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Food and Governmental Discourses

2012 May 23
by scalesaj

In Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution he examines Huntington West Virginia, which has the dubious distinction of being the most obese town in America. In his quest Jamie examines the cafeteria food which is at the elementary school. He finds it to be full of highly processed, “golden brown” products such as chicken nuggets, pizza, and french fries. Not only that, but the children didn’t want to have the healthier items that the school provided. What was most interesting about his interaction at the school however was the hostility towards change to the established system of feeding the students by the cook staff. Even though both groups had the health of the students at the forefront of their minds, the way that they constructed the idea of healthy students quickly collided. At the beginning of the documentary the attitude of the town can be summed up in the words of a local radio announcer who says “we aren’t just going to eat a salad!”. The stress is exasperated by the fact that the food that the cooks serve are planned according to standardized nutritional requirements which help support the established system. What Oliver as well as Jessica Mudry are trying to stress is that these guidelines are not accurate for the population that we have today and that focusing on caloric intake misses the greater picture of complete health.

Jamie Oliver does find a compatriot in the local pastor who shows Oliver a church directory and names of members who have died due to complications from obesity, as well as members who can no longer get to church because of problems from obesity. He refers Oliver to one mother who wants help providing healthier meals for her family. He takes all of the food that they consume in a week and laid it on the table. There was a remarkable absence of color besides that golden brown. A hotdog every once in a while is great but when the mother saw all of the food laid out for the week, even she said that it looked disgusting. This is what America is raised on however. I remember lunch at my school and I could always count on a type of fried potato pieces and pizza at least 2 to 3 times a week, and it has been perpetuated apparently by the USDA, and our taste buds.

As Jessica Mudry points out, the simple, fried, unseasoned processed food that we consume are quintessentially American, and signifies a certain warped form of patriotism. By braking down the human body into a combustion engine we become “defined by a discourse of quantification” (249) so that we do not taste our food, but fuel our body. This lack of communication and meaning attributed to the food that we eat creates the problem of silencing our culture. As we have seen from our other readings and discussions, the food we eat has meaning in it and to deny that cripples a part of our human existence. Another problem expressed by Jamie Oliver that arises with this world view is that by making our diet quantifiable and scientific it gives our government a foot hold for regulations. The problem is that those regulations are not always carried out in a prudent manner as Huntington demonstrates. For instance, the Huntington School districts insistence that there be two bread items even though in Jamie’s opinion it would just be wasteful and fatting carbohydrates.

Huntington is a example of the post caloric world that Mudry writes about. A place where numbers rule over common sense and taste, and our culture is homogenized and streamlined. In this culture food does not have significance beyond sustenance, and the government is the gate keepers to our stomachs.

Food for thought

1. What should the governments role be in Americans nutrition?

2. Are all the processed meets, fillers and preservatives really a problem?

3. Has the advent of Atwater’s regulations and recommendations
done more good or harm

11 Responses leave one →
  1. tamulida permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Food and Nutrition is an important subject for the government to address. Due to the obesity epidemic, I think it would be a good idea to focus on distributing the important of well balanced nutrition information to all consumers. In doing so, the government could increase its role by restricting funding to unhealthy food prodcuts and fund only healthy food options. There’s the phrase that a happy employee is a good employee. I believe that phrase applies here in that “healthy people are prodcutive people.” If you are not healthy, you are less productive. Most obese people are characterized as poor workers and are lazy with no work ethic. These types of people or workers are unpleasant to be around and we do not benefit from them. It is in our best interest to promote eating healthy foods. In restricting fudning to unhealthy oods, I think the government should find a way to do this without taxing unhealthy foods. I also think it is important for the government to promote putting nutrition labels on all foods, that way people know waht they are eating.
    In Oliver’s Food Revolution, he talks about how bad highly processed, “golden brown” products such as chicken nuggets, pizza and french fries are for you. I agree with Oliver in that, these processed, “golden brown” food is what America is raised on. When I read this article is reminded me of when I was in High School. I remember how upset everyone was when our school cafeteria took away french fries and homemade cookies. After several complaints they brought back the cookies but tweeked the recipe to have more nutritional value. I agree that “golden brown” foods should be removed from school cafeteria’s and be subtituted with healthier food options that have more nutritional value. These processed meats, fillers and preservatives are seen to be a problem when people consume too much of it. Those who consume a lot of “golden brown” foods are becoming obese or already suffer from obesity. A quote from Oliver’s Article caught my attention: “the government is the gate keepers to our stomachs.” I liked this quote because it gave me a different perspective. It is true, much of the government controls what foods can be distributed in stores and in schools, where it is seen to affect children the most. Not to mention the cost. I think people purchase processed foods because it is cheap. For instance, school cafeteria’s want to save money and of course they will go for cheaper food prices, even though these foods have less nutritional value and are not in the bast interests of the students. Moderations should be made to help reduce signs of obesity. Every little bit helps.

