When last we saw British superstar chef-turned-food-system-reformer Jamie Oliver, he was in the midst of teaching “the fattest city in America” how to cook. How did it go? Well, thanks to the miracle that is reality television, we’ll find out one episode at a time. The series — Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution — doesn’t premiere until the end of March. But ABC has provided us a sneak peak. Key takeaway? The recalcitrant residents of Huntington, West Virginia have driven poor Jamie to tears. Tom says check it out:
Other than making for compelling television, will Jamie’s efforts to teach America how to cook again pan out? I’m skeptical. A few month back I wrote about research that suggests government regulation is a crucial component of a healthy food system. According to one study [PDF] by renowned health economist David Cutler, countries that “support traditional agriculture and delivery systems have lower rates of obesity.” Here’s what I said about it at the time:
We, of course, protect producers, too but since the 60s have focused our supports almost entirely on “feedstocks” for processed food and meat, i.e. commodity crops like corn and soy. Much of Europe protected a far more diverse selection of crops as well as artisanal food products and that turns out to be a benefit in the battle against obesity. And they also acted to control prices on the consumer end to keep “traditional,” i.e. unprocessed, foods more affordable. And it worked.
Americans on the other hand had to experience the full brunt of this technological (and marketing) tidal wave unprotected. And as a result, we failed. So some are now trying to fortify even reconstruct our dessicated food culture with lists of food rules and kitchen literacy, essentially bolstering our collective self-control. This is necessary and important. But societal problems won’t be solved merely by writers and celebrity chefs sternly instructing everyone to “do the right thing.”
I still believe that. But, even so, Jamie’s show looks like fun. And who knows? Maybe in the end, he wins…