo.)

Off-air, Jamie dubs Willis a "miserable bastard" and "grumpy old git" (Brit Slang Alert: triggered), nyah-ing that his proposed cooking center and school lunch menu revamp will shut the DJ up. Not bloody likely.

Down over to the elementary school, Jamie states that he's convinced the Board of Education to allow him one (1) tension packed! challenge-filled! will-he-or-won't-he! week to improve the cafeteria's food, prove that the kiddiewinks will gum it down and that it won't go over budget or cause the ground beneath the foundation to yea and verily crack open and send the student body tumbling to Hades in a hail of rainbow chard. He expresses self doubt. It's darling.

Not as darling? His habit of calling the kitchen's staff of battle-hardened cooks, "Girls," "Honey" and, well, "Darling." They are instantly un-charmed by him. This is matched only by his disgust at seeing "the future of America" - many dozen, many of them plump, little Huntingtonettes - gobbling down slabs of sausage pizza and individually packaged servings of cereal, swimming in luminous pink strawberry flavored milk for breakfast, so: stalemate.

Enter Antagonist #2, stone-faced alpha cook Alice Gue, who cannot understand why Jamie is there to change a system that is "working good." A kitchen tour led by one of the beta cooks reveals a suite of truly enviable range tops, ovens and other schmancy equipment. It is profoundly un-used, save for re-heating chicken nuggets. "Welcome to America," sighs Jamie.

Spirits are temporarily leavened when he sees a beta cook kneading up some fresh bread and pitches in, then abruptly deflated when in the course of small talk he inquires as to the length of Ms. Gue's tenure as a "lunch lady." Her expression upon hearing the term ensures that the services of the kitchen's industrial freezers will not be needed for the rest of the school week.

The freezers, by the by, are laden with "an Aladdin's cave of processed crap," but that's nothing compared with Alice Gue-approved "potato pearls." (Jamie: "Is it really potatoes?" Ms. Gue: "I hope so.") Stir the packets of pearls into hot water, and you've got a substance that should the aforemention building foundation crack occur, could form a seal that could withstand Revelations-level plagues. She calls it "a cooks's best friend." Jamie calls it "absolutely disgusting."

He's "pissed off" for the first time, though, dear readers, hardly the last. Citing upset at the "crap" in the faux-tatoes, nuggets, pizza, flavored milks, dessicated chicken bark, packets of pre-scrambled eggs, and other technically edible substances, attempts to rally Ms. Gue to outrage. "Fresh?" she says. "No way." (Redemption arc sequence #2: activated.)

Lunchtime chats with the kids reveals that the majority of the student body is fueled by a multi nugget-based meal-a-day diet, washed down by a tidal wave of artificially flavored milk. Oh – and that they leave the one scratch-made meal component - the bread - for the trashcan. Jamie, manning said receptacle, threatens to cry. (Hint - don't bet against him here.)

Back in the kitchen, Jamie tells the cooks that their food is killing America. Well, not their food, of course, because they're all "brilliant" and "lovely," but they're essentially the Howitzer down which the shell of life-shortening cuisine is fired. And would they like fries with that?

Ms. Gue demurs, "We feed our kids good." Jamie parries that they, "don't feed your kids good." The tension is palpable - and almost as delicious as pearl-based potatoes. They tell him to take it up with The Powers That Be.

He heads to church.

At First Baptist, head-miked Pastor Steve Willis preaches the gospel of nutritional responsibility, backed by what looks to be a rock band. He's clearly the cool guy on the God Squad and he, like Jamie, is fed up with his parishioners feeding themselves to death. Pastor Steve believes that Jamie is, quite literally, the answer to their prayers.

With the pastor's blessing, Jamie drives over to visit some folks sorely in need of a mealtime miracle. The Edwardses are a very large family - not just in number, but in size. That's all we'll say about it, as the Marquee blog is hardly in the sadly robust business of fat shaming; they're reminded of it every day (as we come to find out from 12-year-old Justin), and they're asking for help.

As it turns out, Dad may be out driving a tractor trailer across the nation's highways, but the family's Fry Daddy hardly every misses a meal. Jamie gapes in horror as Mom Stacie deep fries and dunks a "biscuit doughnut with chocolate icing" (Editor's note: Eeeeeek! And also? Mmmmmm!), then loads the kitchen table and counters with all the food the family eats in a week. It appears as if a truckstop lunch counter and the Texas State Fair fell in love and had a food baby. All the food is brown, golden or beige. There are 32 pizzas visible in an open freezer (we counted). They're "for snacks." Stacie giggles in self-defense, but she's clearly shocked and saddened - especially when Jamie tells her that her children will die early from eating this food. (Redemption arc sequence #3: activated.)

