Jamie Oliver on Food Revolution 2, Huntington a Year Later, and LA Schools

Source: Jamie Oliver on Food Revolution 2 and LA Schools

With Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, British culinary celebrity Jamie Oliver has made a name for himself as an advocate for healthier American eating. The show's first season, shot in obesity-stricken Huntington, WV, received critical acclaim and garnered a Primetime Emmy in 2010. Food Revolution's second season returns to ABC April 12 at 8 p.m. The comeback takes place in Los Angeles and faces an entirely new set of challenges, including resistance from the city's public school system.

While in South Beach, Katie and I took a minute to ask the chef about season two, his troubles with the Los Angeles school system, and what he thought of Huntington losing its school funding.

YumSugar: Our readers voted you their favorite male chef!
Jamie Oliver
: Really? [Pauses.] Does anybody know who I am? Jesus. That's amazing! That's really nice.

YS: For your second season, why did you choose LA?
: Where the hell do I start? We went to LA for two reasons: one, I didn't want to go back to the next unhealthiest town in America, 'cause I didn't want it to be seen as a format; two, there's enough good sh*t going on in California, genuinely, amongst a lot of bad stuff. From a blatantly strategic point of view, if we can make any form of change in California . . . if anything happens in law . . . anything we achieve there will go across the whole of America.

YS: It's been quite the ordeal shooting in LA schools, hasn't it?

: The LAUSD proactively went to the Los Angeles Times, and did a big public relations spiel: "We don't want him coming in. We hate reality TV; it's all about conflict and drama." In them doing that - which is quite bullsh*t, really - what they did was piss off thousands of parents. I could've avoided the LAUSD, but I couldn't avoid thousands of [letters from] parents. Of course that became, hilariously, the conflict and drama.

YS: What did you see?

JO: We worked in fast food; we were running a drive-thru, just to sort of learn the mechanics of food and how it works, the challenges. When people came in to order their burgers . . . we health checked everyone on a certain day, and actually sent four people directly to the hospital. But the most passionate part, really, was peoples' homes and their families' homes.

YS: How does it compare to [season one in] Huntington, WV?

JO: It's just so different from last year: the look, feel, pace. Huntington was actually a well-structured, observational documentary, from my perspective. Yes, it adds some dramatic Americanized "Jamie Oliver," which, you know - ABC prime time, whatever - but this year was just fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. What was interesting about the LAUSD is that it's the most untransparent system I've ever seen in my life . . . Ultimately, it costs you, the taxpayer, $9 billion a year. In my country, if there's a public service, I have a right as a member of the public, or as a journalist, or a program maker, to ask questions and get them f*cking answered. Here, I'm like, what?! America is a famous democracy, and I could've phoned up some of the most repressed countries in the world and gotten access to a school food system. North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran: do you honestly think I couldn't get there in a week? Of course I could. And they'd f*cking answer my questions. Why? Because it's only food, it's only kids. Really. It's not military secrets.

YS: What's your reaction to US Foodservice pulling its funding out of Huntington, WV, after season one?

: I'm surprised that such a big organization couldn't fund such a cheap thing, because they'd sort of promised they would. I'm a bit upset because US Foods is such a massive company. [The good news is] Doug Shields, who runs Cabell County Hospital, has continued funding the kitchen without any of our intervention, which means that we set up a good, sustainable, reasonable relationship . . . He's doing fund-raising to find the missing cash that would replace what US Foodservice would do . . . I'm hoping that we'll get US Foodservice back.

YS: Does what's happened take away at all from what change you effected in Huntington?

: To be honest, I'm really proud of everything . . . We're still having about 6,000 people go through that kitchen every year; it's still on fire. The town's putting farmers markets on that they've never had before. There's a West Virginia restaurant in their own town now, instead of just fast food - that wasn't there before. I'm not saying Huntington's fixed, but it's no longer on the top 10 list . . . We did a pretty good job, actually. If the only thing that's pulled out in all that time is US Foods, that's pretty good. Then I look at LA and think, "What happened?" It's an absolute mess! But I think there's use in that mess.

YS: What would you like to see happen next?

: I think every supermarket in the country, period, should sponsor a school - $20,000, $30,000 a year. That could represent a salad bar, a garden, a few key members of staff, a few hours here and there. Can they afford to do it? Of course. Is it propagating the customers of the future? Of course. It's ethically a win-win . . . Health statistics say we're in the darkest health epidemic ever. Over 50 percent of deaths are diet-related, compared to 0.8 percent homicide, just to put it in perspective. There isn't a national campaign of vigor, like the smoking ban. We haven't taken it seriously yet.

YS: Will America ever take its health seriously?

JO: I have total faith in the American public. Never, never, ever have I had any sh*t from them. It's always been the corporate side or the bureaucracy side.

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