Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution returns to ABC tonight with Jamie embroiled in a battle with the Los Angeles Unified School District over his critiques of their school lunches, so it looks like this season will be a little different from the comparative slam dunk that was Season 1. In honor of tonight's premiere, I interviewed Jamie about all the school district drama, the state of reality television and even his own junk food guilty pleasures.
What can we expect from Season 2?
Jamie Oliver: Absolute bloody chaos. It was a nightmare. But we did shoot some of the best scenes of my career, and I think I did the right thing coming to L.A., even though it did end up going kind of wrong in some respects. And we're still filming, so I'm kind of hoping that when [L.A. school superintendent] Ramon Cortines stands down this month the new guy will let us into the school district, which would be amazing. Fingers crossed. But we covered food deserts in town, I took over a fast food restaurant, I was running a drive-thru, and obviously working in a lot of people's homes as well.
Have you been able to get into the schools at all yet?
JO: I was banned from every single school, and I could have gone on -- we had plenty of other subjects to go down -- but the parents, teachers and students were so pissed off that they sort of forced me, really, to keep trying. So I kept trying for two months, but they really weren't entertaining me at all. But because of that we got the most incredible footage. We had literally tens of thousands of parents wanting to talk to us about their struggle with the L.A.U.S.D, the bad food, how they want things to change, education in the classroom -- or the complete lack of it -- and I was working in districts with 18% childhood obesity. Even basic stuff, like mothers livid because their kids didn't even have clean drinking water in their school.
Was there any difference between the school lunches in Season 1's Huntington, West Virginia, and the ones in the L.A. schools?
JO: Bloody hell, that's a good question. I think Huntington's were better, because salad bars were way more common, and they still were doing some cooking on site, whereas it's pretty much commonplace to just be re-heating or re-generating food from a central kitchen in L.A. I hadn't really thought about it in that particular way, but that's pretty much the truth.
Why do you think your ideas are met with such hostility?
JO: Because people who have jobs fulfilling food for large proportions of people don't want someone coming in with a TV show poking around asking questions that they're perfectly entitled to ask. Organizations don't like change. People who work in school foods don't necessarily like the idea of completely changing where they buy things, how they buy things, and ultimately if you go from boxes of pre-packaged, low-quality junk food that just gets re-heated to fresh food, then you need to start running a real business, which means inspiring your staff and empowering people and training them how to cook. Judging by the reaction I get, I'm like Satan turning up.
Where would you like to go next?
JO: No idea. I'm kind of waiting to see what happens. To be honest I'm kind of expecting a lot from the parents of L.A. I know they're all busy, but hopefully when they see the show they'll be pretty pissed off. The show's a really emotional show, fairly highly charged, there are a lot of stunts in it so you kind of get to see where your food comes from, and some of the things that are involved in school food. And you really get to see what young Americans are feeling and what they want. So I'm just going to see where the public takes it and if it hits news stories and something happens, then I'll decide what happens next. And also with ABC, I don't even know if they're going to re-commission it again, so we'll see.
What was your reaction to U.S. Foodservice de-funding your program in Huntington?
JO: They only funded a very small part -- they funded free food in Huntington's Kitchen. And to be honest, what happens is people like that, when there's a crew around they'll come around and say "Oh yeah! We'll do that!" and then a year later they'll pull back. But thankfully the local hospital that was already paying for the Kitchen is covering the food, so luckily everything that was set up in Huntington is still in place to this day. They're still cooking from scratch, and they've rolled it out across the whole district. A few weeks ago two mums raised a bunch of cash and got the same team that I put in place to run their district. So what's really nice is the noise of the Food Revolution. There have always been parents who are not happy, but now that the show's gone out on TV, parents aren't so shy, and it kind of empowered them to kick a lot of ass.
Recently there's been a huge trend of competitive junk food eating shows like Man vs. Food, Outrageous Food, etc. Do you think that could be a reaction to the recent push to eat healthier by people like yourself?
JO: To be honest, TV's a little bit like junk food. If you make some stupid competition shows it tends to provoke fairly good ratings. So no, I think you'll just find it's a sign of the times. I think those shows are fun, I think it's great that there's that kind of thing on TV, I also think there's way too many of them. Not because I have a chip on my shoulder, but because I think that whatever genre you're looking at, whether it's drama, whether it's comedy, whether it's food, you want it to be dynamic in the things that it offers. You don't want it to be one-sided. You don't watch MTV and it's just jazz, you want a little bit of everything. Again, it's like junk food. Everything goes in patterns. TV is a very shallow, aggressive machine that will latch onto anything that's getting people at any one time. And actually, making simple TV shows is the hardest thing to do.
Can you cop to any guilty junk food pleasures?
JO: You know what -- I love an In 'N Out burger. I've got to say, and when I go, I ask for the special, off-the-record one, what is it? Dirty Animal? [Editor's Note: I believe he's referring to "Animal Style." Though "Dirty Animal" is a lot funnier.] The Food Revolution isn't just about calories, although fast food in general does need to up its game in a big way. The problems that we've got in the moment is there is a lot of low-quality gear out there, especially when you're in ground meat products, anything can happen. And when you get people like In 'N Out Burger, they're actually doing a damn good job and they're pushing the boundaries a bit.
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