    • scalesaj permalink
      May 24, 2012

      I totally agree with the end of your post about how the processed food is cheap and easy. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Mississippi is the 4th poorest state in the nation I believe. That is not to say that price is the only restriction that arises when trying to raise a healthy nation. As Mudry points out in her essay, ever since we shifted our focus to holistic nourishment to food as a fuel Americans have been raised on a minimalist and most importantly, efficient diet, one where preparing fresh ingredients from scratch is seen as odd compared to our readymade freezer meals. This seemed to be a large problem for Jamie Oliver as he attempted to change the Huntington school system. Even though he could get the ingredients the cooks did not believe that they could feed all of the students, and that they would eat it, with his fresh ingredients, for example the cook is totally disbelieved by the idea that she could make enough salad dressing to feed the entire school without using the highly processes bottled dressing.
      Over all there is a stunning lack of knowledge, or it may be better categorized as a lack of awareness which exacerbates the problems shown in “Food Revolution”. As the one mother that they examined her family diet showed, many people have moved from the oven to the fryer as their main cooking utensil, and the creation of a tasty salad made from fresh ingredients is an art form. This lack of knowledge of how to use fresh ingredients coupled with the cheep cost and convenience of highly processed foods has definitely produced a system that is conducive to the obesity epidemic that is facing America. Luckily these are not insurmountable obstacles; they can be addressed with better food knowledge in conjunction with food programs that don’t favor grains for veggies. but as you said, every little bit helps.

    • kikomr permalink
      May 24, 2012

      I agree with Tamulida’s post as well. Everything must be viewed in moderation. Honestly, I am in favor of capitalism, however it is sad that it has isolated us from the food product itself. The government is so afraid of being responsible for illnesses and sicknesses that people can get from ‘pure foods,’ that they pasteurize pretty much anything. You can’t find REAL goat’s or cow’s milk at a market anymore, it is always pasteurized to kill the bacteria. Bacteria is actually good for our body, however, especially that from goat’s milk.

      Processed foods are a big problem in our supermarkets today. They offer a quick fix for a meal that does not require any effort. The reality is that we must devote time to prepare our meals in order to actually enjoy it and benefit from it’s nutritional value. Making food just tastes better, and Americans need to learn how to do this. Let’s go patriotic this memorial day by skipping the fries and grilling some corn on the cob and throwing on a breast of chicken!

  2. Seana McCroddan permalink
    May 23, 2012

    I think the biggest thing that Jamie Oliver and the USDA (in Mudry’s essay) had in common were their attempts at reforming the American food standard. Although in both cases, we were shown the problems with the system, I do think there is a need for governmental intervention through the use of policies and higher voices like the USDA to keep order and to try and create a nutritional standard. Without things like the food pyramid and nutrition information labeling, most Americans would be at a loss of what was in their food and what they should be eating to reach their optimal physical performance.
    In “Food Revolution” with Jamie Oliver, he went to Huntington, WV, one of the most unhealthiest towns in the world, to try and revolutionize the eating habits of its citizens. He started with an elementary school cafeteria. I was shocked when he said they were served pizza for breakfast and when he held up a tomato to one of the kids and asked what it was, he called it a potato. The ‘potato pearls’ were also a horrifying part shown in the episode. Mix these little potato-preservative pellets in with some warm water and you have fake potatoes, when with a little more effort, you can easily make mashed potatoes from raw ingredients. I actually liked it so much I began the second episode of the show. I think, although parts of the show were a bit commercialized to keep it “television worthy,” Oliver was doing a really good thing trying to raise awareness to the reasons behind the bad health of the people living in Huntington.
    As to whether or not processed foods and preservatives are really a problem in our diet, I don’t think it has been proven yet, but I can’t see how they can be good for us in excess. Thinking about all the other artificial things around us- artificial snow on ski slopes when we have a warm winter, artificial bones when ours break or weaken, artificial flowers in our wreaths and home décor in seasons when they cannot grow- all of these artificial copies of their real counterparts are only used as a substitute until the real thing is able to work again. Raw, natural products in any other area of our lives are seen as the highest quality, so why hasn’t the same standards been given to natural food?

