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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

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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