And so we come to the final episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (he can’t crank it up for a second season, can he — what would he do, become DJ Rod’s personal trainer?).
The financial math became a bit fuzzy early on during this last hour. Jamie had said he needed $150,000 to keep fresh food coursing through the Huntington, West Virginia, school system, but I only saw the local business-folk handing out two over-sized checks at a rally, one for $80,000 and another for $50,000, which brings Jamie up a bit short, doesn’t it?
Oliver promised an “epic finish” to his rally, which turned out to be a surprise free concert by Rascal Flatts. It’s nice of those country stars to donate their time, but is it mean to say that lead singer Gary LeVox could stand to eat more of Jamie’s “seven-veg tomato sauce” and less of whatever it is he’s consuming on the Flatts’ tour bus?
The real drama occurred, we were told, “three months later,” when Oliver returned to Huntington only to discover a multitude of sins:
• That beleaguered bureaucrat Rhonda was unable to cope with the government-ordered processed food supply that was piling up while the school systems’ various cook staffs used Jamie’s fresh-food recipes. So she instituted “Processed Food Friday” as a way to unload all the excess french fries and chicken nuggets down the gullets of the children. Oh yeah, and Jamie’s bete noire (vache noire?) — chocolate milk — is back in the cafeteria hand-out bins.
• Parents, apparently either sick of hearing their kids whine about having to eat veggies at school or sick of Jamie’s British accent honking on about health, started increasing the number of bag-lunches with which they sent their kids to school. Oliver asks one small child to show him the lunch her deeply caring parent prepared so lovingly for her: potato chips and jelly beans. Another kid is eating out of a bag of McDonald’s food. Says Oliver with snorting indignation, “Even makin’ an old-fashioned sandwich is out of fashion now!”
• Also dismaying: Jamie learns that, once Food Revolution began airing on ABC, Alice — the tough-minded cafeteria cook who was quite sensibly skeptical of Oliver’s promises initially — got a lot of hate mail from people around the country. Can you believe that? It’s one thing to disagree with a citizen you see on TV, but hate mail?
In the end, what was most admirable about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is that it didn’t try to tidy up the complexities surrounding his simple fresh-is-good message. The people Oliver dealt with were frequently hamstrung by state or federal laws about what could and could not be provided to the school system or served there. And there’s also the problem you don’t have to explain to anyone who’s ever taught in a public school or attended a school-board meeting: As Jamie puts it, “Everyone is obsessed with not upsetting the parents.” The result: a combination of pushiness and spinelessness that ends up, in this case, making the good food program difficult, if not impossible, to implement.
“It’s not a happy ending,” said Oliver near the end of the show. But because you can’t end a series without upbeat elements, we got a montage of Jamie’s best moments, and out-of-nowhere endorsements for the Food Revolution philosophy from celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Heidi Klum.
Now that it’s over, I’d say Food Revolution was an above-average reality show with a very entertaining host who made a wee bit of a difference. And I’d like to see a follow-up on Huntington in a year or so, wouldn’t you?
What did you think of the show? A positive force, or a fizzle?