Saturday, 3 April 2010

On your way to five

The dinnerladies of America had better watch out. After transforming British school dinners (and in the process driving several mums to poke Dairylea Munchables through the school gates), Jamie Oliver is now attempting to save the morbidly obese youth of the USA.

He's certainly got his work cut out for him, given that two thirds of the US are overweight. And the other third are just plain massive. Jamie's hoping that he can relieve the pressure on the Land of the Free's collective arteries, and maybe entice them away from a life of elasticated waistbands.

Of course, this isn't a one-man mission to save America, it's also a TV show. So the papers have been filled with PR for the show, revelling in photos of saggy arses, downcast rednecks and burgers the size of a Renault Clio. The latest story devised to promote the show focuses on the challenges Jamie faces when attempting to overhaul the school menu.

Visiting the high school in Huntington, America's fattest city, Jamie was disheartened to see his chicken noodle dish rejected by Rhonda McCoy, Director of Food Services. In its place, Rhonda recommended that the kids be given French fries, since Jamie's meal didn't contain the requisite amount of vegetables.

Although Jamie was happy that Rhonda had given him access to the school kitchens, he criticised her for "doing her job which is protecting these rubbish guidelines". Which is a little unfair, given that isn't just the judgement of one ill-informed school official.

If Jamie had been following US politics, he would know that the US Department of Agriculture changed its rulings back in 2003 to reclassify frozen French fries as a 'fresh vegetable'. Thanks to the sterling efforts of the Frozen Potato Products Institute, the fast food industry was able to reclaim its rightful place in a healthy, varied diet.

It was really just a matter of time, given Ronald Reagan's embarassing u-turn a couple of decades earlier over everyone's favourite condiment. Back in 1981, the USDA proposed a directive designed to reclassify ketchup and pickle relish as vegetables so that public schools could serve cheaper lunches. Thanks to the journalists at Newsweek, who ridiculed the proposal mercilessly, the policy was never implemented - but it did grow into something of an urban legend.

Jamie's programme is all about education - teaching people how to shop for, and cook with, fresh ingredients. But if he really wants to change the world, he needs to educate people about the decisions that are made in the corridors of power. Where powerful corporate interests are seen as more valuable than the lives and wellbeing of the nation's youth.

As the old Chinese proverb says, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man that Scampi-flavour NikNaks are made with fresh fish, and his kids will end up riding mobility scooters to school." Or something like that.

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