Chef tries to fix LA’s nutrition problems in new reality show

By Alex Kaufman

Jamie Oliver has a mission: to create a healthier, better−fed world. He’s been successful across the globe, and his next destination is Los Angeles. “This is not reality TV: This is a campaign,” Oliver says as he speaks to concerned parents about the food their children are being served — and the audience believes it.

Last season, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” focused its efforts in Huntington, W. Va., which has been cited as one of the unhealthiest cities in the country. Oliver butted heads with the cafeteria workers in the city’s schools, but his endeavors garnered the program the Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program in 2010 and the Television Academy Honors for embodying “television with a conscience.”

This season, Oliver is back with a vengeance as he moves his food revolution to LA. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second−largest school district in the United States, banned Oliver from filming in the district for fear of bad publicity surrounding its food service practices. But now he’s hell−bent on getting through to the children in the schools, one way or another. All he wants to do is help — what could be wrong with that?

With this huge impediment, from a governmental institution no less, Oliver rallies support from local parents in any way he can. He appears on co−producer Ryan Seacrest’s radio show to communicate with parents on a mass level and gets hundreds of responses.

He then opens his kitchen in LA and invites concerned parents of the LAUSD to stop by and listen to his sell. Their children bring their school lunches to Oliver, who takes each lunch and castigates the school’s food program for serving students “airplane food.”

It doesn’t take long for Oliver, the parents and even the audience to become enraged with the food administration: How can it let elementary−school children eat garbage and pass it off for lunch?

Oliver seems hopeful that he will save the kids of LA from the monstrous tyrant of inorganic packaged food. The parents are with him, and he has reason, facts and motivation, not to mention a tad bit of sass, on his side. But when he ventures to a school lunch convention, he is appalled to find that it condones and promotes unhealthy eating habits that have been proven to lead to obesity and diabetes. Oliver appeals once again to the superintendent of the LAUSD to let him enter its schools, but his efforts prove unsuccessful, as he is mired down in the district bureaucracy and cannot get a meeting with the food administration director.

Although it is a reality show, almost nowhere in “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” is there an impression of the scripted “reality” found in such programs as “The Amazing Race” or “The Real World.” This is a genuine attempt to revolutionize the way the children of America eat.

“Revolution” succeeds in shocking some sensibility back into the American viewership and the people Oliver encounters along the way. It’s frightening to think that the food consumed by the majority of Americans is what is making us sick and diseased and that there is little support from our local or federal governments to stop it in its track. The fact that LAUSD is seemingly reluctant to work with Oliver and consider a change is infuriating and disheartening.

Jamie Oliver, partially through sarcasm and comic lines, plainly informs us that young America is on a one−way track to health problems, and it won’t change unless there’s a food revolution. For those who lead hectic daily lives, healthy eating generally go to the wayside, but Oliver makes it immensely clear that our priorities need to change.

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