Posts tagged nutrition

Thoughts on “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”

By now you may have heard about the new reality show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” on ABC. In this engrossing program, my favorite celebrity chef leaves Great Britain behind to incite a food revolution in America. Starting with the town of Huntington, West Virginia—recently named the unhealthiest city in America—Oliver is determined to turn its residents (especially its children) away from the dietary dangers of processed food. Obesity and obesity-related diseases have been on the rise in our country for some time, and Oliver’s investigation into our school diets and eating habits leaves little doubt as to why. Fortunately, even after viewing his dramatic demonstrations involving chicken fat, garbage bags full of chocolate milk, and the burial of a deep fryer, I found a few glimmers of hope by the end of the second episode.

Photo: ABC

The first two episodes show Oliver facing the same problems as when he revamped Great Britain’s school lunch program: skepticism from the lunch ladies who have been trained to simply reheat frozen, processed foods filled with sodium and artificial preservatives; kids who spit out fresh pasta and vegetables in favor of chicken nuggets (and turkey twizzlers in England); and administrators wary of the extra costs healthy food requires. But by the end of the second episode, Oliver has convinced the elementary school students to give his home-cooked meals a try, and has made significant progress with the obese Edwards family, teaching them about healthy eating and cooking, and using graphic scare tactics to direct them towards a whole foods diet.

While making these small steps, Oliver openly criticizes our government for our nation’s health issues, especially where school lunches are concerned. He blames the government for allowing processed junk into our schools in the first place, and for not providing funds for meals based on fresh fruit and vegetables. Children are being fed garbage for the sake of a manageable bottom line, and it’s helping to create the first generation of kids who will not live longer than their parents. Oliver forces the Edwards family to get check-ups (something they don’t do with regularity), and signs of impending diabetes are recognized in twelve-year-old Justin. While stating that he doesn’t understand what’s going on with our healthcare system, Oliver finds it “shocking, scary, and strange” that he had to be the one to take this family to the hospital. In just two hours of TV, he made many powerful and refreshing points about our general health and lifestyle.

Photo: ABC

While Oliver hands out a lot of criticism regarding fast food and government bureaucracy, the main point of his program is change. Turning away from processed foods is the first step towards claiming a healthy lifestyle. Step two is cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables so that you actually have a connection to your food, and step three is making this lifestyle accessible to everyone. I agree with Oliver that our government can and should help with these ideas, whether by example or through direct action. Some important seeds have already been planted, as with the recent passage of healthcare reform. Hopefully more families like the Edwards’s will visit their doctors and receive dietary advice in order to avoid illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. And in contrast to other recent administrations, Michelle Obama has focused her energies on ending child obesity. Her first step was planting an organic vegetable garden on White House property just last year, and now her Let’s Move program directly tackles childhood obesity at home and in schools. These efforts, combined with the increase in farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and programs such as Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard will perhaps give Oliver less to complain about in the future.

Oliver’s show is fascinating, and I believe he truly cares about changing the eating habits of kids all around the world (even if he is trying to create compelling television at the same time). Watching him teach Justin Edwards how to cook chicken with noodles and fresh vegetables, while telling him how his self-esteem and health would change as soon as the weight started dropping off, brought tears to my eyes. The feelings it inspired relate to why I started this blog in the first place. Jamie Oliver understands that food is more about filling our stomachs. It’s a crucial key to our health and happiness. This is one revolution I can get behind.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution airs on Fridays at 9 pm on ABC. This week Jamie Oliver heads to the kitchen at Huntington High School.

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More Chard

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I may have to change the name of this blog from Artichoke Heart to Swiss Chard of My Heart (or something along those lines.) Lately I can’t get enough of this leafy green. That Swiss chard, cannellini bean, and barley soup should have kept me satisfied for at least a few weeks, but last weekend Jim and I returned for more, making a meatless lasagna layered with tomatoes, ricotta cheese, and yes, more chard.

