“We’re losing the war against obesity in the U.S.,” says chef Jamie Oliver. “Our kids are growing up overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods, and today’s children will be the first generation ever to live shorter lives than their parents.”
About 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children are obese, according the Centers for Disease Control, and such obesity-related diseases as Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer have become leading causes of death in our country.
HBO shed a harsh light on the obesity epidemic last week with its four-part documentary, “The Weight of the Nation.” The question is: What do we do about it? Critics of the program complained that it didn’t advocate for policy changes. But perhaps it’s up to people to inspire change, to spread awareness and to add pressure to the makers and sellers of harmful food by not buying their products.
That’s certainly Oliver’s view. “I’ve given up on governments,” he said in an interview with The Times. “But I have endless hope and faith in people once they are given knowledge and skills. I’ve certainly seen all over the world in many different communities that, once people have a few skills and confidence, they make different choices in the grocery store. Once they make different choices in the grocery store — and on the Main Street fast-food restaurants — then companies will be forced to serve a higher quality offer. That’s when the real change happens.”
To that end, Oliver launched Food Revolution Day on May 19, a global initiative “to inspire, educate, and empower people everywhere to stand up for real food.” Oliver said that about 60 countries participated, with people hosting dinner parties and other food-conscious events within their communities. “And this is just the beginning.”
Oliver, for his part, spent the afternoon at UCLA in his “Big Rig” kitchen truck, teaching children of the Santa Ana Boys and Girls Club how to cook healthful meals. He has paid particular attention to children, as viewers saw on his “Food Revolution” program on ABC, which chronicled his efforts to reform school lunch programs. “I want them to learn about fresh food, where it comes from and how to cook it,” he said. “Kids really thrive when they’re just given some ownership over what they’re cooking.”
Later, he hosted a dinner party turned think tank above Gjelina in Venice. At the event, which I attended, Oliver spoke about taking social action by becoming involved in the community, which is an area where he has a proven track record. He also challenged the guests to brainstorm ways that Food Revolution may continue to make an impact. Ideas included grading food products with simple letters and initiating more gross-out awareness campaigns a la pink slime. Some suggested getting more high-profile figures involved to endorse healthy eating, like Adrian Grenier, who was in attendance and counts himself among Oliver’s “soldiers.” (He can actually cook too.) Another idea: Directing attention to adults with such programs as Time Warner’s Fit Nation, which rewards employees who participate in healthy-living challenges.
All of this isn’t to say Oliver doesn’t think we should allow ourselves the occasional indulgence. About President Obama eating a burger in front of photographers, he said: “Burgers are a wonderful thing when made from good quality meat by someone who cares about cooking them. I’m not anti-burger. I am anti-[expletive] burgers made from poor quality meat.”
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