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Jamie Oliver: Is the Quest for Healthy Eating Futile?

British chef Jamie Oliver appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 last night to explain his latest campaign, Food Revolution, a 6 week series that will run on ABC documenting his brazen effort to get fresh -- not processed foods -- into homes, schools and communities all over America and to improve America's cooking skills. A clip showed him, in an attempt to educate kids about vegetables, in a first grade classroom, pulling out tomatoes, eggplants, cauliflower, and potatoes and asking kids to identify them. It was like the kids had been living on Mars their whole lives -- they thought tomatoes were potatoes, they thought beets were onions. When nobody could identify the eggplant, Jamie said, "I'll give you the first word. Egg..." and a boy yelled out, "Egg salad!" It was startling to watch -- don't we teach kids the difference between cows and pigs? Blue and green? How could our kids be so clueless? (I'm sure if you fried up those potatoes, though, you wouldn't be able to stump anyone. Kids know what French fries are.)

I was trying to find a clip, but instead started reading about the difficulties Jamie Oliver has been having with the campaign. On the David Letterman Show, Letterman lectured Oliver about the futility of his mission. They then discussed the first episode, where Oliver goes into a school in Huntington, WV (which has one of the highest obesity rates in America), and tried to introduce the cafeteria to fresh foods. Apparently the community, offended that Oliver was there in the first place, thought Oliver was mocking them. “I don't understand why he is here to change our system which is working good," said a Huntington cafeteria worker (who helps to warm up pizzas for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch -- nothing in the Huntington cafeteria is actually cooked.) Before he even arrived at the school, on a radio promotion, an angry listener called in to say, "We don't want to sit around and eat lettuce all day. Who made you king?”

Why is Jamie Oliver getting so much flack? He openly admits that the problem is the same in England, but maybe Americans feel like they're getting unfairly pegged for being more obese and unhealthy than other countries. Will the show flop? Will the mission -- which doesn't seem so Herculean to me -- flop? How can we get schools that don't want to change to change? Maybe we should start by making sure that kids know the difference between potatoes and tomatoes.