A little over a week ago, Jamie Oliver’s new reality show Food Revolution launched on ABC. If you haven’t heard about it, Jamie (a much loved celebrity chef from the U.K) is on a mission to “change America’s relationship with food,” starting with the children who live in the unhealthiest city in America – Huntington, West Virginia. The school board agrees to give him access to the lunch program of a local elementary school, and he is allowed to cook for the students for a period of one week. If he can get the kids to eat his healthier version of lunch, they’ll consider making some changes.
Sounds easy, right?
As passionate and excited about food as Jamie is, he is met with resistance and even anger at every turn. A popular radio host wants to run him out of town. The lunch ladies aren’t exactly helpful. And while the kids get a kick out of him, the most poignant moment in the show happens when he brings a cornucopia of fresh fruit and veggies into the classroom and the kids cannot identify any of it (and it’s nothing exotic – we’re talking potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms). They can easily identify french fries and ketchup; they just don’t know where these foods come from.
Beyond uncovering a clear disconnect between real food and processed food, and all sorts of terrifying things about school lunch programs, the show also illustrates how difficult change is. In a recent article in Psychology Today, Buddhist physician Alex Lickerman explains why this may be so:
Once we believe an idea, we develop an emotional connection to it, not to mention a commitment to it—as if to a person—and often become attached to it with a strength we often don’t realize has little to do with the merit of the belief itself. And once we’re attached to anything—whether a person, place, thing, or idea—giving it up is extremely hard.
Aha! This explains why it’s hard to change, say, healthcare, but not as hard to change the way we brush our teeth*. So the people of Huntington are not just being proud and uninviting – they are emotionally connected to way they eat and the way they live. How can change compete? There is a glimmer of hope for Jamie when, at the end of the first episode, he unloads a dump truck full of the fat that is consumed by one school in a year (“Come feel it!” he tells the parents). Change of this magnitude will surely be difficult to digest, but I am rooting for Jamie all the same.
*Some electric toothbrushes are equipped with a two-minute timer that beeps every thirty seconds, telling you it’s time to switch quadrants. I have been amazed by the fact that virtually overnight, this has become “the way” to brush teeth, according to my husband.