Some more thoughts on Jamie’s Food Revolution

(This post is modified from an earlier one posted here).

I have been reading (and writing) about Mr. Oliver’s latest LA venture for some time now, but I didn’t get to *enjoy* the full spectacle of it for myself until recently. Unsurprisingly, it depressed me.

I am not depressed about the obesity “epidemic” in Los Angeles, America, or the rest of the world for that matter. Which is not to say I don’t find it sad that so many people get it wrong when it comes to feeding themselves and their families. Nor that I don’t find it sad that some children are made to eat something resembling airplane food on a mostly-daily basis. But getting depressed about these things would be a waste of my time and energy, a) because the reasons for this state of affairs are much more complex than even I dare to imagine that I fully comprehend, and b) because there is little I can do to change it.

Not so Mr. Oliver. He’s depressed alright. And he also has the conceit to imagine that a) he understands everything about the system that he is taking on, and b) that it his responsibility – nay, his right – to take this system on. He keeps talking about how it is his “job” to do this and that: his “job” to try to force the LAUSD to let him into their schools (where he had been banned from filming); his “job” to try to persuade Dino – the nice man who let Jamie into his burger joint Patra’s – to make his burgers with grass-fed Black Angus beef, and his milkshakes with yoghurt instead of ice cream. Dino is a good man. He lets Jamie mess about in his kitchen, and lets him fix a yoghurt smoothie, and then rightly responds: “I tried it, and it tasted good, but he missed the point. This is a great drink, but it’s not a milkshake.”

I nominate Dino as the Food Revolution hero, because Dino gets it right. He gets that Jamie is missing the point if he thinks that putting a smoothie on the menu of a burger joint is going to do a damn thing to curb obesity. I’ve never been to LA, but I’m also pretty sure that people who want smoothies can find them elsewhere. Dino gets that he is running a business, and servicing customers who come to his restaurant because there’s something on his menu that they want to eat. He gets that there is a difference between freedom of choice and responsibility.

What Jamie Oliver does not get is that saying, on leaving Patras, “I don’t know if I can work with Dino” is in fact a very stupid thing to say, because he does not have to “work with” Dino, and neither does Dino have to work with him. Just as the LA Unified Schools District has no mandate whatsoever to work with Jamie Oliver. (Which they did in fact offer to do, just not on camera. But that, as someone else put it summarily, ‘is not a TV show‘.)

But my case is not really with Jamie Oliver, just as my case, in another context, is not with quacks like Gillian McKeith. No, my case is with the many people who do listen to them, and who do not get that these people, who may even have their hearts and concerns in all the right places, are simply not the authorities that they make themselves out to be. What’s the harm, especially if *something* improves? The harm is that worshipping pseudo-authorities is a slippery gateway to compromising all our rational decision-making faculties, believing whatever scare stories and half-baked statistics they throw about, and soon everybody will be taking advice on how to live their lives from anyone who has the power and the platform to make their voices heard above the rest. It certainly appears to be the easier option than thinking for yourself these days (choose your flavour: Oprah. Dr. Phil. Rachael Ray. Jamie Oliver, the UK’s most trusted chef).

And yet. Just as I was bracing myself for the third episode came the news that the Food Revolution has been axed.

My initial reaction was that this was something momentous. At least in Jamie Oliver’s career, and perhaps also as a shift in food media and the politics of intervention. I still think it probably is, insofar as I hope it will act as a reminder of some sort – to both Jamie Oliver and to his fans – that he is not invulnerable to things as powerfully banal as TV ratings, and also that, as I have said before, ‘Reality TV is probably not the place to deal with systemic issues in the first place‘. So now Jamie can indeed carry on fomenting his revolution, just not on camera.

Except that would be too good to be true, and too out-of-character for the monster that is the celebrity-chef-industry. Season 2 of Jamie’s Food Revolution will resume on screens in June.

 

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