Opinion: "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" Shows That Kids Don't Read

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What chance does Jamie Oliver have when kids can't tell an eggplant from a pear? Credit: ABC

You don't need to work very hard to decipher the message behind Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.

The new ABC reality series, which documents the amiable British chef's campaign to reform school lunch programs, doesn't shy away from blatant, unequivocal statements about how American schoolchildren have horrible eating habits.

But there's also a subtler (perhaps unintended) moral that viewers can draw from the show: The reading habits of these kids are just as bad.

On the show's second episode, which aired this past Friday, Oliver presented a classroom full of kindergartners with a visual pop quiz on produce. He held up one vegetable after another and asked the children what it was. The kids couldn't identify any of them (as far as the program's editing showed us, at least).

Many of the veggies received nothing but blank stares, and the ones that did inspire the children to take guesses only garnered wrong answers (beets were thought to be celery, an eggplant mistaken for a pear). Very common food items, like tomatoes, potatoes and cauliflower stumped the kids.

The scene is rather unsettling, really, and makes the obvious point that these children have had little or no exposure to fresh produce. But that's not all it tells us.

Think back to your own childhood. Chances are, you were able to identify a carrot before you had actually eaten a full-sized, fresh carrot. And you were most likely able to do so because you had seen carrots in books. Fruits and vegetables make such frequent appearances in picture books that a preschooler being read to regularly should have difficulty avoiding them.

So many alphabet books illustrate their letters with food images: B is for broccoli, G is for green bean, M is for mushroom. And then there are the storybooks: Stone Soup, Strega Nona's Harvest, The Gigantic Turnip, anything by Beatrix Potter. These titles make up just an itty-bitty sampling of the myriad children's tales rife with images of produce -- all of which are now apparently ignored. Heaven knows these kids must never have touched a Richard Scarry book.

And once you concede that children are obviously not learning about fruits and vegetables from books, you wouldn't be going too far in postulating that these kids are also not watching educational TV.

Sesame Street
certainly does its fair share in introducing viewers to images of fresh produce (has anyone seen John Leguizamo's "Captain Vegetable" sketch?). Every episode of Wonder Pets ends with a shared stick of celery. Fruits and veggies join the "Party in My Tummy" on Yo Gabba Gabba. So, why can't these children recognize a tomato when they see one?

Yes, the "test" scene from Food Revolution was definitely unsettling. But we need to realize that it carried within it dire warnings about far more than just nutrition.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.