Jamie Oliver: saving the world one fat kid at a time

The first episode of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” which premiered on ABC Sunday night, could very well have been called “Jamie Oliver vs. The Lunch Ladies From Hell.” A big part of Oliver’s food education mission, which he embarked on 7 years ago involves improving the food children eat at their school cafeteria. For this season of “Food Revolution,” Oliver went to Hungtington, West Virginia, which, at the time, ranked as the most obese city in the most obese state in the most obese country in the world. He began by going through the meal plans at one elementary school and found that pretty much everything the kids were fed was frozen, fried, dehydrated or canned. The menu, in a normal day, was pizza for breakfast, chicken nuggets for lunch with a side of french fries to satisfy the FDA’s vegetable requirement and colored, flavored milk to drink. Far from seeing this as a problem, the lunch ladies, who don’t like being called that, by the way, were less than thrilled to see fresh food (which you have to wash and cut all by yourself) replacing their beloved potato pearls, which, when combined with water and stirred vigorously turn into something akin to mashed potatoes.

I don’t know what’s more surprising, the fact that in one week a ‘normal’ American family can consume a room-full of frozen pizzas, chocolate donuts, burgers, hot dogs, chips, soda etc. or the fact that these same families are surprised to learn they’re doing something wrong. Obesity is the deadliest condition in America today, killing 1 person every 5 minutes. It’s also, as we all know, the biggest drain in health care spending. Improperly feeding your child, Oliver says, is child abuse. It can shorten their lives by 10 years. In one extreme case Oliver met a 16-year-old girl who has six years to live if she doesn’t change her eating habits.

The season in Huntington was filmed before Oliver received the 2010 TED Prize, which you can watch on the TED site. The good news, he says, is that all this is preventable. After he completed his work in Huntington they no longer ranked highest in obesity. There’s a new fattest city now, he says, and he’s going there next.