Sharing powerful stories from his anti-obesity project in Huntington, W. Va., TED Prize winner Jamie Oliver makes the case for an all-out assault on our ignorance of food. Full bio here
Jamie Oliver – Chef, Activist
Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.
My name is Jamie Oliver. I’m 34 years old. I’m from Essex in England and for the last seven years I’ve worked fairly tirelessly to save lives in my own way. I’m not a doctor; I’m a chef, I don’t have expensive equipment or medicine. I use information, education.
I profoundly believe that the power of food has a primal place in our homes that binds us to the best bits of life. We have an awful, awful reality right now. America, you’re at the top of your game. This is one of the most unhealthy countries in the world.
Can I please just see a raise of hands for how many of you have children in this room today? Please put your hands up. Aunties, uncles, you can continue to put your hands up, aunties and uncles as well. Most of you. OK.
We, the adults of the last four generations, have blessed our children with the destiny of a shorter lifespan than their own parents. Your child will live a life 10 years younger than you because of the landscape of food that we’ve built around them. Two-thirds of this room, today, in America, are statistically overweight or obese. You lot, you’re all right, but we’ll get you eventually, don’t worry.
Right? The statistics of bad health are clear, very clear. We spend our lives being paranoid about death, murder, homicide, you name it; it’s on the front page of every paper, CNN. Look at homicide at the bottom, for God’s sake. Right?
Every single one of those in the red is a diet-related disease. Any doctor, any specialist will tell you that.
Fact: Diet-related disease is the biggest killer in the United States, right now, here today. This is a global problem. It’s a catastrophe. It’s sweeping the world. England is right behind you, as usual.
I know they were close, but not that close. We need a revolution. Mexico, Australia, Germany, India, China, all have massive problems of obesity and bad health. Think about smoking. It costs way less than obesity now. Obesity costs you Americans 10% of your healthcare bills, $150 billion a year. In 10 years, it’s set to double: $300 billion a year. And let’s be honest, guys, you ain’t got that cash.
I came here to start a food revolution that I so profoundly believe in. We need it. The time is now. We’re in a tipping-point moment. I’ve been doing this for seven years. I’ve been trying in America for seven years. Now is the time when it’s ripe — ripe for the picking. I went to the eye of the storm. I went to West Virginia, the most unhealthy state in America. Or it was last year. We’ve got a new one this year, but we’ll work on that next season.
Huntington, West Virginia. Beautiful town. I wanted to put heart and soul and people, your public, around the statistics that we’ve become so used to. I want to introduce you to some of the people that I care about: your public, your children.
I want to show a picture of my friend Brittany. She is 16 years old. She’s got six years to live because of the food that she’s eaten. She’s the third generation of Americans that hasn’t grown up within a food environment where they’ve been taught to cook at home or in school, or her mom, or her mom’s mom. She has six years to live. She’s eating her liver to death.
Stacy, the Edwards family. This is a normal family, guys. Stacy does her best, but she’s third-generation as well; she was never taught to cook at home or in school. The family’s obese. Justin here, 12 years old, he’s 350 pounds. He gets bullied, for God’s sake. The daughter there, Katie, she’s four years old. She’s obese before she even gets to primary school. Marissa, she’s all right, she’s one of your lot. But you know what? Her father, who was obese, died in her arms. And then the second most important man in her life, her uncle, died of obesity, and now her step-dad is obese. You see, the thing is obesity and diet-related disease doesn’t just hurt the people that have it; it’s all of their friends, families, brothers, sisters.
Pastor Steve: an inspirational man, one of my early allies in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s at the sharp knife-edge of this problem. He has to bury the people, OK? And he’s fed up with it. He’s fed up with burying his friends, his family, his community. Come winter, three times as many people die. He’s sick of it. This is preventable disease. Waste of life. By the way, this is what they get buried in. We’re not geared up to do this. Can’t even get them out the door — and I’m being serious — can’t even get them there. Forklift.
Landscape of food
OK, I see it as a triangle, OK? This is our landscape of food. I need you to understand it. You’ve probably heard all this before, but let’s just go back over it. Over the last 30 years, what’s happened that’s ripped the heart out of this country? Let’s be frank and honest: Well, modern-day life.
