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Food Revolution: Battle Over Milk In “The Fattest City In America”

Earth Eats' Cory Barker recaps the fifth episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

food revolution kitchen


Last week’s episode introduced some unnecessary drama just because it was needed structurally, but this week it was back to the schools, back to the kids and back to changing the minds of more than just one close-minded disc jockey.

Updated: 4/22, 3:45 p.m.

After last week’s disappointing –  at least to my mind, some commenters seemed to be all for reality show type manipulation if it got people moved – effort, it was nice to see both Jamie and the “Food Revolution” itself return to focus on the larger issues.

Last week’s episode introduced some unnecessary drama just because it was needed structurally, but this week it was back to the schools, back to the kids and back to changing the minds of more than just one close-minded disc jockey.

Jamie’s Speech

But some of the reality television tropes reared their heads again, most specifically with the high school students’ reactions to Jamie’s speech. This didn’t bother me at first, but after I saw Entertainment Weekly TV critic Ken Tucker’s comments on it, it did start to rub me the wrong way.

That sequence got me thinking about the show’s structure a little bit – something I won’t completely bore you with in this space. Almost every episode introduces a “problem” that Jamie ponders in an interview, outlining, with a bit of hopelessness, how difficult the problem will be able to solve. But then he overcomes all of the obstacles to solve the problem by the episode’s end.

It’s a little formulaic and probably too heavy-handed, but the fact that I didn’t realize it until last week proves how important the message being told here is – and how well-made this program is overall.

For whatever reason, I feel more willing to be manipulated and more likely to embrace jumps in logic – surely most of those high school students backed Jamie because of the cameras – if the end result works.

Last week, it just felt like too much, way too much. But I can deal with Jamie delivering motivational speeches and kids reacting positively (camera pressure or not) because Jamie’s words were important and moving.

“Fattest City In America”

The big “villain” in this week’s episode is portrayed to be local powerplayer Doug Sheils. Pretty ticked off about the constant needling of Huntington for being the “fattest city in America,” Sheils claims that the label (from a 2008 AP story) is misleading because the study in question looked at “a five county radius,” not just Huntington.

Okay, first of all, Doug, don’t you realize that coming on a nationally televised program and being a tight-wad with money — money that could possibly help stop the badgering you’re complaining about — makes you, and potentially the town you’re trying to protect, look even worse?

Secondly, Huntington is still a part of that five county area! The editing implies that Doug is another person who wants to divert attention from the real problems in Huntington and instead focus on the town’s image.

That might not be true, especially considering Doug and the hospital end up offering their help, but it seemed as if they only did so after being presented with the idea from Jamie. Why couldn’t they have offered more than an argument over a news report before Jamie explicitly laid his requests out for them?

UPDATE: Earth Eats asked Sheils how he felt about the way he was portrayed in the episode. Here’s what he had to say.

Battle Over Milk

The rest of the episode put Jamie back in the schools and back in the battle over milk. The state believes that getting enough calcium is important enough for the kids’ health, that they need to add gobs of sugar and offer flavored milk to get them to actually drink it — not surprising, but still disappointing.

Hiding behind the calcium feels like an excuse to avoid any responsibility.

It’s a common problem: people in power are worried about how a person above them is going to react to a tough decision, so nothing substantial gets done.

We can’t get rid of the too-sugary milk. We can’t use forks and knifes. We can’t not give them French fries. We can’t make fresh food because it takes too long. We can’t order fresh food because it doesn’t exist – except that we found out this week that it does!

Worth The Manipulation?

This program has proven yet again that people care way more about protecting their jobs and the status quo than doing anything to really help children.

If Jamie Oliver and his program have to manipulate America a little bit to get people to wake up, I guess I’m okay with that.

Because anything is better than this.

Cory Barker

Cory Barker is a summer intern for Earth Eats and senior IU student from Hartford City, Indiana. He is double majoring in journalism and communication and culture with a minor in business.

