Some revolutions start on a picket line - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution starts on the lunch line. The celebrity chef's new TV show confronts America’s obesity epidemic in the least healthy part of the country. Host Jeff Young talks with Oliver about eating well as a matter of life and death.
YOUNG: British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is bringing his brand of food edu-tainment to the America—specifically to America’s unhealthiest city. Oliver took on school nutrition programs in England, and wants to do the same in the U.S. The title of his new TV series sums it up: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Jamie Oliver, welcome to Living on Earth.
OLIVER: How you doing? Thanks for having me.
YOUNG: Now, tell me about Huntington, West Virginia.
OLIVER: The tri-state area of West Virginia was the area that seemed to have the biggest problem of obesity, diabetes, various strokes, heart disease. For that, obviously, we did our research and we looked at the CDC report which is a government report on disease and so we focused in on that area, and we went to the biggest metropolitan area, which was Huntington.
Lots of people are almost fatigued by the stats and the bad news, but from my experience over the last seven years, telling really people stories, getting in their homes, working with them. Trying to give them simple bits of good information that can help them change their lives and give them choice is what it’s all about. But we didn’t just want to do it with one family, it was the whole town.
YOUNG: You want to know another fun fact about Huntington?
OLIVER: Go for it!
YOUNG: It’s my hometown.
OLIVER: Is it really?!
YOUNG: It’s where I grew up, right there in that corner of West Virginia.
OLIVER: It’s a beautiful place; it’s a really lovely place. And quite interesting in the sense that Huntington and West Virginia has the biggest collection of small farms in the whole of the United States, and yet this area has got these problems.
YOUNG: You know, I saw some of the clips of your program, and one of the defining characteristics of Huntington, my hometown, is that it values tradition, which is good, but it also means it is highly resistant to change. And I understand you got really engaged in that…
OLIVER: Well, it’s not just Huntington, I think change is the biggest uncomfortable thing for all of us, and I think Huntington was fully aware of the CDC report, you know, and they kind of had a magnifying glass poked on them there for a number of years. The reality is that Huntington’s health statistics last year when we did the report were three percent away from the national average; so basically, Huntington’s story is America’s story.
YOUNG: Your trip into the school there—it was pretty amazing. There was this scene, and I want to hear just a bit of it where you hold up some vegetables to see if the kids can identify them, and…well, let’s hear just a bit of that:
OLIVER: Who knows what this is?
OLIVER: Potato. So, you think these are potatoes? Not potatoes, though.
KID: I don’t know.
OLIVER: Do you know what this is? No? Who knows what tomato ketchup is? Yeah. That’s what it’s made out of.
KID: Oh, tomato ketchup, I know that one!
YOUNG: So, they don’t know tomatoes when you hold up tomatoes?
OLIVER: That’s an important scene for me. I’ve done that in several countries. I’ve done that scene in England, and it’s exactly the same. England’s the most unhealthy country in Europe. America, you know, you’re doing pretty well on the world. We spend our lives as parents, saying, ‘Oh, mind that street, be carefully how you go down there, you don’t want to get mugged or crime, or gun crime.’ All of the deaths from homicide don’t even compare in quantity to the amount of deaths of diabetes and obesity and these things.
YOUNG: Your program is “Food Revolution”. Let me ask you this: do you think in the end that you really, that you really changed anything there?
OLIVER: Really, it’s now for that community and the groups of people that I work with to sort of become local ambassadors of change and really carry on showing America that anyone can do it! What I think is going to be exciting is seeing what does happen in Huntington.
The community kitchen that we set up with free cooking lessons, that’s got funding for the next year and a half. What I’ve raised, fundraised cash locally, to sustainably roll out every single school in the area—probably the school you went to as a kid—to go from the reheated junk to fresh foods.
YOUNG: So, when I go back home, will I see people eating differently in Huntington?
OLIVER: Well, you know what? Over the next three years I believe so, yeah. And I think the food revolution isn’t just about schools, it’s not just about the home, it’s about the supermarkets: what they’re selling, how they’re selling it, how they’re trying to educate people and how they can do stuff they’ve never tried before, but also the restaurants and the fast food industry.
There is certainly back home there’s been a massive swirl of what you would perceive as the bad guys actually doing some really radical, good work where they buy stuff from, what’s in the food. So, give me three or four years you might start seeing some really clear things happening. But I think Huntington’s got a lot to be proud of.
YOUNG: Jamie Oliver, thank you very much for your time.
OLIVER: Thank you very much for having me.
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