interview with jamie: food revolution episode 1

Interview With Jamie: Food Revolution Episode 1

Tue 14 Sep 2010

Story by Danny McCubbin
 

In this online exclusive, Jamie answers questions that relate to the first episode of his 6-part TV show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution". If you want to watch the episode before you read this interview, you can see the TV times below.

What were your first impressions of Huntington, West Virginia?
It’s really beautiful - a really lovely, normal town next to a river. The people of that area are good, fun-loving people and were very welcoming. Obviously the challenge that I had was fairly large. I think that I was quite lucky actually as there could have been a lot of other places that were a lot harder.

How did you feel when you went to the radio station and Rod was so negative?
Having Rod be so negative was a massive disappointment. I guess his job is to feel the pulse and tempo of the town and talk about it, but Rod did not believe that Huntington needed help, did not believe that they needed to be reminded of those negative health statistics, and he didn’t really believe anything needed to change. As someone who works in the broadcast industry I feel it’s really important that everyone faces the issues head on then contributes to the solution. My message is really clear: teach people about food and they will make better decisions. Ultimately, whether you’re American, Chinese, Greek, Turkish or English, people don’t like change and they react very strongly to someone rocking the boat. But not everyone felt the way Rod did and in the end it was nice for me to go into such a lovely community, put my head down and get to know people and get them cooking.

Did you expect to find the kitchen so well equipped at the elementary school?
Because West Virginia is a state that has been pinpointed as having a fairly bad record it has been under the microscope for a number of years now. You can see that that negative attention has led to better resources. Without question, West Virginia has some of the best equipped kitchens in the States. They’re the best school kitchens I’ve ever seen.

What was the situation when you first arrived?
Although some major steps had been taken in West Virginia’s schools to improve food standards in schools, the nutritional regulations set by the American Government still allowed for pizza to be served for breakfast, French fries to be served as a vegetable and junk food to be served every day without any cutlery or crockery – sloppy joes, burgers, bad-quality hot dogs, corn dogs, burgers, nuggets. All of this food is riddled with large quantities of ‘E’ numbers, additives and non-food items. There was no regulation set for sugar intake and this was a massive problem bearing in mind one of the biggest problems is diabetes. If you speak to any paediatrician and say “identify the main enemy” they would say sugar. There is nearly as much sugar in a carton of milk as in a can of pop! There is sugar in the cereal, there is sugar in the bread, there is sugar here there and every bloomin’ where! Why? Because it is cheap and the fast food industry has gotten us addicted to it. Ultimately what I am saying is – although big steps have been made, junk food was still being served to those kids.

You always have such a positive attitude and you say that anything is achievable – when you first met the lunch ladies were you surprised by their reaction to you?
I wanted the lunch ladies, especially Alice, to be a part of this really badly. What I was trying to do was to get all of the ladies in the kitchen to totally rethink what they had been paid to do for the last eighteen years. I wanted them to have a new vision and set standards and basically admit that what was being done was not their fault, but was not in the best interest of the children.

It’s difficult if you have a foreigner coming in or anyone coming in and questioning the way you’ve always done things. Alice is a strong lady and will be an incredibly powerful force; she has so much to offer. She is a hard worker and is very methodical. This lead us to clash but ultimately every day that I was going in there I was wishing for her to come around and support me. When you are trying to move mountains you want – and need – people on your side who want to move them with you.

Were you relieved to find someone like Pastor Steve who knew of the work that you have done here in the UK?
It was nice to meet Pastor Steve. He felt very much that I was sent to him by the “Big Man” himself to help him with his problem. He did know of the work that I had done but I think it’s really important for anyone reading this to say that you don’t need to be some celebrity chef off the TV to make change and get people’s attention; any parent, any brother, any sister, any student can make change if they go to the right people and speak from the heart. Pastor Steve and I were allies from the very beginning. Ultimately that man is at the very sharp end of the story. He’s the one that has to bury people and the reality is he’s sick of burying his friends.

It looked like you really connected with Stacy Edwards. Was it difficult for her to open up about how she had been feeding her family?
Not really, no. Stacy is a lovely woman, and like many mums in America, the UK, and the rest of the world, she is doing her best for her kids. Stacy had just never been taught the basics and she is not the minority. You buy largely processed stuff and you are going to suffer from some of the biggest killers in America and the UK: heart disease, diabetes, obesity. We now have three or four generations of people that can’t cook because they’ve never been taught how, and were never taught to cook at school. When these people become parents it’s no surprise they struggle to make the right food choices. In life you have to be shown stuff. That’s why parents and school are so incredibly important to this whole movement.

Stacy, along with millions of other mothers around the country, was gasping for help. She wanted change, she wanted to know how to do better and that is the consistent pattern – people want help, end of story. Time and time again, if you offer to help people learn in the kitchen there’ll be queues out the door. As an added bonus for Stacy, when she started shopping for proper food instead of all that processed rubbish her shopping bill went down by $150 a week - that’s $7,800 a year!

About the Author: Danny McCubbin is the website editor for JamieOliver.com

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