Jamie Oliver’s controversial show ‘Food Revolution’ made headlines last week when he was told “French-fries count as a vegetable” by a lunch worker at the Huntington school where he was preparing a meal. Battling federal and state mandates about what constitutes an acceptable diet along with deep seated bad eating habits, Jamie is attempting to bring a healthier lifestyle to the West Virginia town – one home cooked meal at a time.
On the last episode, Jamie made a “gentleman’s bet” with a skeptical town DJ that he could teach 1,000 residents of America’s statistically most overweight city to cook in just one week. This episode began with Jamie struggling to keep up with a dance choreographer then heading out to whip up interest in a massive ‘cook-a-thon’.
Things started off with a ‘flash mob’. A crowd quickly gathered as Oliver’s newly recruited high school kids from the previous week shimmied to the beat, and Jamie commented ruefully, “I’m a ‘non-dancer’… I don’t want to be in this – I want to watch it! To see the future generation in dance, cooking, having a laugh… it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done! … Wicked.”
With only four days to get a thousand people into chef hats, Jamie started the cook-a-thon in the middle of the street outside his shop. The first entrée: a stir fry with plenty of ginger (“It improves your hair, your health, your happiness… it makes your sex life better – yeah, Mother!” Jamie said, laughing).
All sorts of people showed up – businessmen, builders, firefighters, politicians, students and single moms. “You’re buying me that beer, Rod!” Jamie laughed at the DJ, who stopped by and gaped at the crowd. “It was epic! We had everyone – mums, rockers, foxy chicks – I love it!” said Jamie.
The next day’s game plan – beef and noodles with a crowd of steel benders, who presented Jamie with an American flag hardhat. Jamie was completely chuffed, but the DJ continued to jibe on air – “We’ve got better things to do than learn recipes! One person can’t change West Virginia. I’m sick of talking about Jamie Oliver, sick of talking about lettuce, sick of the whole d* thing… I wish Jamie Oliver would go back across the pond.”
Unfazed, Jamie plowed ahead, trying to reach his goal of posting 1,000 photos of people holding dishes they had cooked on his wall of proof. The next to last day arrived, and Oliver was stuck at 700. Jamie wouldn’t give up, however, and laid a plan to get Rod to recruit cooks for him! “He’s going to help me, and lose his own bet,” Oliver declared.
The two adversaries met at the local mortuary where they viewed a casket built for an obese person. Rod was aghast, and Jamie shook his head in sorrow as the funeral directors explained that the cemetery would even require the families to purchase two gravesites.
From there they visited a single mom with a 12 year old son who weighed over 300 lbs. A young woman showed Rod a picture of her adopted father who was hugely obese, and had died due to his weight. An obese girl cried as she told Rod her doctor had informed her that her liver had been damaged by her eating habits – and that she likely only had 7-8 years to live if she didn’t change her ways.
“The food revolution isn’t just about lettuce,” Jamie told Rod. “It’s about saving lives.” Rod folded. “For the doctor to tell her if she didn’t start eating healthier, she didn’t have long to live,” Rod said, “…it broke my heart.” The DJ did a complete turnaround, and vowed to help Jamie reach out to the citizens of Huntington via his radio show.
The final day dawned and Rod broadcast his show live from Jamie’s Kitchen, asking people to come out and help him lose his bet. “It’s not about Jamie Oliver anymore,” he told listeners, “it’s about us.”
The city of Huntington turned out to cook, including the mayor (to Jamie and Rod’s delight). Oliver bounded into action, firing up woks and explaining that flash frozen veg was almost as good as fresh. The morning wore on as Jamie taught class after class, snapping pictures of each ‘graduate’ and pinning them to his rapidly filling wall of proof.
Good Morning America came on the scene to broadcast live – and the feather in Jamie’s cap appeared when the Governor Joe Manchin III and the First Lady of West Virginia showed up to support Oliver. “We don’t want to let what you’ve started fade away,” the Governor told Jamie. “We teach them how to read and write – now we’ll teach them how to take care of themselves.”
The last batch of cooks finished their dishes, and the Governor took Jamie and Rod’s picture with Rod proudly holding his own dish of fresh food to complete Jamie’s wall. “I was his biggest skeptic, and I was the thousandth person!” said Rod. “That’s special to me, and I’m sure to Jamie, too.”
Despite the difficulties innate to convincing people to eat healthy, Jamie’s not giving up. An AP report quotes the celebrity TV chef as saying, “You don’t want to ‘food-Nazi’ the fun out of everything. You can still cook great things that are calorific, but you just need to intro it with kind of ‘Look, this is a special occasion’, or ‘this is for the holidays’, or whatever… One doesn’t want to suck the life or fun out of food because that would be wrong. But, you know, I think the general world of food chefs, celebrity chefs, fast-food industry, supermarkets, the ‘government food gang’ they all need to do a bit. Hopefully, a bit more than a bit. And if they do, the world will change!”
Food Revolution airs every Friday on ABC at 9 pm EST.