Aw shucks. Jamie Oliver's much awaited Food Revolution LA-style sure got off to a rough start. Especially for a guy armed with a simple question: Why can't we do better when it comes to school lunches for our kids?
Before the show even gets underway, Jamie lets us in on a big problem -- the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has refused to give him access to schools. He's been denied.
"They will not let me into any school," says Oliver. "That means war."
So starts the famous chef's familiar drumbeat. He takes to the airways on co-producer Ryan Seacrest's radio program and eventually welcomes a crowd of parents and kids to Jamie's LA Kitchen where they unload gobs of unappetizing, highly processed, plastic wrapped meals culled from their own schools.
"It's worse than anything I had seen before. This is not reality TV. It's a campaign. Will you help me?" he says.
The gross-out factor gets underway quickly when Jamie gives the kiddos a lesson on beef. First, he brings in the fluffy stunt cow and spray paints the retail value of each cut of beef to explain where the tasty meat comes from, but then Oliver introduces us to "pink slime." Made from trimmings that frequently go to rendering plants to be made into pet food, here, Oliver takes them and tosses the fatty scraps into a washing machine which acts as a centrifuge, spinning out the last bits of meat. He then washes it in a mixture of ammonia and water, and explains that this product -- which is really a meat thinner, and thanks to the USDA, doesn't need to be listed on the packaging -- is in 70 percent of the ground beef products on the market. (Hurl!)
Next up is a trip to the school board meeting, where Jamie hopes to use the three-minute public comment period to convince a stodgy looking seven-member school committee to let him do his magic in one school. Though he's told the director of food services (who just happens to be sitting in the back of the room) is willing to speak with him, he gets shut down again, and is left standing outside the meeting room talking with the school district's communication flak and to a crazy guy who's talking about some bizarre "7th seal". (At least the nutty dude seems to get the message that this is about advocating for healthy food.)
Jamie then turns his attention to Patra's Burgers, a family-owned fast food joint owned by Dino Parris (the big-named fast food chains wouldn't let Oliver anywhere near them). Things don't go well here either. Dino won't take anything off the menu, balks at the cost of grass-fed beef patties (factory-made burgers are cheap), and argues with Jamie over what constitutes a real milkshake.
"I'm exhausted," says Oliver. "Mentally I feel thrashed."
Except he's headed for more when he shows up at the California School Nutrition Association meeting and starts disputing what's being said in a session on "Keeping Flavored Milk From Dropping Out of School". Oliver's point? That schools shouldn't systematically give kids sweetened milk during the midst of an obesity crisis.
And to emphasize the message, he brings out a school bus, in front of a tiny crowd, and fills it with one week's worth of LAUSD added sugar -- 57 tons of it -- filling the bus and creating little sugar mountains along side it. But with so few on-lookers for the stunt, the chef ends the episode discouraged.
"We're treading water. We're getting locked down left, right and center. Huntington felt human. This is cold-shoulder stuff," he says. "At this point, I don't know how I'm going to go on. I'm going to go home, give my girls and my boy a cuddle and think about tomorrow."
Come here, Jamie...we've got a hug for you too, dude.