We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

A True "Food Revolution"

Brita, my foodie friend in Germany, told me about Jamie Oliver a year ago, after having had the joyous experience of eating at his Fifteen Restaurant in North London. And now I find him on TV and am learning about what makes his food a joyous experience.

Until I heard about Food Revolution I didn't think too much more about him, though. I'm singing his praises now. The TV show is brilliant, though sobering. I prefer watching reality TV without the staged drama.

Jamie has moved, for the first season of this show, to Huntington, WV, a city of about 50,000 people, because it has been deemed -- by the Centers for Disease Control -- to be the US's most unhealthy city, with over 50 percent of the population being obese. He wants to teach them better eating habits to help them improve their lives.

ABC's TV show, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, chronicles Jamie's efforts to change the citizens of Huntington. He's taking a variety of steps to connect with people and make changes. For starters, he opened Jamie's Kitchen to the community as a free place to come to get cooking lessons, menu planning, and budget guidance in creating a healthy meal.

He is facing huge challenges. It's depressing. It's disgusting. Here are some of the actions he's taken so far.

He adopted a family to teach them better nutrition, and its benefits. You watch him work his way through one elementary school's kitchen to the high school's kitchen. He started a cooking team at the high school to help start training young cooks to be peer leaders to help influence the other students, and their families, about healthy eating. And he made a bet with a local DJ, his biggest detractor, that he could teach 1,000 people in 5 days to cook a meal. He did it! It was amazing to watch. And he won Rod, the DJ, over to his side in the process.

Lessons Jamie offers to the viewers include:

  • green beans lose half of their vitamin C in one week
  • frozen vegetables are often more nutritious than fresh because they are flash frozen within hours of being picked, preserving the bulk of their nutrition
  • obesity doesn't effect just the person, it hits their friends and family too
  • obese kids have low self-esteem
  • morbid obesity leads to diabetes and other health issues
  • obesity shortens your life span because of the way it effects the liver, heart and other vital organs
  • federal guidelines require that for schools to get reimbursed the lunch costs, the school must serve 1-1/4 cups of vegetables
  • according to federal guidelines, french fries are a vegetable
  • salad is an optional vegetable in Huntington schools (and not taken often)
  • obese people can't be cremated, need oversized caskets (which don't fit into a hearse), and often need a double grave site

Watching the school district administrator talk about meal mandates was watching "zero tolerance" in action. Zero tolerance in our house means zero thinking. How can an educated adult frown on lovely stir fried vegetables in favor of french fries? Is zero tolerance driving our children's eating habits at school?

My Bigger Half sees it differently. His take is that she was frowning on the amount -- according to federal guidelines, the amount of veg has to equal 1-1/4 cups. The amount of veg in the stir fry didn't reach that volume per serving.

I guess it's after-cooking volume that counts.

In contrast, I loved seeing him using Green Giant frozen vegetables during the teach-1000-people-to-cook bet. And Green Giant is an advertiser, promoting the healthy aspects of frozen vegetables. Given that frozen vegetables are easier for busy people than keeping fresh vegetables in stock I was glad to see that promoted. That's the kind of information that will sway people who might be tempted to choose fast food over fresh food to cook and eat healthfully.

In talking to friends about this program I see what different perspectives everyone has on Jamie's challenge. We all agree he's doing wonderful things for the people of Huntington. We don't agree on how it's going to end.

  • the elementary kids are the most easily swayed to healthy eating
  • if a school cook doesn't like Jamie they'll undermine his program
  • high school kids can apply peer pressure to get their friends and families to change
  • Jamie is way over budget, they'll shut the program down in the schools. Good food costs slightly more than the garbage we feed kids in schools, which means they'll go over budget.
  • they can't like him telling them how to eat better

It seems to me the citizens of the US are in a food crisis. There are numerous resources to help you change your understanding and thinking about the food you eat. This is the most tangible and entertaining education I've had on the subject. I was a believer before starting to watch this program, though I didn't always act on my beliefs; that's changed for me.

There have been lots of entertaining bits. Don't miss the others. Watch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution too. Friday nights at 8 on ABC.


Junk food is too common at school cafeterias. Sign Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution petition to get real food back in the schools' cafeterias.


Kit Cassingham at April 25, 2010 8:58 PM

There was a series called "Jamie's School Dinner" where he did much the same thing with schools in the UK. As you've mentioned, the hardest part of his battle was winning over the staff in the school cafeterias. Very interesting viewing!

Bernard in Brisbane, Australia at April 26, 2010 9:55 PM

He refers to that program during Food Revolution. The difference between his UK and US experiences seem to be night and day, with the US being the more challenging.

The last episode for this "season" showed that after he left the new routines started to slip back into the unhealthy patterns Jamie worked so hard to change. I'm impressed with Jamie's tenacity and energy.


Kit Cassingham at April 26, 2010 10:04 PM

One thing that has become more popular in this area (middle east coast) is Community Supported Agriculture. Someone observed that one of the primary reasons that local farms failed was the difficulty in creating and serving a market. Farmer's markets exist and do good business, but they decided that a more direct relationship might be better.

We buy a "share" which gives us a box of produce a week from mid-May through the end of September. Each week we get about 15 to 20 lbs of whatever is freshest that week. This stuff is within a day or two of growing in the ground and boy is it good! It forces us to learn to cook different things than we normally do and it supports small family farms directly. It also reduces the cost of transport since the farm is less than 50 miles away (as opposed to the average of 500 miles for your grocery vegetable).

Ed Justice at April 29, 2010 3:51 PM

Ed, we have those around here too. It seems to be increasingly popular around the country. I'm also seeing restaurants across the country buying from local farmers or starting their own farms. I ate at two different restaurants in Corrales, NM, last week that were active in the slow food movement (that means food is grown slowly and prepared slowly for maximum health benefit). The food was great!

And if you want even more about quality food read my two articles on high fructose corn syrup and more about HFCS. That will complete your conversion to healthy, natural food -- I hope.


Kit Cassingham at April 30, 2010 10:12 AM

I haven't heard yet what schedule Season II of Food Revolution. I'll let you know when I learn. My Bigger Half gets depressed watching it, but he's eating better. I don't get depressed, I get angry, but I'm eating better too. Join us!


Kit Cassingham at June 29, 2010 11:49 AM
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