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Response to Wednesday’s Reading

2014 June 26
by Charlotte Harnad

I found the assignment for Wednesday to be incredibly interesting and decided to post about it. It is amazing how one single episode of a television show can get you hooked. I am now binge watching Food Revolution and feel compelled to contribute in some way towards improving the awful eating habits that we have here in the United States.

Food Revolution 

The episode opens up with Jamie Oliver going into Huntington, West Virginia’s most popular radio station and discussing how he wants to change the eating habits of the community so they can become a healthy town. He also discusses how they recently earned the title the ‘fattest city in the country’ with almost a majority of adults being obese. He also discusses how he wants to begin a ‘revolution’ that causes many to rethink their food choices not only for themselves, but also for future generations. The radio host is fraught with Oliver’s intentions in his town and completely resents him. He even states that Oliver has, ‘no chance. He will not succeed.’ This is the first of many demonstrations that the town was reluctant to have someone come in and tell them what they are doing wrong/right and what needs to change. This demonstrates the ‘macho’ ideology that America has that makes the population think we do not need help when in actuality we do.

Jamie then goes to a local elementary school cafeteria and observes for a day before taking over the menu the next day. Not only is he resented/disliked/distrusted by all of the cafeteria workers, but also makes them feel self-conscious and uneducated. At one point he asks them how long they have been ‘lunch ladies’ and received multiple dirty glances from the employees. After witnessing children drinking highly processed milk, chicken nuggets, pizza for breakfast, and a lack of healthy options completely blew Oliver’s mind. He then realized he had a tall order in revamping the food system at the elementary school.

In one scene, Oliver goes to a local home and kind of discovers what they eat on a daily basis. After typing out all of the items the mother bought every week for her children, her and Oliver then cooked a week’s worth of food. After it was completed, they set it all out on the table in the same place. Jamie pointed out how it was all made of the same processed ingredients, even having the same coloration in all of the food because it was highly processed and unhealthy food. Seeing the large quantities of unhealthy food in one place served as quite the reality shock to the mother who would do anything for her kids. Aware that she was contributing to future health issues from a poor diet, the mother became determined to help the family change their regular eating habits so they would be healthier and happier.

The show Food Revolution brings several things into the public agenda. It makes the public aware of exactly how large of a problem poor diet is in America. Several scenes reinforce how lack of an education is a large role in poor food choices, such as when a young boy misidentifies a tomato as a potato. The show really focuses on the public’s resistance and reactions to Jamie Oliver’s quest to creating  a healthier town and community. It highlights some of the many health problems they face, especially in a scene where he sits down with a local minister and they flip through a book of multiple individuals who have passed away from obesity-related illnesses. The setting and commonality of poor food choices highlight the enormous problem that America is facing today: the war on obesity. Jamie Oliver is able to use his culinary knowledge to show the public exactly how bad many of the inexpensive and processed foods are for you and presents solutions. Food Revolution also brings to attention one of the most asked questions in food studies: Who is responsible for obesity, poorly educated parental figures or structural agencies within the United States government?

Gibson and Dempsey

I found the critique of this television show to offer an interesting perspective. The authors find that instead of focusing on the societal implications that are enacted upon food choices in America, it shows lack of education in the parental figures. In such a frustrating and sensitive situation as contributing to obesity, it is much easier to place blame on one group of individuals rather than a lot of small factors. Instead of really focusing on the issues themselves, Gibson and Dempsey argue that Oliver is much more focused on the dramatic effective and capturing the audience in shock/having a suspenseful episode for rating purposes than for educational purposes. This is something I agree with. There needs to be a larger focus on the implications that society, culture, politics, and the economy play into the food market and school cafeterias. Placing blame on parents is not going to effectively solve the problem, which Oliver claims to want for their sake. However, parents lacking proper nutritional knowledge is a large problem that contributes to obesity. Gibson and Dempsey argue that although poor education plays a role in obesity, there are many other factors that come into play that need to be accounted for. It is a complex problem that requires a complex solution, which sadly Jamie Oliver cannot do on his own.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Brooklyn Steele permalink
    June 26, 2014

    It’s so great to hear people recognizing how unhealthy this town is and is taking responsibility to try and change it. The unfortunate thing is that people tend to get into routines and habits. If these people are used to eating all fried food, always drinking tea or alcohol, and having starchy foods instead of vegetables they will more than likely not change that way. They were probably brought up on that type of food and consider it the norm. I know personally I tend to fix for myself, even after moving out of my parents, a lot of the same things my mom cooks. It is the norm for me and I don’t eat super healthy or organic, so to change that would be very difficult.

    I also agree that the unhealthy eating is being reinforced by the schools. I know at my high school they had pizza, hamburgers, chicken patties, and subs everyday. They also had a different main choice of food that would change every day, and then they had a snack line that had chips and cookies and juices and all kinds of unhealthy things. If kids are eating pizza every day for lunch, they might not be interested in vegetables when they go home. Also, being that is the American culture people are always in a hurry and trying to do everything as fast as possible, it is way easier to pop a pre-made meal in the microwave compared to taking the time to cook a homemade meal.

    In a town such as this one many people are uneducated which definitely plays a role in not really knowing what you are feeding your family. Money is also a factor of unhealthy eating. Unfortunately, it is cheaper to buy a couple of pre-cooked meals compared to buying fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. Healthy food is more expensive to purchase and when money is tight you want more for less regardless of the quality. I think there would be many changes in food choices if prices were flipped and it was cheaper to buy fresh meats, fruits and vegetables and make processed and junk food more expensive.

