The Food Revolution Continues
March marked the fifth anniversary of the premiere of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. The six-week ABC mini-series won an Emmy Award for “Best Reality Series” and catapulted Huntington, West Virginia into the national spotlight.
Not only did the lush, colorful scenes that opened each installment put an attractive face on the area, it brought permanent change. Granted, in the ongoing battle against obesity it often feels like two steps backward for every step forward, but optimistic signs exist.
A Book Begins
Until the filming of the final installment, my only connection with the series was watching it at 9 o’clock on Friday nights, along with millions nationwide.
However, near the end of the series, I read that parts of the last show would be filmed the following week at First Baptist Church of Kenova. The first episode had featured Pastor Steve Willis preaching a sermon on the damage obesity was doing to the region.
Thinking the Baptist Press news service might be interested in a story on the wrap-up of the series, I e-mailed the executive in charge, who gave me a green light.
Knowing that once the event kicked off, Willis would likely be besieged by other reporters, I called him the day before to ask if I could interview him beforehand.
As we talked, he mentioned his toughest challenge was keeping up with the flood of calls and e-mails prompted by his appearances on several national TV shows prior to the series’ debut.
Without thinking about what would follow, I asked, “Why don’t you write a book and tell people to read it?”
Ironic that is exactly what happened. Willis sought my help to write the manuscript and see if my agent could shop it to publishers. The resulting Winning the Food Fight has received renewed interest lately, hitting #35 last week in Amazon’s “Heathy Living” category.
Signs of Progress
Last year, I wrote an update on the battle against obesity for Mature Living. Huntington had just reclaimed the ignominious honor of recaptured the nation’s “most obese” title, with a rate of 39 percent.
Still, that was seven percent lower than five years before when the city first gained attention for its obesity problems. And Willis sees a great impact, tough reflected quietly.
He mentioned the ordinary mothers who now cook healthy meals. The child his wife babysits who calls broccoli her favorite food. The middle-aged folks who shifted habits to avoid adding weight year after year.
“The reality is the culture here among 20- and 30-year-olds is healthy now,” he says. “I’m not going to say the culture of those in their 40s and 50s has changed as a whole. But without question adults in their 20s and 30s are not going to allow themselves to fall in the same trap.”
Two weeks ago the Huntington Herald-Dispatch carried a story about how health experts are optimistic even though statistics haven’t changed over the past five years.
Among the many signs of progress the story cited:
- A dramatic increase in fresh foods and “scratch” cooking in school cafeterias (compared to the breakfast pizzas and flavored milk served in the past).
- Nearby Barboursville’s efforts to encourage physical activity attracting attention from the National Dairy Council and its “Fuel Up to Play 60” program, coordinated with the NFL.
- The active roster of healthy cooking classes at Huntington’s Kitchen, the storefront space downtown that served as Oliver’s cooking studio.
- An expanding local food movement, which includes the Wild Ramp. Nearing its third anniversary, this Kickstarter-funded market moved last year and has turned into a local landmark that is helping expand awareness of natural and organic foods.
Sometimes the best stories don’t attract the biggest headlines.