Food Evolution, Not Revolution

Some time ago I wrote about Jamie Oliver’s television miniseries “Food Revolution,” in which he tried to change the eating habits of the town named the most unhealthy in the United States. Chef Oliver, I wrote, had the right idea. If we don’t improve the way we eat, it will kill us.

Shortly after that, I had set aside an article on Salon.com’s blogs, Open Salon, about this show. It was the point of view of a doctor. I felt it brought a better perspective than I could to the messages behind Food Revolution. Looking at it again, I thought I might include some of what that article said, along with my own comments. This goes into greater detail than my previous post, if you can believe that’s possible. 🙂

Dr. Ayala Laufer-Cahana M.D. describes herself as:

“… a physician (Pediatrics and Medical Genetics), artist, and mother of 3 school age active kids. My expertise is vegetarian food (I have been a vegetarian all my life). I strongly believe that eating healthy and enjoying good food go hand in hand.”

She and I both note that things seemed to go a little too well for Jamie. I’ve noticed this before in many reality shows, or at least the few in which I have had a little interest. The television producers, either through manipulation or editing, make what happens more dramatic than it probably was. For example, why was Jamie driving an old, rundown jeep? You can’t tell me ABC couldn’t get a better car! That just makes the credibility of the whole thing a bit suspect. And that’s too bad, because I think this is an important topic.

Dr. Ayala and I agree that better eating habits really have to start when we’re young. That’s not to say we can’t make changes as adults, but it is harder then.

“…kids were more receptive to Jamie’s ideas for change than the grown-ups were, and many were eager for the empowerment the ability to cook could give.”

This applies to bachelors as well. Being able to make your own food is empowering, it gives you control over your life as well as your waistline. There’s no reason why you should put the pizza delivery guy’s kids through college.

Her next thought is placing kids’ interests first doesn’t mean letting kids rule!

“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in authoritarian parenting or schooling, but I do think we have the duty and authority to lead kids to good choices. It would be very easy for most kids to sleep in every single day, skip classes, rot in front of a TV or video game and not brush their teeth. We don’t give them those options. So why do we buy into adding sugar to everything in order to please our kids? Of course meals with more sugar, fat and salt will be better liked by kids—it’s human nature. It’s hard—but very possible—to retrain kids’ taste buds with wholesome from-scratch cooking. But not if we’re competing against sugar, fat and salt.”

This is what I’ve been saying about processed food. We like those things, like macaroni and cheese in a box with powdered fake cheese, because the makers put so much sugar, fat and salt in it. Also, saying you don’t have enough time to cook is a cop-out. You don’t say you can’t pay your rent because you don’t have time to write the check. Somehow, you find that time. You can do it for cooking more of your own meals, too.

Dr. Ayala next observes that Oliver’s  show pointed out that it’s all about the money. I couldn’t agree more. We all know that processed food, for reasons I don’t understand, is always cheaper, a lot cheaper, than fresh food. That puts poor people at much greater risk for food related disease than those with more resources.

Her next point is a little mystifying. She says that food culture is at an all-time low.

“Just when gourmet food, fine dining and the food-as-entertainment trend hit new highs (especially in relatively well-off communities), Jamie shows us that, for many people, the understanding and experience of food has hit a hard-to-believe low. The elementary school in the show has no cutlery knifes (lunch is usually eaten with no cutlery), and the kids can’t recognize a potato or a tomato (we’re not talking leeks and rutabaga here—basic stuff).”

That seems hard to believe when there are so many cooking shows, a food network, classes, websites and more, all about food! But I certainly do believe that kids don’t know what real food looks like. Heck, there’s a lot of things in the produce aisle I don’t recognize either. But I think I can identify the basics. Most of us can. But how did we learn? And why aren’t more kids learning that today?

Jamie calls the USDA guidelines for nutrition in school “rubbish.” This is another point I’ve been trying to make here. Those guidelines are based on old research. Our society has changed a lot in just the last 30 years. That’s one reason why we’re getting fat and getting sick. We eat like active people who do physical labor all day, but we ride in cars and sit in cubicles. We don’t need a diet heavy on carbohydrates, as the USDA’s food pyramid suggests.

Dr. Ayala notes that giving up restaurants and eating out is not the answer.

“Jamie’s Food Revolution focuses on bringing back fresh from-scratch food to schools, and providing a kitchen where anyone could learn how to cook. In many ways Jamie is selling the most attractive aspects of what needs to be done to improve our nutrition and health: bring back the pleasures of a food culture, and its connection to the land, our food makers, our health and our communities.

I agree. I don’t say you can never eat a fast food hamburger or order a pizza delivery ever again. I’m not saying a frozen dinner should never see the inside of your home. I’m just saying we need to cut back on these things and do more of our own cooking. It doesn’t mean what we make will always be healthy, but at least we will know what’s in it.

“But there’s another difficult reality to confront: we need to eat less. Twelve-year-old Justin Edwards, featured in the show, weighs 318 pounds; his problems won’t be over once hamburgers are made from scratch. Jamie doesn’t address eating less; he concentrates on eating different.”

It’s not the whole solution, but it’s a start. That leads Dr. Ayala to conclude that Jaimie Oliver’s Food Revolution is more of a Food EVOLUTION.

“Just as we came to this sorry state of obesity and unhealthy eating slowly and gradually, there’s no quick fix that can undo the damage instantly. There’s no evil dictator to topple, and no oppressed public waiting to be freed from the grasp of fast-food. Most of us are comfortably stuck in our ways and resistant to change.”

What Jamie Oliver brought to US audiences was just a start. By simply making us aware of the problem, there’s a better chance we can do something about it. But Americans always want instant results and there aren’t any here. We have to recognize that obesity isn’t just a matter of will power. Just pushing away from the table will not cause the inches and pounds to slough off like so much dead skin.

That’s what this blog is all about. Radical changes are not as important, and not as permanent, as gradual changes. Start with cooking just one night a week. Start with just one day a week not eating meat. Start with just once making pizza instead of ordering it. It’s not important where you begin, it’s where you finish. Just start.

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