My thoughts on Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”

This is my reply to Dr. Warren Belasco’s query on the ASFS listserve as to whether this show was as bad as Hank Stuever makes it out to be. I feel like sharing with a different audience.

Well, Dr. Belasco, I watched the “preview” (the actual premiere is Friday night) online and I am sort of ambivalent as to whether it’s as bad as Stuever suggests. As a feminist, I have different problems with the show than it being “reality show pap.”

(This email is very long, and for that I apologize.)

I think the show does some really interesting — and probably problematic — things, rhetorically. The opening credits set Oliver and his family up as heroic martyrs to the cause (“He’s leaving behind his family” [cue plaintive “don’t go, Daddee” in a child’s British accented voice] “to go save America”). The stakes are set forth thusly: this generation of children will be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Won’t someone think of the children? (Always a savvy rhetorical gesture.) SPOILER ALERT: Oliver the white knight delivers the blame for all of America’s obesity and poor-nutrition problems squarely at the doorstep of women. I can haz patriarchy?

Exhibit A: Oliver takes issue with the lunch ladies (who chafe sorely at being addressed as such) serving breakfast pizza and “potato pearls.” While he’s rightfully gobsmacked at the nutritional bankruptcy of these kitchen products (I refuse to call them food), I question why he chooses to fuss at the cafeteria workers. (He also addresses them all — and they are all older than he is — as “sweetheart,” “darlin'” and “girls,” which is so, so infantilizing and demeaning.)

Exhibit B: Oliver visits the home of a flabby family and asks the mother to prepare a typical week’s fare for the family. Lots of nugget-shaped things, fried things, pizza (Oliver opens a freezer door to reveal about 30 frozen pizzas, which mom declares are on hand for “snacks.” I smell a ringer.), lots of meat, starch, and no green veg in sight. In a move taken straight from “Dr.” Gillian McKeith and the BBC’s “You Are What You Eat,” Oliver proceeds to gently shame the weeping woman, who is aghast at the heaps of crappy food she feeds her family, by saying “how many millions of women in this country are doing this?” “This” being code for “honey, you’re killing your kids!”

After helping the mom and her teenage son prepare a healthful dinner for the family, Oliver presents the mother with a weekly menu and recipes, but the viewer isn’t privy to what’s there. This particular mom is lucky in that she has a 16-year-old budding chef to help her out, but I’m concerned about the expectations set forth by this menu. What’s on there? How complex are these recipes? How realistic is this menu? What moms out there have the time to chop bunch of veggies, etc. in the interest of improving the family’s nutrition and overall health? Can we also get a shot of the family going for a walk after the meal?

In addition to the latent demonizing of women this show engages in, I fear there are class issues that will not only go unresolved but remain entirely ignored. I have concerns about the ability of working moms to shoulder the burden of thinking outside the convenience food box; I am a graduate student with a flexible schedule and a husband with a very comfortable salary and it is extremely difficult for me to plan and prepare a consistently healthy menu for my family from week to week. I can only imagine what contortions a family in less comfortable circumstances might face in order to live up to Mr. Oliver’s standards. There’s a reason why Ensure is popular in low-income communities: it provides fast, cheap calories. Eating healthfully is a luxury (not everyone knows that, at least in Texas, you can use your foodstamps at farmers’ markets and also to buy seeds to grow your own vegetables), and I really hope that Oliver addresses that issue.

Now, to the reality show pap aspect: there is definitely a scripted arc to this story. When Oliver has the lunch ladies prepare some beautiful roasted fresh chicken drumsticks (at least one of my children would be gaga over those), they grumble and complain. He is unable to convince a male supervisor that the brown rice he’s selected fulfills the daily requirement of two breads (TWO BREADS!?!?!!?), so the kitchen staff rather smugly offer the children pizza as an alternative to the chicken. Oliver practically weeps over the children as they dump their uneaten drumsticks and apples into the trash. The USDA and its bizarre nutrition standards figure as the bad guy, with the lower level bureaucrats and lunch ladies standing in as its enforcers. The stormtroopers to the USDA’s Emperor Palpatine, if you will.