There is a ceremonial burial of the Fry Daddy. Jamie jokes that he's worried he'll suffer the same fate when Real Daddy comes him to find his favorite bit of kitchen equipment missing, but he's willing to take the risk.

12-year-old Justin bids it good riddance. He's 350 pounds, tortured at school, and ready to do whatever it takes. He also wants to be a chef when he grows up. Pick-up basketball and healthier cooking lessons ensue. Your recapper tears up a little.

(By the way? Step off, Bieber twitterers. We're claiming #teamjustin for this sweet kid.)

After a scrumptious-looking pasta meal with Clan Edwards, Jamie strolls over to the new Food Revolution cooking center he's established in the center of town. It's under construction, but far enough along that he can take a meeting with Rhonda McCoy, director of Food Services for Cabell County Schools. He asks to be schooled in the ways and means of her people, and what it'll take to get fresh meals to little kids. He's got a whiteboard and a marker. She's armed with binders of USDA guidelines. He looks as if he'd prefer to start huffing the marker, rather than look at graphs and pie (mmm…pie!) charts.

The task before him - within one week, he must:

1. Come in on budget.

2. Nutritional standards must be met.

3. Students must accept the meals.

Jamie is daunted, but game, and pits himself and a beta cook against the Gue Crew. He'll serve fresh, roasted chicken, rice, salad, yogurt and fruit - all made from scratch. They'll serve pizza. The kids will choose.

Fresh loses. Shocker.

Ms. Gue gleefully rubs it in his face. And Jamie's in trouble with the Principal for not providing a starch in addition to his brown rice. And the DJ introduced in the first act finally goes off, making sure that everyone in town knows that Jamie apparently said some unkind things about Huntington's residents' intellect in the local paper.

Jamie claims to have had his words taken out of context and makes his case to the irked Gue Crew. Everyone has a good rant at the media, but they're all still peeved with Jamie. He cries, feeling misunderstood and missing his family. It's sad. Children sing to him and hug him.

Ready for the next course?

On the menu:

Tear Tally: Jamie – 1, Huntingtonites – 1, Recapper – 1

Brit Slang: "grumpy old git," "et" (for ate), "kit" (for kitchen appliances)

Instances of "Pissed-off"-ness: 3

Choice Quote: "Have I seen women like Alice before? Yeah. Do they scare me? Yeah. Will I have nightmares about her? For a while."

soundoff (32 Responses)
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    August 31, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. escort outcall

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    Anete Hakkinen

    August 18, 2010 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. Renee

    Loved this show, I watch the BBC channel with Gillian and You are What you Eat! It is a long time coming to our country and we need the shock treatment not only in the schools but in the home. Because if the parents don't change the kids never will. I will continue to watch or it will be on my DVR, I wish the best sucess, would love to have the chance to do something like this with a chef.

    April 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mushymushroom

    If all reality shows are like this, maybe the world will be a better place to live in!!!!!!!! 🙂

    Hope it becomes a success and inspire more people around the world!!!! 🙂

    March 30, 2010 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. Steve

    Haven't seen the show yet, but want to. What's not being said is that in most school systems, even if students DID know how to use a fork and a knife, they wouldn't be allowed to because of zero tolerance weapons statutes.

    March 29, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Laura

    The most amazing part to me was when he showed the kids how the chicken nuggets were made with the absolute bottom of the barrel parts of the chicken, AND THEY STILL ATE IT! That made me sick to my stomach. I'm very glad this show is on, hopefully it will open up people's eyes, not to just what their children are eating, but what they're putting in their own mouths. I agree, don't give the kids a choice, of course kids who are used to eating pizza (even for breakfast!) will choose pizza over fresh chicken. Make them eat it, don't give them a choice! Are we that scared of being adults and making decisions for them???

    March 29, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. cindy unsworth

    Bravo for Mr. Oliver! He is absolutely correct in trying to help us feed our children better than we do in our education system. Americans have forgotten how to cook for themselves with good wholesome ingredients. Just walk down the frozen food isle of your local grocer. You will find every type of prepackaged meal which you could just as easily make for yourself without all the artificial crap added to it! I know from my own experience with my own health. If I had cooked for myself when I was younger, as I do now, I would not have ruined my health. We make laws demanding that our kids wear seatbelts and helmets but we poison them with artificial food. We should make it illegal to serve artificial food to our children!

    March 29, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. darlene d

    Kudos to Chef Jamie Oliver. American Chefs....take the right thing by helping our children live longer.

