“The British are coming!” I could only imagine this forewarning was intoned countless times in the city of Huntington, West Virginia well before the famed Naked Chef Jamie Oliver ever set a foot on West Virginia soil. Judging from just a few hours spent with the enormously popular reality television show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” citizens of Huntington were apprehensive and leery of the sort of “revolution” Oliver was bringing to their shores.
As a brief overview, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is a six-part reality show on ABC in the style of “Extreme Makeover” but instead of plastic surgery and wardrobe changes, the bewildered citizens of blue-collar Huntington are getting a diet and nutrition overhaul. Recently, the city had been singled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the nation’s unhealthiest (read fattest).
Oliver, who has had phenomenal success in helping to reform the British school lunch program and middling success in getting people to eat things like tagine and pak choi, has made the transformation of this towns shoddy diet his personal raison d’etre. His mission is steeped in the sort of sincerity you are not likely to stumble upon while watching your run of the mill reality TV. Oliver pleads, he hectors, he even threatens to cry in an effort to inspire a population that would rather bury themselves in chicken nuggets followed by a chocolate milk chaser than subject themselves to a life bereft of trans fats and “brown food.”
His first attack is on (or more appropriately for) the youngest residents of Huntington, and those most at risk, as well as most apt to change. Oliver, with only the best intentions, immediately alienates himself and makes himself persona non grata among the school cafeteria crew (or the “lunch ladies” as he mistakenly likes to call them) when he suggests a menu that would require twice the work to serve up fresh and, relatively, healthy alternatives to fries and pizza. The blowback Oliver endures from staff, school administrators and children alike is both amusing and heartbreaking.