    • scalesaj permalink
      May 24, 2012

      I like your point about how artificial things are always used as a substitute for the real thing only until the real thing can be procured, and that original product is always seem as the best. Yet despite this we still don’t have that standard for natural foods. I would argue that some people already have that standard; it is just not a national one. For school food such as in the video we watched, the object it just to feed students, there is not a emphasis on quality or long term health, and here the idea of natural, rather than artificial food being the highest quality has definitely not been adopted.
      I attribute this difference in food quality preferences largely to economic position. One reason is because I believe that people with more disposable income have more freedom to experiment with things they buy. For instance, making falafel is a great way to create a high protein homemade meal, but if you are worried about ruining the $6 worth of ingredients that you need for it, it may never be attempted, and its back to hotdogs. Another thing which affluent Americans have over the rest of the population is their experiences with different foods. If you have money to experience a variety, you will quickly realize that a lot of strange things are very good; if you have never had a truly good salad, of course you won’t want a salad because it signifies something distasteful. In the same vein, if a individual is raised on corn dogs and French fries they become habituated to it and pass it on to their family. It seems with the exception of old canning ladies up in the hills and hollers that if you are low on doe, and you don’t know how to cook, then your options are very closely confined to products with artificial fillers and ingredients.

  3. brubakra permalink
    May 23, 2012

    Watching the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution brought out a lot of emotions in me. Disgust, for how horrible the eating patterns this country has fallen into are, sadness, for the diseases and deaths that Huntington has dealt with, hurt, for the negative reactions towards Oliver’s cry for change, anger, at the government and community’s lack of understanding of nutrition, and hope, for the kids and families who want to change and just need a helping hand to get there. I could not BELIEVE all the horrible foods that the Huntington mom on the show was feeding her family and the unhealthy foods going into the kids at schools. Kids are dependent on adults for nutrition and food, so it’s the parents fault for not feeding these kids right. Even the kids don’t want to eat like they are. For instance, Justin, one of the boys in the family, has to endure bullying at school and an unhealthy lifestyle at home simply because of the consequences because of the adult’s decisions on how to present food to him. Pizza or deep fried donuts for breakfast? Really? WHO thinks that’s healthy? Yet, it doesn’t help that the government is sending out regulations in the USDA that 2 helpings of bread, a carb-filled food, is required. These guidelines make it difficult for Jamie to serve the kids healthier energy-fulfilling meals. Changes in health need to start in government regulations, so that those who follow them don’t feel pressured to serve anything other than what’s in regulations. The changes need to then work their way into the people in charge of the school’s menu’s and then can proceed into the cafeteria kitchens. More governmental action in something more than numbers in food guides, as Mudry points out, and into something that allows easy understanding about nutrition and it’s importance for Americans is much needed. On page 240 Mudry calls for ‘a means of planning and prediction’. I think as Americans we are sometimes too busy with other things in our lives that we don’t want to take the time to put thought and a little extra time into our diets/eating habits. Convenience and speed are two qualities that are taking over the eating habits in America and are what are getting our health into trouble. I love how scalesaj summed it up in the above post: “lack of communication and meaning attributed to the food that we eat creates the problem of silencing our culture”. It kills me that Oliver said, “Pizza for breakfast, nuggets for lunch, welcome to America.” That’s not how I want people from other countries to think of our culture…

  4. Seana McCroddan permalink
    May 24, 2012

    In response to brubakra and scalesaj-

    I also believe that habit and economic position are two big parts of why we eat such unhealthy meals. I really like what scalesaj said about people with disposable incomes having more freedom to experiment with their grocery list. If you have grown up eating things like chicken nuggets and pizza for most meals throughout the week, and you don’t have a lot of money to throw around on food that you may not like, you will buy what you know. People eat what they like. I also like the comment made about not trying things, like salad, if you’ve never had a good one before. I know I have my top three or four favorite things to get at dining halls on campus, and the only reason I would try something truly out of the ordinary was because I had someone pushing me to try it and telling me how much they like it. These habits we have are formed from a very young age, as we saw in Oliver’s show. Most kids of elementary school age do not make their own lunches, they rely on their family or the school cooks to do that. I think brubakra used the perfect description for this- our country simply has “horrible eating patterns” based off of their habits learned from early ages.