The show is extremely didactic and outrageous in its rhetoric. That said, as a mother of a soon-to-be kindergarten student, I am extremely invested in the school lunch standards in America. I think that anything that gets parents (not just mothers; I really have an issue with absolving fathers of responsibility here) thinking about the crap being served our children in school cafeterias is useful. And while I agree with Stuever that we should let ADULTS keel over in a puddle of kountry gravy, we owe it to our children to teach them to make better choices. To that end, I hope that Oliver aims higher and that he gets to work his Jedi magic on the people with the power.

Thank you for reading.

An Education about cinnamon rolls

Oh my gravy, y’all, I have been so busy with freelance work and dissertation work and teaching work that I haven’t been able to get to my “fun” work: blogging about my cooking and eating adventures! (And, truth be told, I’m working on a record review as part of my freelance stuff as I write this!)

So, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make some cinnamon rolls. I can’t even remember why, other than that I just got a hankering and followed through on it. So, on a Saturday night, I mixed up the dough:

Let’s back up for a minute: Despite my love of and long practice of baking, I’ve not worked much with yeast. In fact, this was only my third time making cinnamon rolls. The first time I made them was in Home Ec in seventh grade and I made a C. That’s right: I got a C in cinnamon rolls. I can’t remember anything else about that class or what my overall grade was, but that C stands out in my memory like a bitter flare. The second time I made them was about four years ago, and I used a recipe out of the gargantuan Home Baking and it was extremely work-intensive. Fussy. And a huge recipe. I didn’t really want a metric ton of cinnamon rolls this time around, and I found those to be a bit bready.

Yeah, so, not much experience with yeast. And this recipe here calls for “rapid-rise or instant yeast.” And I had a packet of yeast, but the packet didn’t say, “rapid-rise” or “instant.” So I assumed that it wasn’t rapid-rise, so I proofed it and was too lazy to not make the appropriate adjustments in that I didn’t deduct 1/4 cup of liquid from the rest of the recipe to adjust for the 1/4 cup of water I used in the proofing. So, when I left to go see An Education with Sally, I was worried that I’d just totally ruined the rolls. (I lamented this to Sally and she informed me that if the yeast came in a packet, it was instant yeast. So, lesson learned.)

After I came home from the movie, disgruntled because I hated it, I checked on the dough. I was not impressed by how little it had risen. It should have doubled in size in two hours, but it hadn’t. So, I covered it in plastic wrap and went to bed, fairly certain that I would be making a run for storebought cinnamon rolls in the morning.

Next morning, the dough still hadn’t doubled in size. Worried, I set it out on the counter and let it come to room temperature. The recipe says it yields 18, but I only got 11 (not including ends).

When I got them out of the oven a while later, a bunch of the filling had melted down into the bottom of the pans and caramelized the bottoms of the buns: YUM.


After baking, I applied the icing, and then we ate them! The verdict? Pretty yummy! I personally like a higher filling-to-bread ratio, so I think I’ll roll the dough out thinner next time and maybe increase the amount of filling I make. I think I’ll also use a lighter touch with the icing (although if I make more rolls next time and use the same amount of icing, this problem might take care of itself). Matt was happy with them as they were, Harrison ate about 1/8 of his, and I think Laurel had some … can’t remember. I guess my boneheadedness with the yeast wasn’t too much of a tragedy.

Cinnamon Swirl Buns with Cream Cheese Glaze
Adapted from smittenkitchen.
Makes 18 buns. Allegedly.

1 cup 2% milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise or instant yeast (from 1 envelope yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch of salt

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For dough: Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, about 30 to 45 seconds. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add additional 2 1/2 cups flour. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. (I opted to let the dough hook do the work here.) Form into ball. Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray or oil. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

For filling: Mix brown sugar, cinnamon and pinch of salt in medium bowl.

Press down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon mixture evenly over butter. Starting at the longer side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. Cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide).

Spray two pie plates or square baking dishes, whatever, with nonstick spray (or oil them if you’re opposed to nonstick spray). Place rolls in baking dishes, cover with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up.

For glaze: Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Eat. Try to be graceful about it.