Jamie Oliver: “This Epidemic Is Killing Children – Your Children”

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is one of the hardest working chefs in the culinary world. With 14 cookbooks behind his belt, numerous television shows and his latest campaign, the 34-year-old Naked Chef certainly has his hands full!

In the first season of Jamie’s latest show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” Oliver causes quite a stir as he embarks on improving the unhealthy eating habits of one of the unhealthiest cities in the country, Huntington, West Virginia.

In a recent press event Jamie spoke candidly about his reality show, his children, the First Lady Michelle Obama, the effects of the processed food industry on our children and how we can all make a difference.

Q: You’ve been a force in changing the kind of food that’s served in England’s school system and you’re trying to do that similar here.  How different is trying to make that same change here?  Do you find yourself facing more or less challenges?

JO: I think it’s exactly the same.  One of the things I keep saying to everyone, is this is not an English guy coming over here looking down at anyone.  It’s exactly the same back home. I can show you things that are similar and attitudes that are similar.  Basically all humans hate change and it’s change that we need.

You’re always going to get that kind of kickback, but I’m fairly positive that if you put your head down, get in the community, start working with families, building relationships, and really let word of mouth get out there, that this change is a positive thing that can help you, help you save money, and help the health of your family. This knowledge should and must be passed down to your kids and your kid’s kids.

It’s always a challenge, but I guess if it was that easy everyone would be doing it.

Q: What made you decide to help children and make it into a reality show?

JO: Well, TV is still premier communicator in the country.  The Internet, editorial and newspapers are incredibly important, but together, all of those forces can be used as a wonderful force for good.

When I got my campaign in England seven – six years ago, there’s absolutely no way that without our TV series I would have received $1 billion out of the British government, changed the standards in schools and banned the junk.

I never thought I’d have the day where I’d be on ABC. To tell the story is something really close to my heart, American or not.  You know, I’ve worked over here for nearly 11 years and I’ve been trying to do the show for five years now.  It’s only in the last 10 months where the world that I work in started to change.  People are not just interested in talking about it, but doing something about it.

With Michelle Obama pushing stuff forward to ABC, even commissioning the show in the first place, various businesses looked at changing.

I think if there’s one thing that will save a family, save them money and reinforce family’s health, is learn to cook.  If you know how to cook four, five, or ten simple dishes that are affordable and nutritious, then you’ve got choices and if you can’t cook, you haven’t got choices.

Everyone knows what the problem is. They are sick of hearing the bad news, what they want are the tools and information to live differently and enjoy it.

Q: Congratulations on your wife and your new baby on the way!

JO: Thank you very much.  I don’t know how I had time to do that while I was in Huntington, but I’m obviously very efficient.

Q: This revolution,  it’s extremely personal to you.  At the end of the first episode we see you getting a little emotional when you’re looking at the children.  Can you tell me what you are feeling at that point?

JO: Yeah, I can’t tell you how big the mountain is I’ve got to try and climb.  And I’m not trying to pretend I’m bloody Superman or something like that, because it’s just not the case. I have this wonderful opportunity – a lifetime opportunity to help a country that I care about.

As a father and as a human being, when you’re trying to do things that are so simple and so important, yet there’s grown adults looking at you like you’re an idiot and supporting  the stuff that’s killing them, the stuff that’s eating them from the inside, it’s really hard.

I may be a little bit emotional because I’ve got a six and seven-year-old and a one year old. At this age, kids are so open-minded and they’re so up for the challenge of trying things and often it’s the parents that ruin the kids’ opportunities. Everyone always blames the kids, the kids, the kids, but it’s really not the kids, it’s the adults.

The adults of the last three generations have made lots of bad decisions. Our kids in America and England have got the prognosis that the first generation of kids are not expected to outlive their parents. It’s that kind of thing that get’s me upset and always will.

Q: There was just a bill approved in Congress that wants to create uniform standards or foods in schools and try to limit junk food.  Do you think this is a step in the right direction or do you think that it doesn’t go far enough?

JO: It’s definitely a step in the right direction.  Over the last four years, lack of control has let it go the wrong way. I think we need standards, requirements of really important and certainly various levels of management throughout. The food service around the country seems to respond quite a bit from powers above.

It’s great that we’ve got new standards being put forward; however, if the right amount of funds aren’t delivered in conjunction with the standards, then they won’t be able to implement the standards.

Everything seems to revolve success-wise around the training, empowerment and love given to the school cooks.  If you do the training properly then you’ll see that they’ll understand it and be inspired.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think they are now able to spend over an extra six cents on the plate per kid as an incentive for these new requirements, but the industry is saying that in order to implement these new standards, we really need an extra 35 cents per plate to have a good go at it.

