This post originated at the Boston Healing Blog. I just reposted it here because I liked it so much.
We're idiots, babe.
I watched the first two episodes of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on Monday. Every health/wellness/food blogger (a rapidly growing cabal, to be sure) and her mom has written about this show already, but I figured I may as well throw my hat into the ring.
I'm not going to recap the plot, or comment on the sad state of school food, or the bullsh*t, bullsh*t "regulations" that require "two breads a day," allowing kids to eat pizza twice, but precluding brown rice as a valid form of carbohydrates.
Nor am I going to comment on the transparency of the script and the perfunctory prime-time reality TV melodrama, how a few lines and plot devices are painfully contrived (one lunch lady [sorry, cook] practically reading off of a teleprompter the awkward, beating-the-drooling-audience-over-the-head line "Change can't come from us. It has to come from the top!" or the commercial break while we wait for shy, fat, twelve-year old Justin to wait for his diabetes test results), or how the entire premise of the show (a school board gives a random chef one week to prove himself in an elementary school full of hostile opposition before they will let him continue with other programs -- will he succeed???) would never exist outside of the vaudeville of reality television.
At face value, the show calls attention to a major problem in America. People don't know how to cook for themselves. In fact, I think this highlights a larger problem in The United States: modern Americans have not the foggiest idea how to take care of themselves.
I'm not talking about the health care debate. That's another mind-bogglingly sociological discussion. (And in case anyone cares, if it were possible for someone to be MORE than 100% in favor of something, I would be that for universal health care.) I'm talking about simple things, like saving money, planning for the future, and feeding ourselves. The basics of human survival within a modern capitalistic society. I think it's pretty obvious we haven't been doing too hot in this arena.
I think you could view this show, and the whole modern fad/fascination with home-cooking and real food as an emblem of our collective realization that we as a culture have absolutely no idea how to survive without our fabulous, money-driven, made-up society spoon feeding us some corn-based product resembling chicken in exchange for imaginary money.
We grew up being told that we would be taken care of. That if we went to college we'd get a job and could have a house and flashy vacations and an Italian Spinone bounding in the yard. When you want a car, you go to the dealer and buy a new one from a car manufacturer. When you want food, you go to the people who make food and buy it.
When this mythic model started to crack, people felt cheated out of the fantasy life they'd hoped for. Fortunately, the perfect currency with which to buy a fantasy is fantasy money. People started charging everything. And buying more useless crap. And eating more nutritionless junk that tasted good for about five seconds, because it's all fake anyway, and nothing matters but instant pleasure. No really, I read this book by this German guy named Nietzsche. Really eye-opening stuff, man.
Not only do we not know how to take care of ourselves, we don't know how to take care of each other. Parents sending kids off to schools where they're fed processed food-like substances that make them unhealthy, then having them come home to pizza and deep-fried chicken week in and week out. Why? They don't have time to cook. What? I'm sorry, what are you doing that's so much more important than feeding your children? Is "Lost" on?
And schools don't care. And cooks don't care. And the government officials sure don't care. Everyone's just waiting for the end of the day when they can go get their bikini lines waxed and drink Sex and the City Appletinis at the Sky Bar, or read celebrity gossip magazines because did you hear that Brangelina broke up and Brad was seen canoodling with his ex? OMG. WTF. LOL.
In England, the same show was called "The Ministry of Food," but in America, of course, everything has to be a revolution. (Has anyone noted the irony of a British person coming to America to start a "revolution?") I wish we could use less violent language in this country. I think "rebirth" is a much more productive and accurate picture of what needs to happen to our culture right now. But oh, wait, that sounds pansy, so revolution it is.
More interesting than what eventually happens to Huntington West Virginia's school food, the people of Huntington, or even young Justin (who, BTW, does not have diabetes... yet) will be seeing if my generation will take any lasting lessons from the Great Recession about self-sufficiency, awareness, and (gasp!) caring about the health and well being of others. Like it or not, we're all in this together.