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  • bjwoods


    Your observations on this last week's show are spot-on. I couldn't believe the amount of BS and red tape is what's really keeping the powers that be, from really caring about the kids they are trying to help serve.

    The whole thing about the milk is complete rubbish, because as we could plainly see, when the flavored varieties were gone, the kids drank the regular milk.

    The DJ thing was a bit staged, IMHO, but the whole thing with the hospital admin also shook me up as far as the big hissy fit he thew way back when.

    I'm sort of poor / low income myself, so when I hear these claims about how it's too hard and too expensive to eat well, I think that's a lot of hooey. As I type this, I am getting ready to sit down to dinner, which for tonight, is sauteed chicken breast with fresh mushrooms & onions, pesto linguine and romaine & spinach salad on the side. Because I buy whole, unprocessed food (except the chicken which was already cut up and frozen individually), I think the whole dinner is probably costing me a dollar and some change at the most, for one serving.

  • dougsheils


    I'm disappointed with the journalism program at IU. A senior journalism student there would certainly write a much more accurate story than this. You clearly don't have all – or even any – of the facts.

    The meeting that Doug Korstanje, Beverly McCoy and I had with Jamie Oliver was over two hours long. It was called to discuss the 2006 CDC Report and the 2008 Associated Press article about it. It was these two things that brought Jamie to Huntington. The Associated Press report was a total hatchet job by a hack reporter – which it appears you are well on your way to becoming. Huntington is not the fattest or most unhealthy city in America. There's no data whatsoever that says that. We were only asking that Jamie and the media be accurate in telling the story. Remember “accuracy” from your journalism classes??

    We had no idea that Jamie was going to ask us for money. That's not what the meeting was to be about. And we weren't withholding money or unwilling to help at all. Didn't you hear me say “Let's work together?” As soon as Jamie asked us for money, we told him we would review his proposal and get back with him with an answer. What's wrong with that? He asked for $150,000. What are we supposed to do – just whip out our checkbooks and write him a big one??

    Watch the finale to see if Cabell Huntington Hospital gives Jamie the money he needs. I won't be a spoiler and give you the answer — but the story has a happy ending.

    And you can send your apology after you see the finale.

    Keep studying, Cory.

    -Doug Sheils

  • dougsheils


    If you want to see how a journalism student/intern who is truly qualified to write for a major publication or website, check out this story from an intern with The Atlantic:

    Real journalism means getting on the phone and calling people to get the real story – not sitting on your couch in the dorm room with a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other watching television.

    -Doug Sheils

  • Cory Barker


    I appreciate your comments, and I'm so glad that you kept it above the belt. Just real quick here, I'd like to direct you to a few things myself. First, here's the link to a story celebrating the IU SoJ's student newspaper, the IDS, for winning won of the most prestigious awards in collegiate journalism, during a time that I was an editor:

    Also, here's a one of surely many stories that talks about how the SoJ is one of the best in the country, where I am an honors student:

    And thank you, I WILL keeping studying. In graduate school, where I've been accepted based on my writing ability.

    More seriously though, I understand your frustrations. You were just filleted on national television and you want to protect not only your own image, but the image of your hospital and the image of your town. I wouldn't expect anything less from you, considering image is all you were worried about on the show as well.

    Sure, Huntington might not be THE LITERAL fattest city in America, but as you said yourself, it's part of an area that is. And even if it wasn't, there are still obvious problems in your area, problems that matter. So getting all hung up over a moniker that no one would remember in three months instead of dedicating your time to figuring out exactly what you could do to improve the situation seems like a mismanaging of your energy and time. What if Jamie wouldn't have come to town? Would you not even care about fighting this thing?

    And as I've said in my past posts about the show — and even this one — I am totally cognizant of the fact that is this is a reality TV series. It is manipulative, highly-edited and likes to create situations and characters out of people to produce false drama and villains. You were absolutely willing to be on the show and it spit you out in the way reality TV does. I'm sure the meeting went longer, I'm sure you said more positive things and weren't a total jerk. But you said enough things slanted in that way that they could use it against you.

