Photo: LA TImes
The UK loves Jamie Oliver and considers him a national treasure: his cook books are at the top of the best-seller list and he led a very public and successful battle against obesity by changing school lunches.
However the USA isn't sharing the love. Last year, he went to the fattest city in the USA to continue the fight and now he is in Los Angeles trying to work his magic. They are not putting out the welcome mat.
Oliver has a show, "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution", in which he goes to a school and tries to work with staff, teachers and students to change the school menus and the students' eating habits. Last year he went to the fattest city in the USA, in Huntington, West Virginia, and the great one was reduced to tears on a t.v. programme over the hostility he faced there.
Not one to be deterred, this year he has brought the filming of the show to a preparatory school in central Los Angeles. He openly admits he chose Los Angeles because of the good weather but also because his campaign would gain more attention in a big city.
Well, it has, but not the best kind. This week the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) which is the second largest school district in the USA, banned him from filming in the school. The LAUSD is hugely powerful: it feeds lunch and breakfast to 680,000 students a day so you can imagine its clout.
One would think that the LAUSD would welcome him, after all nearly 50% of the children in the poor parts of that city are obese or close to it. And more Americans die of heart disease (22%) than gun deaths.
But no one is interested: last week he filled a school bus up with 57 tons of sand and parked it in front of the school. It was a publicity stunt to show how much sugar LAUSD school children consumer every week in the flavoured milk served at lunch. Disappointingly for him, only 20 people showed up instead of lots of frustrated and upset parents. Oliver said: "L.A. is not on my side. They've got their fingers in their ears -- la, la, la -- they're not having it. This city doesn't care. I don't want to winge about turnout... but maybe L.A. was a big mistake."
Jamie Oliver was interviewed on a Santa Monica radio show. He said that he does not consider his show to be reality t.v because the shows always have a serious campaign entrenched in them. Oliver says that he needs the cameras because "profoundly important stuff is boring." The documentary style, with stunts, suits his personality and is more palatable to the public.
He said that this is a life's work for him and acknowledged that the politics of food are huge.
The head of the LAUSD was on the show too. He was slick and portrayed the whole episode as wanting to save the students from embarrassment (not the LAUSD). And of course he said that the menus would be too expensive for them to consider.
However, in a news-breaking update, it turns out that he has asked Oliver to submit three weeks worth of menus to the District for consideration. This is a major break-through for Oliver, who has said that he will work with parents, ethnic groups and students to create the menus that will show how the LAUSD can come within budget and still serve fresh meals.