“This is not reality TV. This is a campaign. This is the start of something big.”
So declares Jamie Oliver to the small group of concerned parents and their kids who have gathered in his brand new healthy kitchen in Los Angeles, the hub of his second American Food Revolution, before then launching into a hands-on demonstration about where school lunch beef comes from (spoiler alert: it’s not the good parts of the cow, not even the real meat parts), and then asking this small but passionate group of families to spread the word, help him get into their schools and start feeding the kids real, healthy food.
It sounds like a no-brainer to most of us, but there’s a reason Oliver’s words sound like a battle cry: He’s in for an even bigger fight this time.
Oliver’s words also call to mind that the famous British “naked chef” isn’t just on a quest to fix the way we eat. He’s also, as the Television Academy award he received last season dubbed it, exemplifying “television with a conscience.” For those of us cynical about whether our food and our TV shows can ever be more than mostly junk, he’s proving that change is possible on both fronts. And it feels good.
In the first episode, which premieres April 12 on ABC, we see that Jamie isn’t disheartened in his quest after his rocky reception and measured results in Huntington, West Virginia (results that seem to have planted a real and growing seed for change, I’m happy to see!). To the contrary, he’s now set his sights on a bigger, unimaginably challenging target: The entire city of Los Angeles, whose fast food chains, processed school lunches and addiction to sugary flavored milks (season one viewers recall these liquid evils as Oliver’s number one nemesis) are making its children some of the unhealthiest in the country.
Here, his goal is the same as it was in Huntington: Effect education and change, starting with the schools, and branching out to families and restaurants. But the way he’ll need to attack this beast is a bit different, because the L.A. school district is both massive and unyielding. Before they even started filming, the schools slammed the door on Oliver. He’s forced to attend a public forum to address the school board, where he gets the dodge from their Director of Food Services and a true evil-eye from the superintendent, who flat-out tells him that he has no intention of allowing Jamie into the schools. A sneak peek hints that when he tries to enter one school’s cafeteria, the police might get involved. I thought his reception and the bureaucratic red tape in Huntington were bad, but those promise to be small potatoes compared to what he’ll deal with in L.A.
What makes the show work is also what keeps these roadblocks from being unbearably frustrating to watch: Oliver’s genuine passion for his mission. As the challenges pile up, so do his extreme attempts to get through to people: Furious that no one seems to want to listen to him about the dangers of those loathsome flavored milks, he puts on an “epic” demo that seems more for our benefit than the handful of parents in attendance, filling a school bus with the 50-odd tons of sugar L.A.’s school children consume in one week. It may sound overly dramatic, but it’s actually quite powerful. Even after watching the first season of Food Revolution, I still feel like I’m learning — and being entirely disgusted — anew.
It’s no insult to call his methods dramatic, because Oliver wants to be dramatic. And he’s also not just there to point out problems without providing solutions: It may be fun to watch him prance around in a pea-pod costume, but my favorite parts of Food Revolution season one were watching Oliver’s interactions with the school cafeteria chefs and local families as he taught them hands-on how to create healthier meals on a daily basis. This season, he’ll work with more families, as well as a family-owned fast food restaurant, which has hesitantly accepted his offer to craft healthier menu items to see if they’ll sell alongside the sugary shakes and deep-fried fries.
Come to think of it, that challenge might actually be tougher than changing all of L.A.’s school lunches. But that’s what makes Food Revolution worth watching: Oliver makes his mission so compelling that even the potential takedown of our beloved french fries is easier to swallow.
Want to join Jamie’s cause? He’s got a petition and more ways to join the revolution on his website.
(Image courtesy of ABC)