“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” which airs Fridays on ABC, is the oddest of mash-ups — part celebrity-chef hagiography, part reality TV straining with hackneyed tension, part underreported documentary, and 100 percent agitprop.
It also makes you gape, cry and consider the ugliness and horrors of our broken food supply system.
Repeating the work he has done with the British school lunch system, Oliver has chosen to film his six-week series in the town of Huntington, W.Va., a city that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has singled out as one of the most obese in the nation.
Oliver blows into town dressed like a giant, tragically hair-moussed pea and talking of “revolution.” Children giggle, adults take umbrage.
Oliver’s mission, after two episodes, appears to be threefold. The first, most dramatically rich, involves his attempts to remake the school breakfast and lunch programs at Central City Elementary School. Here we get pure reality TV boilerplate: the challenges, the time restraints, the will-they-or-won’t-they-eat-it tension. A nemesis? Of course! School cook Alice Gue — a woman who could scare the cigarette out of the Simpsons’ lunch lady’s mouth — pits her dessicated “Potato Pearls” against Oliver’s peeler.
At the school Oliver indulges in TV-ready stunts, such as dumping a mountain of animal fat on the school lawn and telling the kiddies that they consumed that last year. He also takes a basket of fresh veggies to a classroom, and the kids can’t identify one — not even the potato.
His second goal is to establish a cooking center in town, where he can teach kids and adults to prepare fresh food. Here, Oliver performs a stunt that grossed out British kids. He purees a chicken carcass, bones and all, to show a group of wide-eyed children how nuggets are made. To his surprise, these American kids are all too happy to eat the pureed, meal-thickened chicken nastiness once they are cut into cute nuggets and fried.
For his third goal, Oliver tries to remake the cooking habits of the morbidly obese Edwards family. Not surprisingly, these people eat mostly fried food and pizza — a fact made manifest when Oliver piles a week’s worth of unhealthy meals in a revolting pile on the kitchen table. Not content to stop there, he brings the whole family to the hospital, where 12-year-old son Justin (who easily tops 300 pounds) is diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Justin — a sweet, smart kid — admits he is bullied constantly at school. He also appreciates Oliver’s fresh, flavorful food and shows a flair for cooking. Here’s where Oliver’s heart melts, and so does yours.