I’m concerned about the money side.  I think that we need to put into context the amount of money that needs to fix 30-40 years of a real lack of investment. I know money is everything, but let’s remember how much is being spent on war every month to put it in perspective. $7 billion is spent every month in Afghanistan and so far we seem to only be able to get 4.5 billion out of the American government for a 10-year plan.

We’re not even anywhere near to what needs to be done. This epidemic is killing children, your children.  It’s changing the face of health and the health of Americans.

Q: There’s a (conviction) that obesity is really heavily related to your eating and your nutritional habits, but what are your thoughts on like weight loss surgery as a treatment for obesity?

JO: Well, it’s certainly a big and debatable subject.  I think the food problems are so layered. Without question food addiction is no less addictive than any drug problem or alcohol problem.

When people are going through rehabilitation, they don’t get told to eat a little bit of cocoa, a little bit of whisky, three times a day.

At the same time, I think that obesity isn’t the only problem. There are plenty of skinny rich kids, fellows and ladies out there that are desperately anemic and unhealthy, or they have diabetes and although it is hard to avoid obesity, the show is really about health.

It’s not “The Biggest Loser,” it’s not a weight loss show, it’s about our relationship with food. Ultimately, obesity is big business whether you are selling junk or whether you’re selling operations. If you can give them the tools to nourish themselves in a way that they enjoy and get them on an exercise regime.

Q: How does it feel when you see kids reject your healthy options for processed food?

JO: It’s part of the process. You have to remember that even with the junk food in, kids still reject it and still throw it away.

Whether it’s junk food or my food, I think food culture in schools need to be looked at. There is no benefit in just changing the school food, you have to change the food culture.

For instance the food that is served, the room that they eat in, the teachers that work in the room and are keeping an eye on the kids who aren’t eating or trying certain things need working on. Also the classroom – if you recognize that most kids don’t know what most veggies are that is definitely a massive problem! If they don’t know what the food is, they aren’t going to try it. You can easily use food, veggies and all sorts of things within all sort of classes. That is the only way to make it work.

Absolutely, no one likes rejection on the food. What you will see over a number of weeks and months is the rejection going down and leveling out. To be honest, if I went back to some of the schools that I changed over the last seven years and put back the old junk that was there in the first place, you’d get the same reaction which is we don’t like change. So, it kind of goes both ways bizarrely.

Q: In the first episode from West Huntington, you kind of wade into what you call an “Aladdin’s cave of processed crap” and I’m wondering whether the processed food industry has become your arch enemy. Whats it like to deal with them?  Are they almost as formidable as the tobacco industry – are they trying to block what you are trying to do?

JO: Well, at the moment, you got the First Lady trying to push through one of the most important bits of nutritional care for kids in schools in the last 30 years.  We’re not going to have another chance to do it for another five years and by then, it will be too late and this generation would have been let down yet again. In Congress, the people fighting against her will be from the industry, without a doubt. They’re not going to want to see the government ordering less of their processed food.

One of the problems I have at the moment is making things on budget but I need the commodities from the government and the USDA. I need it to be real meat, I want chicken, and I don’t want processed chicken or chicken fingers.  I don’t want chicken this or chicken that, I just want chicken.

Now is the time where kids need to come before the dollar. The dollar has won for so many years, I think, and it’s going to be a problem.

Q: You stay in the same town for the entire six episode duration. Was there any thought of ever going from one city to another or did you think in order to do this right, you had to stay in one place and do more than just one episode?

JO: It’s the first series and with ABC , Ryan Seacrest Productions and our co-producers,  I always knew I had to sort of earn my trust.

It was important that we did the right thing. Just surface skimming lots of stories in different towns was not going get the heart, soul and commitment from the audience and the contributors that came from the town, you know?

We definitely wanted to stay in the town, invest in them and see them change. It gives you a set of characters in a town that you kind of really start loving and feeling for. Most importantly, what I want to come out of this show is if parents of America can watch it and get upset. They can laugh, they can cry and they can learn a few things but most importantly, what really has to happen is it that they get pissed off.

When they get pissed off with the right things, and they get a straight clear opinion, whether they’re talking to friends or other parents at school, just having the extra confidence to say to the principal, “Can I have a look at the menu? Can I have a look at the freezer please? I want to look at those boxes; I want to see if those boxes look like a science lesson.” Being able to go into a fast food restaurant and ask, “Where did this come from?  What are the options that we got?”

You know, that’s what I want really. For parents to sort of stand up and be counted.

Tune in tonight for the Season Finale of Jamie’s Food Revolution at 9pm/8c on ABC!

Please be sure to join Jamie’s Food Revolution! You can also follow Jamie on Twitter, Facebook or visit his official website for news, upcoming events and healthy recipes.

Photo Credit: Jamie Oliver for exclusive use on Child Mode