LIANE HANSEN, host:
This past week, British voters returned Tony Blair for a third term as prime minister but with a significantly reduced majority in Parliament. From the left, Blair suffered for his support of the war in Iraq, from the right, he faced clawing criticism for a ban on fox hunting, and from the gut, Blair had to watch as Britain's hottest celebrity chef expounded on television about English school lunches. Essayist Diane Roberts recently visited England and returned home with this food for thought.
Jamie Oliver calls himself The Naked Chef. Not that he slaves over a hot cherry truffle in his birthday suit, he's just uninhibited in the kitchen. On TV, in books, in newspapers, in his London restaurant, he makes beautiful meals, hurling together ingredients the way Jackson Pollock hurled paint. He calls it pucka-tucka, which roughly translated means `high-grade chow.'
But when Jamie Oliver invaded the school lunch rooms of the London borough of Greenwich, pucka the tucka was not. Fat, sugar, sugar, fat, processed meat in the shape of dinosaurs, processed fish in the shape of sailboats, a potatolike substance molded to resemble a 747--foods that looked like everything but food.
The writer William S. Borrow said `revelation comes in that frozen moment when you suddenly see what's on the end of your fork.' In English schools, what's on the end of your fork is a turkey twizzler, honest, or maybe a wad of chips, you know, freedom fries, dripping with oil and ketchup. That's a naked lunch The Naked Chef wasn't prepared to swallow.
So Jamie Oliver exhorted the school lunch room ladies to cast off their microwaves. Some did. In Greenwich, the school kitchens produced chicken with a honey and balsamic vinegar reduction, roasted young zucchini, cherry tomato and chickory salad. The kids hollered `Gross!' They wanted their pizza back; they wanted their tuckey twizzlers.
Some of the parents told little Annabelle to shut up and eat her pumpkin risotto. Other parents convinced that little Derrick(ph) was going to starve, slipped Big Macs through the school's gates. Jamie Oliver stuck to his tricolle(ph) tart with plum sauce, converting the lunch room ladies to the gospel of good grub and taking a few young'uns home with him to try out new dishes on them.
His TV ratings went stratospheric. Newspapers published embarrassing stats, such as the fact that schools in England are required to spend only 37 pence, less than 70 cents, per pupil on food. The prime minister caved in, promising to spend at least 50 pence per kid and hinted that Jamie's up for a knighthood.
HANSEN: Essayist Diane Robertson is a frequent contributor to our program. She does not expect to receive a knighthood.
The time is 22 minutes before the hour.
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