The more I cook with Swiss chard, the more I realize how versatile it is. I first discovered it last summer when I made chard leaves stuffed with lemon rice, and since then I’ve tried to cook with it whenever possible. With its mild flavor—it’s not one of those bitter greens like escarole or broccoli rabe—and its sturdy, almost elastic texture, it holds its own in a variety of recipes. And as stated here and here by the New York Times, chard is one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat, full of calcium, potassium, and vitamins C and A.

I should confess that I had never actually made lasagna before this past weekend. But with the help of this recipe, I got the hang of things quickly. I infused the tomato sauce with onions instead of garlic—I just happen to prefer my tomato sauces this way—and Jim and I used no-boil lasagna noodles. The result was wonderful: a light, healthy pasta dish where the sweet tomato sauce and ricotta cheese were perfectly complemented by the gentle chard. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss the meat at all. I’m just trying to figure out what to make with the next batch of Swiss chard.

Recipe for Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Tomato Sauce, and Ricotta (Adapted from the New York Times’s Recipes for Health section. Tips on preparing no-boil lasagna noodles adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.)

  • 1 large batch of Swiss chard, washed thoroughly
  • salt
  • 1/2 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 5-6 leaves of basil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Put a large pot of generously salted water over high heat. While you wait for the water to boil, make your tomato sauce. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped onion to the pot and cook, stirring, until soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove the onions from the oil and discard. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil, and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Stir often, until the sauce thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes. When finished, remove the basil leaves and discard. Set the pot to the side and turn to the Swiss chard.

Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut the Swiss chard leaves away from the stems. Discard the stems or save them for another use. When the water in the large pot is boiling, add the Swiss chard. Boil for 1 minute (from the time the water comes back to a boil). You want the leaves to be tender but still bright green; do not overcook. Remove the leaves from the water with a slotted spoon and add them to the ice water; this stops them from cooking further. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop the leaves coarsely. Put the tomato sauce back over low heat, stir in the Swiss chard, and set the pot aside again.

Prepare the lasagna noodles. Fill an oblong baking dish with hot tap water. Add the noodles and soak for 10 minutes, shaking the dish often to keep the noodles from sticking together. Remove the noodles to clean dishcloths and dab excess water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce to the bottom of a rectangular baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half the ricotta over the noodles and half the tomato-chard sauce over the ricotta. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the tomato-chard sauce. Add another layer of noodles and top them with the rest of the ricotta, sauce, and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the lasagna. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. If you like, finish the lasagna under the broiler for 3 minutes, uncovered, until top is browned. Let the lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Book Review: In Defense of Food

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I was halfway through Michael Pollan’s newest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I wondered if the author agreed with my sentiment that sharing a meal with friends and family is more pleasurable than eating alone. One of Pollan’s primary concerns in his book is that Americans have become so confused about nutrition that we no longer enjoy the act of eating.

In fact Pollan does point out that it is better to eat a communal meal than to eat alone, for a few reasons: By sharing a meal with a group, we tend to eat less, and we also elevate the act of dining to more than a mechanical process. Eating becomes about family, connections, and communication, something that Europeans such as the Italians and the French seem to understand a bit better than we do. 

But I am getting ahead of the point. Pollan’s book doesn’t only strive to tell us how to eat and live better; it also seeks to examine how we have arrived at such a confusing juncture regarding how and what we eat. Pollan explains how the problems of the Western diet and nutritionism have often simply gotten it wrong, turning us into a country where diseases such as obesity and diabetes are on a staggering rise. Just look at the once-revered low-fat diet, whose cancer-preventing values have been largely disproved.

I’m not going to give a summary of the book in this post, but I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in food and food history. Although I greatly enjoyed Pollan’s previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which examines the problems regarding how our food is produced, I found In Defense of Food a more approachable, quicker read (and not just because it is a much shorter book). While some of Pollan’s ideas struck me as simple common sense, such as his recommendations to stick to “whole foods” such as fruits and vegetables, and to avoid as much processed food as possible, I still enjoyed learning about the history of nutritionism, the competing interests of the food industry, and the importance of the health of our food chain.

And I even learned a new word: orthorexia, which describes an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. By sticking with common sense and reason regarding what I eat, I am certain I can avoid it.

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