Skinny Jesus Chef Less Messiah, More Mess-Maker

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the first episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, an ABC reality show in which "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver travels to Huntington, WV—deemed the Obesitiest Place in America by the Centers for Disease Control—where he was going to makeover the town's eating habits, a project that included revamping the school lunch program.

Well, Arun Gupta investigated Oliver's success in the latter endeavor and found that "Jamie Oliver's 'Food Revolution' Flunked Out." Oliver, it seems, is not merely a self-congratulatory fat-hating ass, but also a liar concealer of information:
At the end of one episode, we hear Rhonda McCoy, director of food services for the local county, tell Jamie that he's over budget and did not meet the fat content and calorie guidelines, but she's going to let him continue with the "revolution" as long as he addresses these issues. What is not revealed is that the "meal cost at Central City Elementary during television production more than doubled with ABC Productions paying the excess expense," according to a document obtained by AlterNet from the West Virginia Department of Education.

…Turns out that even with an unlimited budget, Jamie was unable to design a menu that provided a minimum number of calories while not exceeding the fat limits. A nutritional analysis of the first three weeks of meals (15 lunches) at Central City Elementary conducted by the West Virginia Board of Education flunked him on both counts. A whopping 80 percent of his lunches exceeded either the total fat or saturated fat allowance, and most of the time both, and 40 percent of his lunches provided too few calories.

…A document from the West Virginia Department of Education indicates Jamie's escapades put Cabell County's entire lunch program at risk. It stated: "Noncompliance with meal pattern and nutrient standard requirements may result in a recovery of federal funds." In plain English, the county could lose a large amount of funding because of the failure to meet the standards.

While Jamie did raise $80,000 to pay for trainers to teach cooks in all of Cabell County's 28 schools to produce the new menus, a document from the county outlined many other expenses that have not been detailed on the show. Meal preparation required more cooks to the tune of $66,000 a year; each school needed new equipment ranging from $20 containers to $2,945 commercial-grade food processors; the county was paying more for fresher items, such as cooked chicken at an additional 10 cents a serving; schools that rolled over to the new program were unable to use "donated food" from the USDA, valued at $522,974.68 last year, with officials bluntly noting, "The program cannot afford to lose this amount"; and the county was losing purchasing power because it was having difficulty getting the fresh ingredients through the buying cooperative it shares with eight other counties.

In a perverse way, Jamie Oliver has highlighted many of the shortcomings of the U.S. food system. But it was like taking a wrecking ball to a termite-infested house to show the rot inside at the cost of smashing the structure.
Ouch. And there is yet more.
The reality behind "Food Revolution" is that after the first two months of the new meals, children were overwhelmingly unhappy with the food, milk consumption plummeted and many students dropped out of the school lunch program, which one school official called "staggering."
Oliver, who spent a good part of the first episode harrumphing about the bureaucracy that was making it difficult for him to get done what he wanted, didn't dedicate any time to talking about the fact that the US "federal government reimburses schools a paltry $2.68 for lunches and $1.46 for breakfasts (pdf) for children who qualify as long as the food meets specific guidelines," nor that, as reported by Jan Poppendieck, author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, "after school districts pay for labor, equipment, administration, transport, storage and other expenses, it leaves them with 'somewhere between 85 cents and a dollar' for the actual ingredients for lunches."

Gee, that might have been a good tidbit to highlight. If, y'know, he was actually concerned about why USian kids aren't eating fresh organic foods at lunch.

Of course, it's way easier to appear to "fix" children being served pizza for breakfast than fix an institutional clusterfuck that demands school cafeterias serve up healthy grub for a buck a kid.

And what of that pizza? Another little slice (heh) of info left out of Oliver's show is that it had a whole-wheat crust and lowfat cheese—and that serving whole-wheat and low-fat dairy to kids in a slice of pizza means they are less likely to pick and choose what they eat when the ingredients are served separately.

And then there's this:
Even though these kids are eating "breakfast pizza" with "luminous pink" milk, it's probably more nutritious than what they would eat otherwise, assuming their parents were even able to feed them breakfast. The median household income in the city of Huntington is about 55 percent of the U.S. average. We never learn that a phenomenal 86 percent (pdf) of the children at Central City Elementary qualify for free or near-free meals because of widespread poverty.
Fawn Boyer, a resident of Huntington, points out: "In a town where many of the state employees are making so little income that they qualify for welfare, it's unrealistic to expect people to be able to shop at the higher line supermarkets that offer organic foods." Indeed so. Which means that as kids gave up the lunch program because they didn't like Oliver's (higher-fat, lower-calorie than the school lunches they liked) lunches, their parents had to provide alternative food on the cheap, meaning highly-processed, HFCS-riddled, high-sodium junk food.

Which, despite its limitations, the school lunch program was not serving.

So what Oliver ultimately accomplished by "staggeringly" driving more students out of the school lunch program is increased consumption of the very food that no one should be eating. Classic.
If Jamie and Co. wanted to make a real difference they should go after the fast-food industry and abominations like the KFC "Double Down," a breadless sandwich composed of two fried chicken cutlets piled with bacon, cheese and "Colonel's Sauce." Then again, a recent issue of the Jamie Magazine reportedly features a "wholesome" school meal of "tuna Waldorf pita with hot vanilla milk, an oaty biscuit, and a banana" that has 643 more calories and 23 grams more fat (pdf) than a Double Down.

And just in case anyone's still wondering if Jamie Oliver is the victim of bad press, and isn't the grandstanding, opportunistic, smug fat-hater I've accused him of being, please enjoy these photos of Oliver dressed in a fat suit and "riding" a scooter with a broken wheel, a stunt designed "to show the dangers of eating too much junk food."

It's not being unhealthy that's the problem, you see, so much as being FAT!

These are not the pictures of a man who cares about my health (or anyone else's). These are the pictures of a man who loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice and reading his own favorable press, and has convinced himself that his "good intentions" justify any amount of insult (or deceit).


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