What could possibly tear me away from Celebrity Apprentice? Flipping channels during a commercial and catching Jamie Oliver (aka The Naked Chef) stare down the piercing glares of five cafeteria workers. In his new show, Food Revolution, Oliver's mission is to save the children in a West Virginian town from a life of health problems where almost half of the adults are obese and deep fryers are the prized cooking appliance. Oliver is known for cooking with raw, fresh ingredients. He admits to not even using supermarkets, instead seeking out specialist growers, organic suppliers, and farmers. The title Naked Chef doesn't refer to his fashion preference, but to the simplicity of his cooking style.
Oliver's cooking shows have always intimidated me because of the all-fresh ingredients. I wouldn't call his cooking style "simple"; the rustic nature of his ingredients suggests simple or basic living, but the actual recipes are the kind you have to read through a few times before understanding. The fact that he never uses supermarkets automatically means that he and I are from different planets. His food philosophy is more an inspiration, like Martha Stewart evokes, offering a lifestyle that I can take an idea or two from rather than trying to emulate completely.
That said, I declare Oliver as my hero because he's taking a stand on a gargantuan problem, even if he's a one-man army. He has the tough challenge of meeting USDA's strict menu guidelines while coming within budget for a fresh-food menu, and teaching the town's kids and adults some basic cooking skills. He could lose the demeaning quips like asking one of the lead cafeteria cooks how long she'd been a "lunch lady." But I saw his concern where most of the school's food staples were not just processed but loaded with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A daily diet so processed that many of the kids couldn't tell a fresh tomato from a potato. Food processing, which includes freezing, canning, and salting—anything that prolongs the shelf life of fresh food or alters it to reduce harmful bacteria or increase convenience—doesn't have to be unhealthy unless it's also full of saturated fat, salt, and artificial enhancers. Flash-frozen produce and pasteurized milk are examples of healthful processed foods.
I didn't mind the pizza slices on the kids' breakfast trays but I did cringe as they ate that along with sugared cereals floating in pink (strawberry) milk. School food needs tweaking to offer more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthier vending machine choices. I don't believe schools' menus of overly processed foods are just from budget contraints but that more creative thinking and use of local resources are needed. Schools should set a high standard of offering nutritious foods. I will continue to tune in, eagerly hoping that Oliver's "seed of change" will take place.