The great food fight carries on for Jamie Oliver. The chipper Brit continues to work to change North American eating habits in the second season of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.
Over the past dozen years, Oliver has evolved from celebrity chef to one of the world's leading advocates on sound nutrition. On his first series, The Naked Chef, he extolled the virtues of exotic meals with simple ingredients ("naked" refers to simplified recipes; he never actually got naked).
He followed the success of that show with Oliver's Twist, Jamie's Kitchen and Jamie's Kitchen Australia. Then in 2005, he hosted the documentary series Jamie's School Dinners, which took aim at the poor-quality meals at a school in Greenwich and led to his larger drive to improve school meals throughout Britain. With shows such as Jamie's Ministry of Food and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, he's expanded the campaign to try to help adults, first in Britain and now in America, learn to prepare healthier food.
On the Food Revolution's first season, Oliver brought his fresh-eating approach to the town of Huntington, W. Va., "the unhealthiest city in America," and was warmly greeted. In the new season, he's set his sights on Los Angeles, where his cause was not nearly as well-received. Before production began, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) banned him from filming in schools. Oliver spoke to us in a telephone interview from L.A.
How did the first season of Food Revolution prepare you for this series?
We really went into the eye of the storm last year. In Huntington, everything we set up is still running and successful. They're running with it. What's really nice is that two moms in the neighbouring district to Huntington are doing the same thing and are now rolling out fresh food in schools. The L.A. show is really about bigging up and trying to spread the word in a more efficient way.
Why Los Angeles?
I felt L.A. was perfectly situated to inspire people across the state and around the world to eat healthier. In L.A., you've got some of the healthiest and fit people in the world and some of the most wonderful food in the world, but you've also got some of the most incredible poverty - and food deserts, where people without cars have to spend two or three hours on a round trip in order to get fresh food. It's an amazing example.
Did you think L.A. would be easier or harder?
I never think anything involving changing hearts or minds is going to be easy. Certainly not when civic bodies and education authorities are involved.
Were you surprised when the L.A. school board forbid you to film in their schools?
To be honest, I never expected to be banned from every single school in the district. That was a shock. Throughout the course of the series, there's a tension between myself and the LAUSD. Since then, the parents and teachers and students themselves have made it pretty clear they would like me to be involved.
You're still shooting the show. Has the situation changed?
The LAUSD just got a new superintendent, starting any day now. I'm hoping he's going to have a different strategy about being open to the public and showing people what they're feeding kids 180 days a year. I want to work with them. My goal is certainly not to fight with the LAUSD. If anything, I want them to use me to do stuff that's positive. I'm hoping we can still address that, but at the moment it's pretty much a stalemate.
Were the school boards outside L.A. County more receptive?
We tried for four months to get into the LAUSD to no avail. We phoned up the Santa Barbara district and within two hours we had all our permissions granted and we were filming the next day.
Do you ever get discouraged by some people's unwillingness to eat healthy?
Food Revolution is not the prettiest show in the world to make. It's not all joy and bouncing around. It can be fairly depressing. When doors get slammed in your face, it often feels like you're not doing the cause a service. The one thing I'm proud of this year is that although the LAUSD stuff is a problem, we did get very close to the poor communities in L.A. and to young teens and kids, and we addressed some important topics like fast food.
The second season of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution debuts tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC and A.