It seems like school lunches have always been lambasted in America for being unhealthy. (Remember the infamous "catsup counts as a vegetable" controversy during the Reagan administration?) But as childhood obesity rates have risen steadily in recent the years, concern about the health impact of serving kids pizza and french fries for lunch every day has become more and more acute.
The same exact problem plagues Britain. So a few years ago, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver did a TV show there where he went to one particular elementary school to try to show the school administrators and the kids' parents that they could eat more healthfully for the same amount of money. I watched that show and found it captivating: sometimes hilarious, but also quixotic and at times a little sad. I remember one 10 year old boy who didn't even know what broccoli was when it was shown to him. When he was offered a bite, he recoiled like it was a rod of plutonium. Then they went to his house and found that his heavy-set mother served him take-out fast food literally every night for dinner his whole life (mostly fish n' chips), claiming that she couldn't afford to do anything else.
Well, Jamie Oliver has now replicated this approach in a West Virginia town for a new TV show here in the United States that premiered on Sunday on ABC. I've embedded a 2 minute clip from the show below. In it, Jamie works with the middle-aged lunch ladies in the school cafeteria as they ambivalently prepare "mashed potatoes" by rehydrating a pre-packaged product called "potato pearls." ("Is it really potatoes," he asks? "I hope so," one cafeteria lady responds casually, then adding "they're a cook's best friend.") The only urgency or care they demonstrate while doing this prep work is that Jamie Oliver pour the watery goo in the serving tray more quickly, before it hardens like concrete in the mixing bowl.