    I remember growing up my parents always telling me to eat everything on my plate or go to bed hungry. Well...we cannot tell our children that anymore. It has to start at home...making the right choices in what we eat.

    I think if the parents learn to eat right, then their children will follow.

    March 29, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mytie

    That wonderful teacher spending class time having the wee ones learn what are our fresh foods, the principal walking around helping them to learn how to use their knife with a simple a thing but for the children a huge learning boost in everyday needed information.

    Where are the parents?? Why are 6 year olds lacking in knowledge about such basic things?

    March 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. allfor1

    I love this show! As a teacher, I have listened to students complain about how bad the cafeteria food is. Many of the students here would love to see roast chicken and rice as opposed to some monstrosity called "Malibu Chicken." What is that you may ask: 3 chicken nuggets on a piece of bread. HUH? I was confused too. I do realize that our cooks can only provide what the government will allow. One of the really sad things is, they CAN COOK! Our cooks love to make additional foods from scratch. Our janitors actually make fruit pies every once in awhile. Unfortunately, only the adults can enjoy the fresh food. We aren't allowed to provide it to the students because there isn't a fat, calorie, or sodium count to refer to. It's ridiculous!

    And why are these people in Huntington giving the kids a choice anyway? Let's face it: they set Jamie up for failure his first time out. Little kids will not choose a chicken breast over pizza. It's not going to happen, especially when the adults at the school are so negative about it. I say, after a regular lunch, weigh the amount food thrown away. Then only serve fresh food. After about 6 months, weigh the wasted food after one lunch and see which type of food was wasted more. It's certainly not perfect or scientific, but it might be a bit more realistic.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mdegraffen

    When he served actual food, he discovered that the kids are not allowed to have utensils for eating. These children in elementary school do not know how to use a knife and fork. That is one reason they feed all that crap – it's finger food. Why can't their teacher show them how to cut meat? That is just unbelievable. It is cheaper and more convenient to feed this swill.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. susan

    I wept when i realized the sadness in your (Jamie's) heart in trying to communicate your desire to help this one community. I agree...if you only know one type of food...that is what you are going to eat. The flavored milk is what got to me and the chicken nuggets. Then the children trying to use the utencils...very awakening. But, when the teachers, principal, and "staff" realized the situation and started helping the kids...BAM! (not meaning to quote another chef) it all came together...the kids could not wait to have the one on one help and love and understanding of their peers.
    That's is the key to the communication the kids lacked and needed and Jamie, kudo's to you to step in and be there for everyone an not giving up...even on the "lunch Ladies".

    Keep up the great work...and teaching is what we all need...knowlege is power!!! kudo's to the young man who did the cooking with you too!! Hope there is a follow up on his progress!! Good Luck with teaching our schools and Nation! Thanks for the time you are taking in this true "Reality" show.

    March 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. beach gal

    Please send this guy to Huntington Beach, California next. We need him. Our school food is equally horrible.

    I wish I could say our Huntington CA kids would choose better than the Huntington WV kids, but somehow I doubt it. It takes a while to develop a taste for new things. Please stick with it.

    March 29, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alice

    In the second episode of the show I was mortified when they showed that the kids didn't know how to use a knife and fork! How embarrassing. When I was a kid (in the 70s) having fast food was a "treat" that we got maybe, and I mean maybe, once every other month. We had a "square meal" as a family every day. It is horrifying to realize what we are doing to our kids. Thanks Jamie for this great show.

    March 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Katiedid

    Jamie, you have inspired me to cook chicken, rice and green beans for dinner instead of order a pizza!

    March 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  16. tgmee

    What he doesn't talk about and no one mentions here is that the food they are using is cheaper because of big agra business which is a huge lobbying force. Our government has sold their souls and our kids health (ours too) to lobbyists. Jaime can never come in on budget buying fresh. He won't get the deals that the government gets.

    March 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Ellie

    Excellent program! Please don't stop with Huntington!

    March 29, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Blueyes2

    It's time our society understands that if all you feed your children is chicken nuggets, pizza and anything else that requires a cookie sheet or a deep fryer then " THAT IS ALL THEY WILL EAT " it's gets really old hearing parents make comment that it's the only items they like. Well, who's fault is that. My parents paid a fraction in school taxes that parents pay today and we had made from scratch hot lunches. Today any parent with school age children should be outraged at the garbage being forced into the mouths of their children. Most of my friends have the brains to pack lunches and educate the importance of good solid nutrition to their children. God Bless Jamie Oliver for caring enough to step up to the plate and do something.

