"This is going to kill your children early," the British chef Jamie Oliver tells a woman on national TV. They gaze at the unhealthy food on the table before them—the huge mound of pizza, doughnuts, and corn dogs the woman's family consumes in a week. "Yes," she says, crying. "I'm killing them." Oliver rubs her shoulder and says, "But we can stop that."
This belief, that we have the ability to transform the way we eat, is what makes Oliver so compelling. He's certainly not the first to note that diet-related disease is the biggest killer in the United States, nor the first to point out that food labeling in this country is a disgrace. What makes Oliver different is his willingness to do whatever it takes to change what's on our plates—even if it means dressing up as a pea pod for the edification of first graders, as he did on an episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.
That show aimed to change the way America's then-fattest city was feeding its kids, but the city in question, Huntington, West Virginia, was initially unimpressed. "Who made you king?" asked a local radio host. "We don't want to sit around and eat lettuce all day." A run-in with the school lunch ladies was so hostile that Oliver cried on camera.
Anybody else would have given up. Oliver persevered. By the time he left town, the radio host had bought a Crock-Pot (the better to simmer a healthy stew with), and the lunch ladies were telling parents that Oliver's fresh food "is much better for the kids" than the processed pizza they used to serve.
Oliver is a food missionary with one simple belief: Change what you eat, and you change the world. In other words, give peas a chance. — Ruth Reichl