Perhaps you saw the ABC TV’s recent miniseries featuring British chef Jamie Oliver called Food Revolution. If you missed it, I hope you have some way to go back and watch this important series. (Can you say Hulu?)
Jamie Oliver is one of the many chef’s I’ve admired for his ideas and approach to food. He came to fame years ago as a young chef with a TV show called The Naked Chef. While I guess Jamie’s cute enough to pull off cooking naked (something you shouldn’t do, I must add), that wasn’t what the show was about. Naked meant the food. Raw, fresh food. He cooked it simply, allowing the natural flavors of the ingredients to come through. He respected the food.
In the Food Revolution, Oliver went to Huntington, West Virginia, named by the US Centers for Disease Control as the most unhealthy city in our country. It was easy to see how the town had acquired that designation. Everywhere you looked, it was filled with what one friend of mine called Roseanne people (looking like actress and producer Roseanne Barr).
I was moved by his visit to one family, all of whom were grossly overweight. One look in the refrigerator made it clear why they were that way. Junk, junk and, oh yes, junk. Frozen pizza and pizza rolls. Soda. Sweets. I couldn’t help thinking that Richard Simmons would be stroking out at the sight. Not a single fresh, green thing anywhere. But this was quite literally killing the children. One boy was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, a condition of high blood sugar and high amounts of insulin in the blood that hadn’t quite reached the level of full-blown Type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistance, what most Americans with this disease suffer.
It should be pointed out at this moment, that this family didn’t eat this way on purpose. Part of the problem is these foods taste good because they’re loaded with fat, sugar and salt, things our bodies crave because they are rare in natural foods. Parents everywhere just want their kids to eat and they learn quickly to give up the battle of getting them to eat better. Usually, this is because they don’t know how to fix the better foods. Also, these processed foods are cheaper than the fresh ingredients that go into them. I’ve never understood that, but it is true. Families are under greater economic pressure than ever because real incomes are actually shrinking. It’s easy to see how anyone could fall into the trap.
The series also showed the struggle Chef Oliver faced as he tried to change what is served to our school kids. It wasn’t enough for him to demonstrate that school kitchens could deliver the better food and that the kids would eat it, he also had to face the draconian regulations of the federal government.
This is a pet peeve of mine, one I know will come up again. The Department of Agriculture, which we support with our taxes, is under the control of Agribusiness, big corporations with a strangle-hold on our food supply. They make rules and guidelines about what we should eat based not on what we really need, but on what those big businesses want us to buy. Schools are caught in a trap. They have falling tax revenues. The USDA will subsidize the processed food from those big companies, but not locally grown fresh food. So, guess what the schools buy.
As the series showed, things will only improve if we do three things. First, we must become aware of what we are really eating. I know we can’t always get away from processed foods. But the more labels we read, the more we will want to make better choices. Guar gum is not in the major food groups.
Second, we have to learn how to cook. It’s not hard and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Even if you’re food is not always healthy, at least you know what’s in it.
And third, you have to demand better. If one person goes to the manager of the supermarket and wants free-range chicken, the manager will blow off that request. If three people do it, the manager will start to consider the idea. And if 20 people go up to the manager demanding free range chicken, even if it costs more, the manager is more likely to try to get those chickens in his meat case. And the more people demand it, the lower the cost will be. As long as we keep buying and eating crap, the food industry is happy to give it to us.
Join the food revolution. The life you save might be your own.