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Arts and Entertainment

'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution' Making Waves in LA

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“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution" has come to Los Angeles. Jamie is trying to get into the LAUSD as part of his food advocacy efforts, but he’s been told he and his Emmy-award winning show are not welcome in our schools. Spend five minutes talking with the impassioned chef, and you’ll know that a “no” won’t stop him from trying. Yesterday, there was a sign that his very vocal perseverance may eventually pay off.

The Huffington Post ran an op-ed piece from Megan Chernin, Chair of the Board of MLA Partner Schools. This organization independently operates two South LA schools in a unique partnership with the LAUSD. Chernin pointed out that a high percentage of the children served by the LAUSD are obese or nearly so, with 50 percent of the 6,300 students at MLA Partner Schools hitting that mark.

“We cannot put this issue on the back burner,” says Chernin, “And, that's why I want to listen to what Jamie Oliver has to say.” She says that at the core, what needs to change is unhealthy diets and poor eating habits. Chernin thinks that if a celebrity chef who happens to have a hit reality show wants to help her to help her students, the least she can do is invite him to lunch.

LAist recently met with Jamie, who has just begun filming the second season of “Food Revolution,” at his set in Westwood near UCLA. The reality crews were rolling as Jamie told us about how he keeps them well-fed on set. He talked about what challenges Americans face and changes they can make to improve their health. And, as it’s the cause close to his heart, Jamie brings it all back to school kids.

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LAist: So, Jamie, is your whole family out here in Los Angeles now?

Jamie: Yes.

LAist: You’ve got four kids, are you shocked by the things they want to eat? Are they sucked in by the marketing for McDonalds and everything here?

Jamie: I think it’s kind of similar, but it’s not as aggressive in England. But, yeah, kids and babies are very, very brand aware. By the time they’re five-months-old, jingles, sounds, shapes, adverts on T.V., they’re all over it. You know, in the work I’ve done before, you’d show them a really basic veg, and they wouldn’t know it. You start to show them a bit of paper with brands on it and they know who they are. It’s a sign of the times, really. That’s the reason for the “Food Revolution.” Really, in this climate, every child in America should be taught how to cook. You know, ten recipes to save their life, and budgeting. Just look at America now, recession and a health epidemic. So what is on the syllabus about setting up bank accounts and not living on the overdraft? The second amount of money you spend in your life will be in supermarkets.

LAist: Speaking of supermarkets, do you find in some of the more urban areas they maybe have a corner store or a bodega, but they don’t have a grocery store with a produce section? That they have to go miles to get to that? Have you thought about those challenges and maybe something the “Food Revolution” can do to make produce more available?

Jamie: We’re gonna look at that, and I think, physically, we can afford to get a couple of ice cream trucks and kit them out with products and, “Ding Ding Ding Dong,” we can go around some hard to reach areas. And if we’re price sensitive and we’re looking out for them, then of course they’ll be busy, of course there’s a business there. But we can’t run a million businesses and take over L.A. Some of the stuff we do with “Food Revolution” is about direct change to you, here, now or to a community over a two to three month period. When the show goes out and it sort of starts joining up all the different stories, it’s also a state of mind and a kind of set of opinions that make you consume differently. I’m just a great believer that if you join all those together you start getting proper change.

LAist: Now when you’re in Los Angeles, and you’re on set, craft service tables are not the healthiest places to eat. What do you do with your crew, how do you feed them differently?

Jamie: (Aside) Boys, do you get feed proper? Is it not the best catering you ever have?

Crew: Yes. (Laughing behind cameras and boom mikes)

Jamie: It costs about 15 percent more to feed a crew properly, and with T.V. budgets across the board being worse than ever, you have to be philosophical to spend that money. But, I can honestly tell you that it’s the best money… if you’ve got a happy crew. I mean look, and in America it’s harder than England. You’ve got fucking unions and all sorts of shit out here that we don’t have back home. If you keep the crew happy and you have a good relationship, you can do anything. If it’s a shit job and you get feed shit, look, these guys start winging very quickly. (laughter)

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LAist: So what kind of things are on a craft service table here that you might not find on another show?

Jamie: Just good stuff. We have tilapia, home made mashed potatoes with the skins scrubbed, but left on with some olive oil, salt and pepper, some kick ass salads, some nice little salsas. You know, sometimes they go a little California style, sometimes it’s Mexican style. So we’re lucky, but you know, you’ve just to be bothered to pay for it and find someone who can do it. If you go on a lot of the T.V. shows in America, it’s just an all day table of shit. And if you eat that stuff, sometimes you get home and you’re like, buzzin, and your head hurts a bit, and if you start totaling up all the ingredients from the shit you’ve eaten all day, it’s sort of about two miles long.

LAist: So if somebody was going to initiate change in his or her diet, what’s the first change you’d recommend? One change you can make today?

Jamie: If I could give you one bit of advice, whatever you buy, if you could give one second to look at the back of the pack, and if it looks like a NASA science lesson, don’t buy it. That is the most dramatic thing. I wouldn’t say this show is about diet, it’s about a healthy relationship with food that’s sustainable. It’s about good food. If you know a certain amount of things, you can save money, you can budget. If you know how to cook, you can cook quickly. It doesn’t have to be long, drawn out stuff. It’s really about giving people the armory to make the right decision at the right time in the right situation.

So, the one thing is if you don’t understand what’s on the pack, don’t buy it. And the interesting thing as well is, it takes about two percent of the American public to give a shit and it all changes. Honestly, in England in five years, because of some quality shit-stirring by myself and a handful of other people back home, it’s almost impossible to go into a supermarket and see, I mean, everything is pretty much made up of pantry store goods, like at your nan’s. And it’s all supermarkets, even the big one owned by WalMart. And actually, WalMart, which used to be the bad guy, is bizarrely now the good guy.

LAist: In the U.K., or here in America as well?

Jamie: WalMart in the U.S., we’re going to hopefully partner with them, they’re actually employing some of the activists that used to put paint up on their walls. They’re changing. And as the old fuckers die, the guys our age are making better decisions and the kids that come in after us will make even better decisions. I’m going well off subject now, but a lot of America’s problem is that a lot of old people are entrusted with a lot of power. And, you know, they’re not really dying quick enough for me. We’ve got to flush them out.

LAist: You’re going to shake them up.

Jamie: No, I mean, what we do to the environment, what we do to ourselves. How we’re proud to make a buck, in return for what? I know enough now to be able to tell you that our children in schools across America, do they really come first or does a dollar come first? Of course it’s a dollar. Hopefully, over time, that will change.