Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stop Pushing Back....

That's really what I want to shout at the top of my lungs to all these critics and nay-sayers of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. I am sick of scrolling through the messages on the listservs I subscribe to, only to see highly educated people who recognize that the food system is broken taking digs at chef Jamie Oliver for his reality TV series that is focused on helping the residents of Huntingdon, West Virginia learn how to cook and eat healthier.

Apparently the fact that Jamie Oliver is using the medium of reality television is a big no-no to begin with. And while I'm want to agree that reality television is rarely 'real' and is selective in its depiction of reality, I beg to ask these critics what better medium they'd suggest for getting to the average American household. 7.5 million people watched the first episode of Jamie Oliver's show, I reckon a lot of them had also watched Oprah's show that day, where Jamie was a guest. That television is the most popular medium of communication today may, in fact, be one of the reasons that there is an escalating health crises in many countries today. To use this medium as a positive force is, in my opinion, something we should encourage rather than criticize (admittedly, I remain on the fence about the 'reality' format employed, but it's American television and apparently that's what the audience wants?!). Look, I spent 5 weeks in VErmont studying local food systems and there were many, many people doing amazing things in the school system, hospitals, in their communities, at the foodbanks, etc. to educate people about healthy eating, cooking, etc. And while some of these amazing people and groups have garnered some media attention, in many cases the wonderful work that's being done remains unacknowledged by mainstream media and America at large. Sometimes it takes someone with the money & an established following to catch the attention of the folks at Good Morning America or the New York Times (although, notably, the newspaper did do an article on Hardwick, Vermont, the small town I researched that is doing many things in the local food arena).

Which brings me to my next point - oh my, how dare someone use their celebrity to try to invoke change or spread a message. I once had an argument with a friend, who was much, much more of a music appreciator than I. He didn't believe that musicians should be allowed to use their status or celebrity to take any sort of stance on anything. I think he might have been thinking specifically of Bono, but regardless the argument seemed ludicrous to me. First of all, some of the greatest music that's ever been recorded is, in and of itself, a political statement. Music is one way of bringing about change, of sending a message, of starting a revolution and the musician becomes the messenger. Sure s/he may also have created the song, but it only becomes a message when people are willing to receive it because they relate to it, because they believe in it. In much the same way, a chef (celebrity or not) can be a messenger for health, through the food s/he cooks. I have absolutely no beef with someone whose followed his/her passion and become a celebrity in the process, then using that pulpit to try spreading the passion further. It only becomes a message if people are willing to listen, if people are willing to eat well and learn to cook. The power still lies with the people, not the celebrity, so let's not get all uppity about the fact that someone followed their passion, got famous in the process and then chose to use their fame for good rather than just personal profit. Because, you know, Jamie Oliver could have had very prosperous career simply as a celebrity chef and it probably would have saved him a lot of grief and he'd have been able to spend more time with his family, etc., but he didn't choose the easy route, he chose to make a difference. And yes, maybe he will profit on it, but I'd rather see Jamie Oliver selling cookbooks to Americans that previously spent money on frozen pizzas than Paris Hilton selling perfume to young females that think she's a role model.

A third criticism of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is that it's not going to change anything. I disagree - the very fact that there are debates raging all over the blogosphere and news about whether Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is a good thing or not is, in and of itself, changing things. People are talking about food. People are talking about health. Even if they don't agree with Jamie Oliver coming to AMerica to change the way the country eats, the fact is they are talking about food. And every revolution starts with education. Aside from that, it is my opinion that even if the Food Revolution fails to meet Jamie's expectations/hopes it will have changed the way a few people in Huntingdon go about their lives - who knows, it might even save one of those kids' lives. The thing is, you can't pick up all the starfish that wash up along the shore, but even if you only pick up one and throw it back in the ocean, it makes all the difference to that one starfish. So let Jamie Oliver and ABC spend their money trying to make change happen - this isn't costing the city of Huntingdon any money and I highly doubt the reality show being in their town is going to actually do any damage, so why not try to do some good? The worst that could happen is JO fails.

Another thing some people seem to take issue with is the idea that a chef should be doling out nutritional advice. Uh huh. Because listening to the nutritionists for the past 30 or 40 years has really helped us eh? And, according to the USDA, a french fry is a vegetable. I say 'bullocks' to listening to the so called experts. I don't see anything wrong with taking advice from a chef about healthy cooking, so long as he's not being sponsored by some big corporate food company. My mother taught me how to cook, and in doing so she doled out advice (even if she didn't realise it). In the years since I've left home, I've taken it upon myself to learn more about food and cooking. A lot of what I learned from my Mom makes sense, but I've also found myself trying different things, going against 'what mom told me'. The same stands for any advice doled out by anyone about anything - it is meant as a starting point for the listener - it is not gospel and that person can then take it upon themselves to learn more and decide if they agree or disagree with the first source of information. But the key is that the first source of information be an inspiration, that the person learning how to cook wants to learn more because of that first teacher. I therefore have no qualms with Jamie doling out sensible advice about eating and cooking.

Finally, let's get over the whole 'he's British and what right does he have to come here and tell us how to live our lives' thing. Seriously. I mean, come on, it's been a few hundred years, the British Empire is no longer an empire, can we please get over the accent? Nationalism is a dangerous thing, especially when it means refusing assistance from other countries. In the aftermath of Haiti's earthquake, when people were suffering and didn't have the resources to rebuild, nations of the world took notice and support poured in from every corner of the globe. We are a global citizenry, we need to be humble enough to recognize when we need help and accept it with open arms. I am quite certain that Americans have embarked upon many quests to help peoples of other nations when they see suffering, so why are they so resistant to letting someone try to help them. If they don't want the help for themselves, they can refuse it, but give the English bloke a chance to help those who want it.

And that is my rant for the day. Please stop pushing back.


Rob said...


Anonymous said...

What do you mean you are doing somethings different from what Mom said!!!! LOL :)


Shannon Courtney said...

Tehehe - I was just checking to see if my Mom was reading my blog :)

Bruce said...


You are right on the money.

Those who feel others should not have a voice because of their celebrity or passion; should take their own advice and...not speak. If they focused on the issue not the messenger they might see the path.

“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing”
Oscar Wilde

Have a wonderful day!

I like you blog.


al said...

This sounds like a great show, I'd not heard of it before since blah blah hipster don't watch TV blah. I'll have to check it out. Thanks.