Episode five of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution struck me as the only misfire in a series that’s been consistently outstanding. If you’re already hooked, as I am, it’ll push along the narrative in a satisfying way. But this week’s show nevertheless falls flat in comparison to the other episodes. Perhaps it’s because, up until now, Oliver’s main foils have been memorable and—even when hatable—consistently interesting. We’ve had lunchlady Alice, who could easily be cast to play Nurse Ratched; we’ve had DJ Rod, who spent most of this series sabotaging Oliver’s efforts at every turn; we’ve had Stacie and her family, none of whom apparently ever ate a piece of fruit; and we’ve had the incredibly cool team of high school students that Oliver took under his wing and taught to cook.
This time around, though, we get hospital administrator Doug Sheils, whose defining characteristic is a total lack of charisma—a man who is the embodiment of a stereotypical boring middle aged white guy. Sheils is a black hole that sucks up all energy and life from every scene he’s in, and he therefore offers nothing for Oliver to play off against. Unfortunately for this show, Oliver needs to shake Sheils down for about $150,000 to fund his lunch program’s expansion to all the schools in Huntington’s district.
In addition to courting Sheils, Oliver pushes forward with his work at the high school and the elementary school. At the high school, he arranges to have his scratch-cooked meal face off against the cafeteria’s two mainstays (burgers and pizza.) Perhaps because by now Oliver has endeared himself to the town, and perhaps because high school students everywhere know that default cafeteria food is vile, virtually everyone in the school lines up for Oliver’s meal. Afterwards, Oliver exults: “It was a massive success and a massive confirmation that if you give teenagers a bloody ounce of credit and a bit of respect, they’ll give you a look and they’ll give you a go.”
The challenges are greater back at the elementary school, where seemingly every time Oliver turns his back they restock the cafeteria with chocolate and strawberry milk. But finally, it appears Oliver gets the stuff banned for good. While Oliver was visibly frustrated throughout this challenge, this segment did a wonderful job of showing how entrenched the most unhealthful foods are in school lunch programs across America—and how much persistence it takes to root these foods out.
Next up, Oliver pays a quick visit to US Foods—the company through which Huntington’s schools purchase their food. It’s another lackluster segment, but during these few minutes Oliver discovers that the company already has the capacity to distribute plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables; so making the switch is all just a question of money.
This brings us back to Doug Sheils, and a meeting with Oliver that ends this episode. Sheils and Oliver visit the elementary school, and Oliver is flat out terrified that Alice will say something that will vaporize his program’s chance for getting funded. But miraculously the opposite occurs: Alice glowingly praises Oliver’s work and the program he’s initiated. At the show’s end Sheils promises Oliver the money needed to expand his program district-wide.
With only one episode remaining in this season, most of the heavy lifting has already been accomplished. We’ve seen Oliver use a number of tactics, and his hard work and refusal to quit are paying off. It’s now clear that he’ll move out of town having largely transformed how Huntington feeds its children. And I expect the season finale to reveal exactly how much progress has been made.
ABC has created this page offering archives of each episode for free online viewing.