Call it "The Biggest Loser" meets The Food Network. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, the British voice of eating healthy, is the star of a new reality show that will try to get the denizens of Huntington, West Virginia, dubbed "America's Fattest City" to slim down by learning how to eat healthier.
Good luck with that. The rate of obesity in this town is nearly double the national standard, which, given that about 34% percent of Americans are obese, is really saying a mouthful. The fat American is a stereotype held worldwide, and for good reason.
But, fatty jokes aside, the idea behind the show holds a great deal of weight:
Oliver has made his mark in a crowded celebrity food orbit by pushing the idea the simple home cooking is for everyone. If people learn how to make a few easy meals, from whole ingredients, he says, they can move away from their dependency on fast foods and processed stuff in a box. They'll save money and lose weight, and spend more time with their families, which means they'll feel better, which means they won't have to spend so much at the doctor's office, and so on. In other words, a simple change in eating habits could potentially spiral into costs savings for everyone.
Oliver, who dropped out of school at 16 to train at a caterer's program, became a food star at 23 with his "Naked Chef" TV series in the U.K. The "naked" referred to his preference for taking the mystery and challenge out of the kitchen. Anyone can cook, he insists; contrary to what certain food magazines may have you believe, it doesn't take expensive equipment or years in culinary school. The rewards, meanwhile, from smaller waistlines and improved energy, are many.
Of course, people don't necessarily run to embrace his message. A similar TV series that ran last year, set in the hardscrabble Northern England town of Rotherham, had limited success, as working-class folks didn't take that kindly to being made to feel inferior about their food choices by some rich Londoner. Oliver's project of rrevamping the British School system's lunch menu, while ground-breaking, has still run up against contrarian teenagers and defensive bureaucrats.
But Americans, it's been proven, will do almost anything as long as it's televised and promises them their rightful shot at fame and fortune. And if that's what it takes to get them to agree to learn how to cook their own food instead of heating up another Hot Pockets, then the as yet-unamed reality series, which will broadcast next year on ABC, will have paid off for everyone.
Can't you just smell the potential? Stay tuned.
Can a Brit teach "America's Fattest City" how to cook healthier fare?