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How TV Superchef Jamie Oliver's 'Food Revolution' Flunked Out

After two months, kids hated the new meals, milk consumption plummeted, and many students dropped out of the school lunch program altogether.

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Jamie does try to tackle this problem by opening up a kitchen in Huntington with free cooking classes. Being reality TV, however, it's also used as a ploy to roll out the Edwards family -- presumably the tubbiest folks in town -- by trying to teach them healthy cooking. The "Food Revolution" found a family desperate enough for help and covetous enough of fame that they allow Jamie to pile into a mound their gruesome diet of pizza, bacon, pancakes, burgers, corndogs, eggs, fruit pies, brownies, cheese, biscuits, chips, fries, donuts and chicken nuggets.

The show unleashes a deluge of crushed emotions, culture and families sluicing through fat river with the high point being the golden-brown grease pyramid the parents and four kids consume weekly, spawning a 12-year-old child who weighs 350 pounds. It's a warmed-over intervention narrative: set-up, confrontation, confession, breakdown and makeover. Take marginal people, make them feel shitty about themselves, offer redemption and serve it up to millions of viewers.

Seated before the summit of fat, Jamie admonishes Stacie, the mom, "This stuff goes through you and your family's body every week. And I need you to know that this is going to kill your childrens early [sic]." As plaintive guitar music cues up, Jamie asks, "How are you feeling?"

"I'm just feeling really sad and depressed right now," a tearful Stacie responds. "I want my kids to succeed in life and this isn't going to get them there. ... But I'm killing them. ... Seeing that food scares me, to think that I'm opening my kids to a world of failure."

The scenes with another morbidly obese teenager, Brittany, are just cynical. A student at Huntington High School, she reveals in the third episode that doctors have told her she has "spots" on her liver and has perhaps seven years to live. The show tugs your heartstrings as she breaks down repeatedly, citing Jamie as her last, best hope. Never mind his luscious cuisine is the last thing she needs. If Jamie really wanted to help, he could part with a smidgen of his $60 million fortune that he has amassed while building an Oprah-like media empire and pay for intensive counseling, behavioral modification, gastric bypass surgery and follow-up care, which is probably the only way to save Brittany's life.

Interestingly, the "Food Revolution" replicates another ABC show dealing with food, health and fitness -- the 2006 "Shaq's Big Challenge." What these shows and the whole makeover genre do, argue scholars Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, is remake social welfare within a "market logic that values entrepreneurialism, mass customization and profit accumulation" so that "people who are floundering can and must be taught to develop and maximize their capacities for normalcy, happiness, material stability, and success rather than rely on a public 'safety net.'"

'Breakfast Pizza'

The manipulation of the Edwards family, Brittany and viewers' emotions might be forgiven if the show was really going to change our food system, but it is not. The school food system does need a complete overhaul, but many school districts are trying to make the best of a bad situation, which Jamie never acknowledges. Given severe funding constraints and conflicting guidelines, there is an economic and nutritional logic to serving pizza and flavored milk for breakfast, as we see Central City Elementary do in the very first episode.

Richard J. Goff, the executive director of West Virginia's Office of Child Nutrition, says, "The pizza is not pizza like you'd purchase from a Wal-Mart or Kroger, it's made with low-fat cheese and a whole wheat crust."

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