  5. kikomr permalink
    May 24, 2012

    Ever since the beginning of the 20th century, data has become a big part of our lives. Demographic data, body sizes, knowledge levels were all tested during the immigration boom. And, as Mudry states, once the government caught on to caloric data, they used that too to make predictions, etc. This ‘patriotism’ of our national fried foods almost counters the government’s “food pyramid.”
    I believe the government’s role should be to tell us the truth about food and stop aiming at catchy graphs or shapes for an easy way to remember nutrition. Nutrition shouldn’t be based on a quick graph one might catch a glance at as they are on their way to work. The government should portray nutrition as a lifestyle, because that is what it is.
    Jamie Oliver’s documentary shows us that since our government relies on data so much that changing an established institution for the better is sometimes viewed as preposterous.

    • Maya Smith permalink
      May 25, 2012

      I completely agree. Not only is our society relying on calorie counts and percentages to tell us what is “healthy” and what is not, but it is also incorrect a lot of the time. For instance, in Jamie Oliver’s documentary, the school principle told him he had to have two servings of bread in the meal. That is a lot of starch that is not necessary for a school lunch. Instead, the cafeteria should have been more concerned about having enough servings of vegetables and fruit. I also agree with your statement about nutrition being a lifestyle rather than a statistic. Being healthy is not just eating right. It is learning how to be a healthy person and making changes to daily meals and activities in order to create a healthy life for the future.

  6. Maya Smith permalink
    May 25, 2012

    To answer the first question (What should the governments role be in American nutrition?), I think that something that needs to be done is teaching nutrition in schools at an early age. I think that along with P.E, a nutrition class should be offered to students starting in 2nd or 3rd grade. By that age they are old enough to know what they are eating and they have the ability to go home to their parents and ask them to make certain foods for them that could be healthier than what they are usually eating. I thought that Jamie Oliver did a great thing by showing the family all of the garbage they ate on a weekly basis. It is hard to conceptualize what you are eating until it is all piled in front of you. I also thought that his integration into the school cafeteria was a great idea that was ruined by the stubborn lunch ladies. It was as if they were tempting the children to eat their gross pizza rather than Jamie’s healthy foods just to win some silly battle. They are too stuck in their own ways to see that what they are serving the children are killing them. French fries are NOT a vegetable!

    I worked in an elementary school in Harrisonburg this past spring and I remember seeing the food in the cafeteria. The spaghetti was dry, the meat was discolored and the apple slices came out of a pre-sealed baggie. None of the children touched their food, which was maybe a good thing since the food didn’t seem to have much nutrition, but then again children need to eat so that they can grow up healthy. Something is missing in the American school systems and it takes people like Jamie Oliver to attempt to fix it. America may be in a recession, but school cafeterias that serve millions of growing children should not be a place where corners are cut.

  7. Josie Warren permalink
    June 25, 2012

    When it comes to the role our government should play in our nutrition, I think Kelly D. Brownell said it perfectly in her article titled “Government’s Rightful Role in Nutrition.” She says that: “Scaling back industry practices that contribute to ill health, creating better food and activity conditions, and doing so in ways that support parents, protect vulnerable populations, and make it easier for people to lead healthier lives seems a reasonable and responsible role for government to play.” This statement covers every dimension that contributes to how healthy or unhealthy an American is. If the government were to better “[scale] back industry practices that contribute to ill health,” there would be a substantial amount of benefits for the people of our country. For example, managing the portions of food at restaurants would instantly make the average American healthier. Think about how many people in our country go out to dinner. If the portions were actually set to a governmental standard based on how many calories should be consumed in one meal, Americans would instantly be healthier. Think about the portions at Outback Steak House. I’ve actually worked at three different Outbacks so I have a good sense at how overly sized their portions are. I would estimate there is about three times the amount of food in their dishes than a normal portion sized meal. If government set a portion standard and Outback had to make a portion size be 1/3 of their current meals, I’m sure people would not gain so much weight eating from there. The first summer I worked there, I gained 10 pounds from all the free food they gave me. I didn’t realize how much food I was actually eating until I stepped on the scale. The government should of course set this standard by conducting research that ultimately uses “the language of science and numbers” to show what a healthy portion size actually is (Cramer, 236). Another thing our government could do is simply make the unhealthy food more expensive than the healthy food. Processed food is terrible for you and people tend to buy it over other food because it is cheaper. Can you imagine how much healthier Americans would be if processed food was more expensive than naturally produced food? As Brownell says, the government needs to stop being the “cheerleaders” who are “not involved in the game but imploring people from the sidelines to play harder (that is, eat better)” and needs to be more actively involved in the “game” or the strife to make Americans eat better.

    “Government’s Rightful Role in Nutrition” by Kelly D. Brownell can be found on:

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