    • Charlotte Harnad permalink
      June 26, 2014

      Brooklyn, you do have a really great point. Although it is wonderful that such horrible habits are being recognized, it is a vicious cycle that is difficult to stop. The foods these people are eating are not only cheap but also convenient and time-efficient. They are attracted by prices and ignore the nutrition labels. It is also almost sad to realize that many people do not have a choice on what they purchase because of budget issues with larger companies compensating for highly unhealthy and processed ingredients with high levels of sugar additives. The scenes where they depict the town’s resistance to adapting a healthy lifestyle is also incredibly disheartening to watch, especially when one realizes that this is the ‘fattest town in the country,’ and when help comes they deny that they need help when their obesity rate says otherwise. It is difficult to understand exactly where they are coming from, but I also know that when someone tells me what to do I am not exactly happy about it. I have also found myself to cook a lot of things that my parents have cooked at home and I try to be as healthy as possible. I am known as a ‘food Nazi’ among my friends.

      You are completely right about school lunches as well. It is difficult to change a system that has not only been around for so long, but to make such large quantities of food in a short amount of time. It is alos difficult to prepare efficiently and cost-efficiently. Our economy is in a slump, so the last thing that is on everyone’s mind is what is going on everyone’s plate throughout the day: especially the food that the youth in America are consuming. However, the economy is slowly beginning to come around I sure hope that this issue takes center stage so a multi-step plan can be enacted to save the lives of future generations of children.

    • Alina Clark permalink
      June 27, 2014

      Brooklyn, you are so right about what would happen if the prices were flipped! People can have the desire to be healthy but if they don’t have the money then it’s much less of a possibility. This town in West Virginia has a 19% poverty rate. That’s huge, the last thing these people are thinking about is being able to afford healthy food. They just want food.

      When Jamie Oliver asked the kids why they would still eat that disgusting chicken nugget even though they KNEW it was awful, and they responded “because we’re hungry.” That broke my heart. In this world it’s really true that beggars can’t be choosers, and I think that the government has done a really poor job at creating a system that provides kids with nutritious, affordable lunch options.

      I think what Jamie Oliver is doing is admirable, but someone needs to take it one step further and teach people who cannot afford to buy produce to grow it themselves. Sustainability. Community gardens, or gardens people grow in the privacy of their yards. It’s not like this food can only come from the store. Why aren’t there any initiatives to grow produce in impoverished areas?

  2. Cassidy Clayton permalink
    June 27, 2014

    I love this discussion and all the arguments pointed out so far. I agree with Brooklyn, that is healthy food became less expensive than we would see a change in the eating habits of small towns like Huntington, West Virginia. However, when it comes down to families who live in some state of poverty, like Alina said, it’s not about what kind of food you are eating, but rather just the simple fact that there is food for you to eat. This is why it is so crucial for our governmental system to take action in providing healthy food options. Not only do the schools need a massive readjustment of what the cafeteria offers on a daily basis, but organizations like Food Banks. I worked a couple semesters at Patchwork Pantry downtown Harrisonburg. It is a non-profit organization that provides emergency food supplies to families who qualify based on their family size and financial status. The organization itself is absolutely amazing, however, the type of food that is given and donated to the Pantry is not healthy. They have no control over what kind of food they will receive to give out to families in need but while working there, I could not help but think that the highly processed foods given out to these families each month must be attributing to obesity. While I am thankful that these families are receiving food in general, I am hurt by the fact that the norm in our society is unhealthy food. The families do receive “fresh” produce each month, however, I used to unload the produce and the term “fresh” was quite a stretch. The fruit and vegetables would come to us with mold and bugs on it, leaving only about two-thirds of each shipment edible. Bottom line, the system needs to make vast changes in order for America’s war on obesity to take affect. People struggling financially should not have to sacrifice their health and well-being in order to live.

    • Robert Bamsey permalink
      June 27, 2014

      I definitely agree with Cassidy when you say that families that can’t afford to spend much on food are happy to have food and don’t really care about the quality. Also, I think that you are spot on as well when it comes to organizations that are set up to help people not having enough resources essentially with lack of donations or lack of healthy donations of food. I volunteered at Mercy House Shelter for a little and saw how much of a lack of resources they have, and I am sure in even more rural areas it is even worse. There definitely needs to be a change in the system for an actual change to take affect. Organic foods and healthy foods should be affordable, not just the garbage like McDonald’s Dollar Menu.

  3. Frank Saunders III permalink
    June 27, 2014

    I agree with the points that Brooklyn started us off with in the comments sections. Routines are absolutely crucial in our diet today, and they can develop nasty habits. Fried and processed food are readily available and convenient to all of us and preparing meals for ourselves, with the hectic schedules we may be one, can not only be pricey but inconvenient. The time it takes to drive to McDonald’s, pay 4 dollars for a filling meal, and return to whatever you need to do is way easier than going to the grocery store, picking out healthy food choices, paying X amount of dollars, and driving home to cook and prepare it.

    Our society makes it far too easy to get in these kinds of habits. We make crappy food inexpensive and foods that hold nutritional value pricey and inconvenient. It is like an ugly paradox. And as highlighted before by Brooklyn, our schools don’t help either. There is a lack of funding that goes into the cafeteria budget that school systems are forced to subsidize, and subsidize to foods like pizza, burgers, fries, and other fried, processed items. It is only the privately funded schools that have better food options in their cafeterias, and even then their selection isn’t great. However, the school systems aren’t the only ones at fault here. Parents need to educate their children better. Parents need to be educated more themselves. You take after your parents in many aspects of life, nutrition included. Either way, the consumption of unhealthy food needs to decrease and nutrition awareness needs to increase.

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