Jamie Oliver: Press, Celebrity & A Good Cause

Celebrities and politicians highlight a cause, but we have to fix it ourselves.

On Friday’s episode of Food Revolution (on ABC), Jamie Oliver tries to guide the city of Huntington, WV to the tipping point; that “a-ha” moment where the locals figure out this is serious stuff and get down to the business of saving their lives.

What ensues is a full-court press featuring a well-orchestrated week of flash mobs, radio and TV appearances, and a very public wager.

The Wager

The main story line of this week’s episode is a bet with the show’s “villain,” Rod Willis the morning DJ from WDGG, the most popular radio show in town.  Rod has been Jamie’s nemesis since the first episode when, after an on-air interview went poorly, Jamie said, “I thought there were only codgers like him back in England.”  Jamie bets Rod a beer that he can get 1,000 people to take a cooking lesson from him over the next 5 days.

“The bet is a joke to me,” says Rod.  “He’s not going to get 1,000 people, it’s not going to happen.  I can’t get 1,000 to listen to [my] show.”

A bit daunted, Jamie says, “If Rod wins this bet, it means that Huntington doesn’t care, and if that’s the case, I might as well pack up my stuff and go now.”

Just Add Water to Begin Media Circus

So begins the juggernaut of celebrity, promotion, and a good cause: a trifecta for the media.  Jamie lines up a wide array of local TV and radio appearances, street closings, a flash mob, and political glad-handing opportunities to reach his 1,000 person goal.  The week culminates with a final round of cooking classes taught to, among others, the Governor and First Lady of West Virginia, and Jamie’s now converted nemesis, Rod the radio DJ.  His 1,000 participants goal is reached while being heavily covered by the local media and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Everyone feels good and the show gets the happy ending it was looking for.

Not 5 Days, But One Full Month

Of course, what I find a bit appalling is that this “reality” program presenting viewers a series of spontaneous events over a five-day period is almost as scripted as an episode of any drama or sitcom. As my husband (a former radio morning show producer) said while laughing, “You think you can get ‘Good Morning America,’ the Governor of West Virginia, and permits to close streets all on a moment’s notice?”  He has a point.

In fact, on the show, you can see Jamie and Rod discussing the bet at the radio station while behind them the date October 15, 2009 appears on a digital display.  Meanwhile, the “Good Morning America” piece that concludes this week’s “Food Revolution” episode and allegedly takes place five days later, is dated on abc.com as having aired on November 17, 2009, over a month later.

Why Do We Need a Celebrity to Solve an Issue?

But the bigger issue I have is this is the way problems receive attention in the United States.  People will donate to Haiti if Wyclef Jean asks them to; they’ll continue to give to Katrina victims years later, but only because Brad Pitt flashes his baby blues.  In our era of total media saturation you need a celebrity to get people’s attention.  It is often the first step in a cause’s crusade these days, but it is the regular folk, you and me, that actually get things done.  We are the ones who make lasting change.

I feel conflicted about all of this.  The celebrities are sincere; Wyclef Jean is working to help the people in his homeland; Brad Pitt is still heavily involved in the recovery of neighborhoods in his adopted home town; and Jamie Oliver clearly has a passion for saving people’s lives.  They truly do care.  Why is it we – the general population – don’t until a famous person tells us to?

My Thoughts

To Jamie’s point, the school lunch program has been slipping into the crapper for decades.  At any time, we could have paid more attention to our children, ignored a powerful lobbying group or two, and fixed school lunches ourselves.   Shouldn’t we be embarrassed that some chap from across the pond has to point out the obvious flaws with our system?

Americans could have tuned out all those fast food ads and not looked at them as an easy, daily convenience.  Heck, we could have turned off the damned TV and gone for a walk.  We ignored our expanding waistlines and instead of sighing and buying the next size up, we could have made some plans and lost some weight.

I’m glad Jamie Oliver is here and “stirring things up,” but I wish we, as Americans, had the where-with-all to take care of things ourselves.

This is the best moment we’ve had in decades to “cure” obesity.  We’ve got the public’s attention, the government’s attention and, hopefully, our neighbors’ attention.  What are we going to do about it?

What are you going to do about it?

(getting off my soap box now, comments welcome …)

Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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2 Responses to Jamie Oliver: Press, Celebrity & A Good Cause

  1. Andrea April 17, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    I read last week a small interview with Jamie Oliver here in the London Times (Saturday issue). It was quite interesting as he seems to have really been against all odds when he started the School meals campaign in the USA.

    Having been in the UK when the school meals campaign started and now seeing the outcome I only hope that although he has gotten some really tuff press in the USA that it will help to make a change.

    As a nutritionist i have also been working for the School Eductation Trust hence I know that many of the new guidleines for school meal appear hard to achieve if one considers school meals used to be a fry up. On the other hand as you say quite right when Jamie Oliver started the campaign here it was by time that someone speaks out loud that the school meals are at a very bad state.

    Interestingly Jamie Oliver often gains all the credit for it and that although the Caroline Walker Trust has long before Jamie started to campaign for healthier School meals and was massively involved in the whole campaign behind the scenes.

    I wonder if Jamies campaing in the USA will have the same impact if he will not gain backing by any of the major health charities in the States. Only time will tell I suppose

    http://www.esteemfitness.com/personal-training-london.shtml

  2. Lisa Johnson April 17, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    Andrea, very interesting comments. I hadn’t heard of the Caroline Walker Trust but it doesn’t surprise me that he wasn’t the first person to fight for better school lunches for our kids. I’ll have to go look that one up, it’d be a great blog post! Over here in the states the marketing and PR folks are definitely billing it as a single-handed crusade of his. But, to be fair, he’s never said that.

    He does have some powerful help here. The First Lady Michelle Obama has launched the Let’s Move organization and one of the goals is to improve the school lunch program. He has become the figurehead of sorts for the cause but there are a lot of people behind him ready to move in and get things done on a grass roots level. What would be great would be if he could convince some politicians to stop support Big Agra over children’s health.

    Thanks so much for the comments,

    Lisa

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