    March 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  19. ml

    I totally agree that the food in American schools is disgusting and I wish my child would never be exposed to it , since it takes battles at home to make him understand we DO NOT EAT corndogs, MacCheese, fried chicken at home!
    I also have one comment to make in regards to the notion that healty food cost more: Each individual fruit, veggie, fresh fish and such might cost more, but if people would stop eating so much in summary, I bet the cost for healthy foods would be the same if not less. I have NEVER EVER left a store with the shopping cart overflown of crap. You cannot tell me that all that food cost less than selected healthy foods in sensible portions.
    To the people in West V., let them eath themselves to death, less dumb people to worry about. Darwin's survival of the fittest at its best!

    March 29, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Ken Leebow

    It's a great show. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the American food culture…take a look. I’m sure you will be laughing when you watch these videos and you just might change your eating habits:

    March 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  21. m

    I intended to watch this show but missed this episode. I think the best idea to help the issue of childhood obesity anywhere is to go after the food provided at school. If fresh, healthy food can be served within an existing budget, all schools need to go that route. Many families cannot afford to buy fresh veggies and other healthy items because of their prohibitively high cost in a grocery store. So if the ONLY option for the kids at school is healthy food, that takes care of at least one meal most of the week. And this idea of let's offer them greasy pizza as well as healthy food is ludicrous. Clearly people used to eating greasy foods will prefer that option overall to anything different. Wipe out the fatty foods and serve only what Jamie goes in and cooks. They'll learn to live with it!

    March 29, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  22. caribousteaks

    How true Jo! I don't see a single American chef trying to solve this problem. I see lots of famous television chefs and see lots of flashy cooking programs but not one show about normal kids in normal schools who don't know what a potato is nor how to use a knife and fork. How embarrassing for America, how truly embarrassing. Oliver deserves major credit for trying in a genuine, and friendly way to get stupid administrators and pig headed staff to take the bull by the horns and do the sensible thing. Something that should be normal not a dramatic change. Good on Oliver, boo hiss on the lunch ladies, principal, and disgusting radio dj.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  23. jim

    Great show. It continues what was started in the Supersize me movie a few years back. This is a must-watch for families.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Michiele L

    I so watched this show because I remeber some of the disgusting stuff we ate in the school cafeterias back in the day.

    It's only gotten worse since then. There are even vending machines at schools now. What the USDA provides for the schools to order from is bottom of the barrel. The cafeterias are understaffed with people who don't really have the time or skill to cook. If I made less than a McDonald's employee, I really wouldn't be pushing to be skilled myself. The people back in the day setting the menus were ill educated. Many of the ones doing it today - same thing - they just tick off a list. Also if kids are not used to eating something, they won't eat it. Also it has to be a fast eat in the cafteria setting. Kids have approximately 15-20 minutes to eat after they get through the lunch line. Whole fruits and other good stuff gets left because it take time to eat. I hate to have to say it - but Jaime, cut the apples up for crying out loud.

    But I can't completely blame the schools. People don't cook these days. They microwave. Convenience food is too easy. I know the times I have cooked for friends they have been blown away - yes real mashed potatoes!!! And vegetables and interesting salads!!! And it's so simple. But it's mindset and that is something hard to change. The brain can hardwire itself to junkfood over time. rewiring takes willpower.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Michele

    It's great to start with the schools, but until the kids are eating healthy at home too, how much will really change. There needs to be healthy eating in both places for this to do any real good. Plus, doesn't it also come down to portion size? A kid can eat healthy, but if they are eating plate after plate at one sitting, it will still affect them.

    March 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  26. kristineleuze

    Very happy this show is on and ditto what everyone above said!

    March 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Mommy3

    Kudos to Jamie and Ryan. I loved the show and totally support the whole idea. My kids and I will continue to watch every episode. America is really unhealthy and the schools are the most wonderful place to start. It is said that our children are our future, with out making a change we are destroying our future!

    March 29, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  28. rosie

    watched this with my six-year-old son. he spent the rest of the weekend pointing out what was 'evil' processed food and what was fresh. so i'm happy to have jamie's opinion as my new secret weapon against pop tarts.

    March 29, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  29. Jerre Jo

    Finally someone has taken a stand to feed our children better.

    I have disliked the type of food our children get in schools for 30 years.
    When I was a kid we had FRESH foods then they went to process foods. No wonder our children are not healhty and fat.

    With bad food, computers, TV's and parents not a home we have a real problem.

    If you need me to help in any way I will. I have been pusihing for my own family to feed their children my grandchildren better. I have two children that I taught to cook before they left the house and they do all of the cooking for there families.

    Good job Ryan and Jamie- keep up the good work boys.

    Stop process foods!

    Jerre Jo

    March 29, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |

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