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Focus group panelists weigh in

Jamie Oliver
Mar. 23, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

"Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" premiered Sunday night on ABC to mixed reactions. The Herald-Dispatch has asked some local residents to watch the show each week and share their thoughts.

Two of our panelists who responded Monday were Amy Gannon, a registered dietitian who lives and practices in Charleston, and Tyson Compton, who has served as president of the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau since February 2009.

Gannon received an undergraduate degree in human nutrition and foods from West Virginia University and completed a master's degree and dietetic internship at Marshall University. She is currently serving as president of the W.Va. Dietetic Association and is an adjunct professor for the Marshall University School of Medicine and owns a private consultative nutrition practice in Charleston.

Compton, a native of Louisa, Ky., came to Huntington from the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland, where he was marketing director for 14 years.

Here are their thoughts about "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution":

QUESTION: What do you expect to see in this series?

AMY GANNON: "I expect to see a reality show with heart. Basically, Jamie Oliver has picked up on the obesity epidemic. I'm sure that he has good intentions for Huntington, but I know this is a reality show. He will show people that are resistant to change. I believe the idea is for Jamie to ride in on his white horse and save us all from ourselves -- again, it is a reality show. I hope for two things: No. 1, he doesn't portray us with stereotypical Appalachian negativity, and No. 2, the community learns something from this and does actually become healthier."

TYSON COMPTON: "When I first heard about this project, I was pretty skeptical of it overall. I didn't relish dredging up that whole unhealthiest city business yet again. But through the process, I came to be supportive of it. If nothing else, Huntington was going to be in the national forefront when the show aired. Why not make the most and the best of it? However, I lived and worked in L.A. for 10 years and I know the entertainment industry. I also know that 'reality' TV does not necessarily reflect real life. So I knew there would be some tough moments in the show, most of which I expected to be seen up front. After all, it will be necessary to show the worst of the situation and our people in order for Jamie to realize his goal and share with our community a better way to eat, cook, and shop for food. I do believe we'll see some heartwarming moments. And I do believe that this show can illustrate to other communities across the country what can be done when you get the community behind you and you get behind the community. ..."

QUESTION: After seeing the first episode, what are you expecting from the rest of series?

GANNON: "I expect more of what he showed tonight. Resistance regarding poor food choices and processed foods in schools. I expect that children will come around and start enjoying whole foods and realize that processed foods taste horrible compared to fresh. I expect that he will meet with more community people and the series will show the transition from bad eating and physical activity habits to good habits."

COMPTON: "I'm expecting to see a bit more of the confrontational aspects -- Jamie's views clashing with others in the community. I do believe he sets that up intentionally. Again, this is TV, and they need conflict, drama, etc. But I also expect to see various community members coming on board more with Jamie and his plans. I expect that we'll see some real tearjerker moments, and probably many of them quite real, especially with the students that will be represented."

QUESTION: How do you think Huntington/the school system was portrayed?

GANNON: "He really didn't portray the school system, just the food. In my opinion, last night's show was a poor reflection on the school food system. It seemed as if people didn't care that the children were eating so much processed food -- and lots and lots of starch, fat and sugar. I don't think that's the real issue though. It's not that the cooks, principal, food service director, etc., don't care. It's just that they have to work within the boundaries that they're given and follow USDA regulations. Clearly, there are issues on many levels.

COMPTON: "Overall, Huntington and the school system were portrayed as entities that needed help. This was difficult to watch. I know many of these people and I know how hard they work and how much they care about the community. Our issues are no different than issues faced by schools and communities across the country. I do feel that the school was especially set up a bit to look negative."

QUESTION: Was your initial response to the episode positive or negative? Why?

GANNON: "My initial response was positive. As a health care professional (registered dietitian), I am keenly aware of the childhood obesity epidemic. This is a battle that dietitians have been fighting for many years. I'm glad that Jamie Oliver is shedding light on this horrible situation. The only negative thing I can say is that I wish he would involve dietitians in creating nutritional change."

COMPTON: "I will have to say that my initial response was mixed, partially negative and partially positive. Any attack, no matter how well intentioned, on my community is difficult to accept. But overall, I'm moving toward positive. I think the impact of this show can be very, very positive for our community and we can be the leader of change in communities across the country. I especially salute those who went into this programming not knowing how it would culminate."

QUESTION: Does Oliver make it clear why he came here?

GANNON: "Absolutely. He wants to change the food environment in the unhealthiest city in America. His motivation for this? Obviously, he's getting a reality show out of it. Otherwise, I'm still not sure about the motivation."

COMPTON: "I think Jamie does make it clear why he is here. I have to admit that his tearful scene on camera was a bit too Hollywood for me. I can't say if it was real or not -- only he knows that. But otherwise he does a good job of explaining why he is here and why this type of education is important for him."

More information

WHEN TO WATCH: The premiere of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" airs again at 8 p.m. Friday, March 26, on ABC. It will be followed by the second episode at 9 p.m. Fridays will be the regular time slot for the show, which is expected to be six episodes.

READ MORE ON SATURDAYS: If you miss an episode, check out our weekly recap in Saturday's edition of The Herald-Dispatch.

THE BLOG: The Herald-Dispatch has asked some local residents to watch the show each week and share their thoughts on the show. You can keep up with our panelists' reactions on the "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" blog. To read the blog, go to www.herald-dispatch.com, click the Opinion tab, then click Blogs.

MULTIMEDIA: Browse through photos from Oliver's time in Huntington or watch a promo video for the show and video of Marshall students participating in the production of the show by going to www.herald-dispatch.com. Once you are there, click on the Multimedia section at the top of the page.

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