Let’s start with the Main Street. Fast food has taken over the whole country; we know that. The big brands are some of the most important powers, powerful powers, in this country. Supermarkets as well. Big companies. Big companies.
Thirty years ago, most of the food was largely local and largely fresh. Now it’s largely processed and full of all sorts of additives, extra ingredients, and you know the rest of the story. Portion size is obviously a massive, massive problem. Labeling is a massive problem. The labeling in this country is a disgrace. They want to be self — they want to self-police themselves. The industry wants to self-police themselves. What, in this kind of climate? They don’t deserve it. How can you say something is low-fat when it’s full of so much sugar?
Home. The biggest problem with the home is that used to be the heart of passing on food, food culture, what made our society. That ain’t happening anymore. And you know, as we go to work and as life changes, and as life always evolves, we kind of have to look at it holistically — step back for a moment, and re-address the balance. It ain’t happening, hasn’t happened for 30 years, OK? I want to show you a situation that is very normal right now; the Edwards family.
[Video clip: Jamie Oliver: Let’s have a talk. This stuff goes through you and your family’s body every week. And I need you to know that this is going to kill your children early. How are you feeling?
Stacy: Just feeling really sad and depressed right now. But, you know, I want my kids to succeed in life and this isn’t going to get them there. But I’m killing them.]
Jamie Oliver: Yes you are. You are. But we can stop that. Normal. Let’s get on schools, something that I’m fairly much a specialist in. OK, school. What is school? Who invented it? What’s the purpose of school? School was always invented to arm us with the tools to make us creative, do wonderful things, make us earn a living, etc., etc., etc. You know, it’s been kind of in this sort of tight box for a long, long time. OK? But we haven’t really evolved it to deal with the health catastrophes of America, OK? School food is something that most kids — 31 million a day, actually — have twice a day, more than often, breakfast and lunch, 180 days of the year. So you could say that school food is quite important, really, judging the circumstances.
Before I crack into my rant, which I’m sure you’re waiting for …
I need to say one thing, and it’s so important in hopefully the magic that happens and unfolds in the next three months. The lunch ladies, the lunch cooks of America — I offer myself as their ambassador. I’m not slagging them off. They’re doing the best they can do. They’re doing their best. But they’re doing what they’re told, and what they’re being told to do is wrong.
The system is highly run by accountants; there’s not enough, or any, food-knowledgeable people in the business. There’s a problem: If you’re not a food expert, and you’ve got tight budgets and it’s getting tighter, then you can’t be creative, you can’t duck and dive and write different things around things. If you’re an accountant, and a box-ticker, the only thing you can do in these circumstances is buy cheaper shit.
Now, the reality is, the food that your kids get every day is fast food, it’s highly processed, there’s not enough fresh food in there at all. You know, the amount of additives, E numbers, ingredients you wouldn’t believe — there’s not enough veggies at all. French fries are considered a vegetable. Pizza for breakfast. They don’t even get given crockery.
Knives and forks? No, they’re too dangerous. They have scissors in the classroom, but knives and forks? No. And the way I look at it is: If you don’t have knives and forks in your school, you’re purely endorsing, from a state level, fast food, because it’s handheld. And yes, by the way, it is fast food: It’s sloppy joes, it’s burgers, it’s wieners, it’s pizzas, it’s all of that stuff.
10% of what we spend on healthcare, as I said earlier, is on obesity, and it’s going to double. We’re not teaching our kids. There’s no statutory right to teach kids about food, elementary or secondary school. OK? We don’t teach kids about food. Right? And this is a little clip from an elementary school, which is very common in England.
[Video clip – Jamie Oliver: Who knows what this is?
Jamie Oliver: Potato? So, you think these are potatoes? Do you know what that is? Do you know what that is?
Jamie Oliver: What about this? Our good old friend. Do you know what this is, honey?
Jamie Oliver: No. What do you think this is?
Jamie Oliver: Onion? No.
Immediately you get a really clear sense of: Do the kids know anything about where food comes from?
[Video clip – Jamie Oliver: Who knows what that is?
Child: Uh, pear?
Jamie Oliver: What do you think this is?
Child: I don’t know.
Jamie Oliver: If the kids don’t know what stuff is, then they will never eat it. –]
Normal. England and America, England and America. Guess what fixed that. Guess what fixed that: Two one-hour sessions. We’ve got to start teaching our kids about food in schools, period.