Try as I might, I can’t make out why Jamie Oliver has taken it upon himself to save my countrymen from themselves.
I understand he’s trying to start a food revolution. Not only that but I’m a supporter, having signed the online petition. After all, I lived in Japan for long enough to see that if a national diet is in essence health food, there are many fewer incidences of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and people live longer.
But why is Jamie Oliver, of all people, leading this campaign? That’s the part I haven’t been able to fathom. Before going to Japan, I lived in Britain, where Oliver was known as the “naked chef.” Call it a lack of imagination but somehow I never anticipated that the face of the Sainsbury’s grocery-store chain would someday transform himself into a food activist and arrive on my shores. What happened?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Oliver has decided to export his food revolution. For me, his confrontation with the stony-faced lunch ladies at the school in Huntington, West Virginia — which has been called the unhealthiest city in America — goes down in the annals as reality TV at its finest.
(I’m still not convinced those ladies aren’t actors.)
And now that he’s back for a second season of his “food revolution” show, which premiered last night, I’m enjoying seeing him take on the members of the Los Angeles school board, next to whom the West Virginian women seem warm and welcoming. LA is the second-largest school district in the nation, serving over half a million processed meals every day.
I note that this time, Oliver brought his wife, Jools, and their four young children, to live with him in LA. Is he planning to become an expat? Stranger things have happened…
I can’t really explain why Oliver would choose to displace himself and his loved ones in the service of America’s overfed youth, but I can offer some half-baked ideas:
1) He doesn’t like being less well known than Gordon Ramsay.
Ramsay surpassed Oliver some time ago in terms of earnings and visibility. Indeed, last night’s show offered evidence of this in a scene involving Dino Perris, the owner of a fast-food drive through in Glassell Park, a working-class neighborhood in LA. Perris said he’d never heard of Jamie Oliver and thought he might be that “rude guy.”
The only thing wrong with this theory? Ramsay is best known for swearing a blue streak and Oliver for interacting with kids like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Apples and oranges.
2) He is descended from missionary stock (hahaha).
In other words, it’s in his DNA to make converts beyond his own shores.
This theory, however, doesn’t hold water when you study Oliver’s family tree. Most of his people hailed from Cornwall and his great-great grandfather John Oliver was a Royal Navy seaman who did time in prison — not exactly the ingredients from which a food evangelist emerges.
3) He is escaping from Britain because his popularity is on the wane.
His fellow Brits have grown tired of seeing him running around in his green pea costume, so he is seeking a fresh audience.
At first this theory seems quite palatable. Most Americans probably don’t know this, but there was a backlash against Oliver’s “school dinners” program in the UK. It reached its peak when two mothers at a school in South Yorkshire started delivering junk food from local shops through the school fence, claiming that their youngsters didn’t want to eat the celebrity chef’s “overpriced lowfat rubbish.”
Still, I can’t believe that Oliver was ever put off by people who cooked up stunts that are, in effect, straight out of his manual. He loves nothing better than stirring the pot, and besides, he achieved what he wanted: the UK government established the School Food Trust, dedicated to improving the quality of food in the nation’s schools.
Okay, so I have no idea why he’s here. I might as well chime in with Jon Stewart, who, when Oliver appeared on his show last week, summed it up as follows:
You have come to this land you and you would like to help us become healthier, better people. Good luck with that.
And if Angelenos start throwing rotten tomatoes at him, I hope he has the good sense to move across the Pacific. Rumor has it that obesity rates among children in Asia are rising with the invasion of McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, and so on.
If that doesn’t make him fed up, I don’t know what will.
Question: What do you think has made Jamie Oliver cross borders, and would you like to see him become an expat in the United States?
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