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For his new show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, the celeb chef traveled to the fattest city in the U.S.—Huntington, West Virginia—in hopes of bringing healthy change to its schools, supermarkets and households. But that’s just the start of his campaign to revamp our food culture. Here, he talks about his plans, addresses skeptics and offers advice for parents whose kids want nothing more than chicken nuggets.
iVillage: In the first episode, you faced skepticism from cafeteria chefs and hostility from a local DJ in Huntington. Overall, how much did the locals resist what you were trying to do?
Jamie Oliver: Certain people were definitely riling everyone else up. No one likes change, whether it’s an English guy or an American guy telling them to make it. I’ve been doing this stuff for seven years and I’m used to not being particularly liked. But we worked it out.
iVillage: What change are you most proud of being able to make during the four and a half months you were there?
JO: I’m proud of the show in general. It’s not what the Americans would typically call a "reality show." It wasn’t about filming stunts—we were filming real things. You’ll see me setting up the American foundation for my campaign: fundraising to get the schools serving fresh food, opening the community kitchen. Trying to make tangible change in a town is hard. I haven’t seen the ending of the show yet, but there’s not exactly a happy ending. That’s for the American public to write themselves.
iVillage: If it was so hard for you to change the school lunch system there, how can parents realistically do anything about the food served in their children’s schools?
JO: There are actually some amazing schools in America that have wonderful food cultures. And there’s generally one person who pioneers that program. This show should make it easier for regular people to get involved. Especially for parents, it will make it really clear what you’re pissed off about and what you’re going to do about it.
iVillage: What advice do you have for parents who want to change their kids’ eating habits? How can parents possibly compete with chicken nuggets?
JO: As a parent, sometimes you have to say, "bloody well no!" You don’t just have to give kids what they want, and you don’t have to give them the same thing every day. Good food culture, for me, is when you know how to cook just a handful of dishes. I always say "10 recipes to save your life."
iVillage: What do you always have in your home kitchen to make healthy, quick cooking easier?
JO: In the Ministry of Food cookbook there’s a list of all the pantry items you should have—olive oils, vinegars, mustards, non-perishable stuff that’s just waiting for you to come home with a bit of meat or fish.
iVillage: Do you have any junk food weaknesses?
JO: Look, I love a burger, I love a pizza. I’m human. But you want to avoid crappy burgers and crappy pizzas. I did this thing recently with this guy: I said, ‘What would you normally eat tonight?’ He said, ‘A pizza.’ So he ordered a pizza, and paid about $17 for it, and it came 40 minutes later. In that time, I made him a fresh pizza and salad for $4. I’m not saying, ‘No burgers, no pizzas.’ I’m saying if you make your own food, it can be quick and save you some money—and you know what the bloody hell’s in it!
iVillage: And the fact that your homemade pizza cost less than takeout goes against any notion that it is an elitist approach to food.
JO: Absolutely, this isn’t an elitist campaign. Health is at an all-time low—to have a generation of kids who have a shorter life expectancy than their parents is unnecessary at a time when you can put people on the moon. I know it’s only six one-hour shows, but hopefully they will change the way people think about the food industry. And hopefully the food industry will think, "Well, maybe the public wants a bit more now."