    Moreover, my job here is to RECAP THE EPISODE, the events I saw on Friday night on ABC. Again, surely things happened a little differently in real life, but I'm aware of that. I am just evaluating what I saw on screen. And on screen you were more willing to debate about PR-related matters. That's why you set up the meet. You didn't set up the meet to give him money or offer support at all. Only after the fact did you do that, seemingly, of course.

    No matter, based on what I saw in the episode, I'm not surprised by your comments. You want to look good and make your hospital look good. You get hung up on labels, titles and PR spin. So much so it seems that you have a Google alert for yourself so that you can defend yourself to anyone who talks bad about you. I'm guessing it's been a busy week for you, then?

    But if the situation went as it you say it did and the events transpire in a happy way in the end, why the heck does it matter what anyone says to you? If you're as right as you think you are, you shouldn't have to spend a lot of time defending yourself, especially to a pizza-eating, beer-drinking college student.

    Yet, here you are. Doing what you seemingly do. Spending time worrying about things that don't quite matter in the larger scope of things. I really, truly hope that you don't reply to a lot of people who have criticized you over the past few days, because it's obviously not a good way to spend your time. Maybe you're doing enough to stop obesity in Huntington, maybe you're not. But the 20 minutes you spent flaming me probably could have been spent doing something more useful for your community.

    Thanks for your comments Doug. You keep on fighting that good PR fight (and waiting for that apology). It's what you do. Seemingly.

  • dougsheils


    That was a RECAP of Friday night??? What show were you watching?

    First…how was I a tight-wad with money?? Watch the show again.

    Second…how was I unwilling to help?? Where in the show did you get that?

    Third…I don't want to help because it doesn't benefit me??? Where do you get this stuff?

    Check out the CHH Food Revolution page of the Cabell Huntington Hospital website. You'll see just how wrong you are.

    By the way, when I was in journalism school, we got deducted a full letter grade for each misspelling. You'd have been in trouble.

  • Cory Barker

    Oh Doug.

    Again, from what I understand from the episode, you contacted Jamie to discuss getting rid of the dirty title given to Huntington. That's it. You yourself said you were unaware of the money, and that's fine. My problem is that you were more caught up in that at first than anything else. Jamie had been in town for a while, talking about all his concerns, and you were concerned with the “most obese” thing. BASED ON what I saw in the show. That's it. Again, could have went differently.

    I'm just so confused why you are so worked up over someone you consider a bad journalist — even though I never claimed to be. Never once did I say “I AM A JOURNALIST, THESE ARE FACTS.” I recapped the events on screen. I'm more a TV critic than anything else, admittedly.

    I'm absolutely, 100 percent, glad that you and your hospital are doing something in Huntington. I hope the finale makes you look like the righteous hero you so desperately want to be. I hope that the editing of the episode was completely wrong and you are someone more worried about titles or PR matters than real issues.

    The difference between you and me is that I don't care if I'm wrong and I don't care if you come out on top. Whereas you are clearly set on making me look foolish so you look better. Good for you.

    I guess I'm not sure how they spelled things when you were in journalism school, because based on Firefox, Microsoft Word and my own editing, my previous post includes no spelling errors. And again, why in the heck does that matter? This isn't about me. And as much as you want it to be, it is isn't about you either. It's about the issues. And if you did the right thing, wonderful news for everyone.

  • dougsheils

    That wasn't a recap, Cory. That was a gutless, brainless attack. You recapped nothing from that episode.

  • Cory Barker


  • Pingback: Doug Sheils: Huntington Not Fattest City, Jamie And I Are Friends | Earth Eats - Indiana Public Media

  • Pingback: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: Thoughts On The Season Finale | Earth Eats - Indiana Public Media

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