This week's episode of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" brought new meaning to the battle over freedom of choice. It begins with the Naked Chef's discussion of why he chose to stop cooking in the nude ("'cause it will end in tears") and ends with a once-confrontational food service worker choosing to believe that Oliver's efforts in her school are well-intentioned.
In the intervening minutes, we see Oliver attempt to persuade the Huntington, West Virginia health-care bigwigs to fund his cooking classes, try to convince the local high school students to choose his "cooked-with-love" fare, and struggle to dissuade the food service director from serving sugar-laden flavored milk. By the time the show is over, there are so many choices to be made that the episode resembles a menu in a Greek diner.
Still, the decisions faced by the supporting characters in Oliver's escapade are worth dissecting, if for no other reason than they are virtually identical to the choices faced by so many others in the American school food arena every single day.
Early in the episode, Oliver approaches top administrators of three area medical facilities, asking them to fund the culinary training courses necessary for Huntington's school food service workers to learn to prepare healthy, cooked-from-scratch meals safely and affordably. "I want you to own this," Oliver pleads. Shamefully, all three administrators are so concerned that the national airing of "Food Revolution" could stunt economic growth in their hamlet that they appeared to forget that a truly healthy economy requires healthy people. In defense of their indefensible resistance, the most corpulent of Oliver's three antagonists illogically—and ironically—chooses that moment to declare, "We know there is a stigma associated with being overweight." In Oliver's words, "Dude, you're missin' the whole point."
Convinced that it is the only way he will be able to secure the funding he needs, Oliver attends a high school assembly and tells the budding scholars that he made a mistake weeks earlier when he took away their French fries. His apology is met with enthusiastic cheers as he promises to allow teens to choose for themselves what they eat for lunch.
But in doing so, Oliver ignores the fact that high school students are still kids—kids who require the wisdom, experience, and guidance of adults charged with their supervision and education. This comes as a shock to no one in the educational field who makes unpopular decisions daily—without apology.
Of course, after the requisite made-for-television suspense and spaghetti western soundtrack, the students in Huntington predictably and unanimously choose Oliver's healthy scratch-cooked school meals over the highly processed fare that they had been raised to consider food. But the happy (and, in my experience, not uncommon) result does not obviate the need to ask why responsible adults would place children directly in harm's way in the cafeteria when great care is habitually taken elsewhere on school grounds to avoid danger. Do coaches give kids the choice between playing in the gymnasium and playing in traffic? Do principals put beer kegs next to the water fountains in the school hallways? Do teachers allow teens in English class to read porn magazines in lieu of the classics?