It’s always been about the parents, Jamie.

Posted by    |  April 15, 2011  |  Filed under: Foodlife, Home

As I began my career teaching parents how to cook, I made a critical decision: my job was not to try to convince parents that junk food is bad for their kids. My job was to empower those who already care. As someone who wants to see major changes in the way Americans eat, this is the best use of my energies. Plenty of people already care. Too few know where to start.


I want to love what Jamie Oliver is doing on “Food Revolution.” I really do. We’re on the same team.

But I don’t.

I was only able to stomach about three episodes of his first season. I think I might make it through the whole series this time, thanks to the opposition Jamie got from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Jamie is wasting his energies on the unmotivated. This made me absolutely crazy in the first season. Why spend so much time on people who really don’t even have the merest interest in the importance of diet and health to quality of life? Taking a morbidly obese, processed food junkie and trying to get him to buy and cook a pasture-raised chicken is absurd. It’s like expecting my kindergartener to read Nietzsche.

More frustrating still is that there are legions of parents who really want and need the kind of help that Jamie offers. They have a child who has been flagged as “borderline obese” by their pediatrician. They struggle with their own weight and want their children to avoid similar pain. They’ve read about the importance of nutrition but don’t have the skills to organize and execute “from scratch” meals. These people would hang on his every word. They’d learn. They’d take it to their neighbors and extended family. They’d be the best evangelists he could imagine.

The legions of Americans who do not share a sense of responsibility for their health are not going to carry the torch of the “Food Revolution.” Revolutions flow from the passions of a few individuals within a community who can inspire the imaginations of their peers. Contemplate the recent revolutions in the Middle East- a small number of highly-energized, well-organized youth infect their society with the idea that life can be better. The crowds grow. The ideas grow.

Jamie seems to want to “own” the revolution. It reminds me more of what’s going on in the Ivory Coast right now: two tyrannical leaders fighting over the presidency and massacring their fellow countrymen in their quest for power. That’s not a revolution. It’s a takeover. That’s what happened in the UK. He fought for his agenda and got some new laws and regulations passed. Have eating habits improved as a consequence? Not measurably.

So many American parents already understand that they have a problem. There are many who are burdened with their own obesity. They really, genuinely don’t understand how to fix it. As a home-cooking educator, I’ve had countless conversations with people who are genuinely concerned with their family’s diet but haven’t a clue where to start. They feel powerless and confused. In all honesty, learning to eat well requires as much commitment and devotion as learning a new language.

LAUSD’s refusal to grant the show access to the school forced him to work with parents. Don’t we all know that’s where food habits are developed anyway? Even if he talked the school board into an all organic, local, sustainable, fresh menu, if it wasn’t being reinforced at home, it wouldn’t likely lead to a lifestyle diet change anyway. Ever noticed how scared schools are of mobilized parents? Hell, they scare me. Mobilize those parents and the school will have to follow.

Even if the school board were totally unrelenting, if Jamie spent his energies educating motivated parents, those parents would always have the option to send their kids to school with homemade lunches- rendering the quality of the school lunches irrelevant.

To really change eating habits in this country, there needs to be a cultural, not a political shift. That takes time. It happens in the hearts and minds of individuals, not by government policy.

C’mon, Jamie. You’re in Cali. Subvert the dominant paradigm, dude.


2 Responses to “It’s always been about the parents, Jamie.”
  1. Jill says:

    When I read that, I just visualized you in a big church hat with a gospel choir in the background.

  2. Katie Heyward says:

    Preach it, Jill! I’m with ya. Great article.