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Viewers panel: Revolution series is over, but work isn't

Apr. 25, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Friday night marked the end of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" on television, but some Tri-State residents hope it is just the beginning for the region.

"I feel like the show shed light on the importance of cooking meals at home and knowing what your children are eating for lunch every day," said Amy Gannon, registered dietitian from Charleston, said.

Gannon was one of four members of a panel formed by The Herald-Dispatch to watch the show and share their opinions on it each week of the six-episode series in the paper and online in a blog at www.herald-dispatch.com. The other members are Tyson Compton, president of the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau; Mary Cook, cafeteria manager at Village of Barboursville Elementary; and Forrest McGuire, a senior and student body president at Huntington High School.

Each saw positive messages in the final episode and throughout the series, which drew 3.9 million viewers Friday with a 1.3 rating in the 18-49 demographic, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The unscripted ABC show focused on the British chef Oliver's efforts last year to improve eating habits in the Huntington area, particularly in the schools.

When asked about their general thoughts on the finale, here is what each had to say:

GANNON: It's obvious that there is still work to be done to make the city of Huntington and school meals healthier. I am happy that Jamie Oliver has worked so hard to help create change for the children in Cabell County schools. ... However, schools are only one part of the obesity epidemic. I hope viewers realize that in order for Jamie's changes to be effective, changes will need to be made at home, too.

COMPTON: I will admit that watching the final episode was more emotional for me than I expected. For one thing, I didn't want the show to be over. I've looked forward to each episode, and to seeing how Huntington would be portrayed and what new developments would be revealed. ... I agree with Jamie's sign-off - this is not the end, it's just the beginning.

McGUIRE: This last episode especially emphasized the importance of his love for the kids and what he wants to accomplish out of getting the people of Huntington into this food revolution and how it needs to succeed.

COOK: This show was what I was waiting for! He has dogged the school system (Cabell) and school meals everywhere, but until tonight hasn't mentioned the fact that most bag lunches don't compare to the nutrition we have been feeding our students for several years.

Do you think the show accomplished anything?

GANNON: I feel like the show shed light on the importance of cooking meals at home and knowing what your children are eating for lunch every day.

COMPTON: I continue to hear from individuals across the country who are expressing their support of Jamie, Huntington and the Revolution. Most of these folks are already making changes to their diet by reforming their shopping, cooking and eating habits. I think that Jamie's Food Revolution will be mentioned for years to come as being the catalyst for this great and positive change.

McGUIRE: I personally can say that I've seen change in Huntington High School. ... We have fresh food every day and most of it, if not all of it, is made from scratch, it has really made an impact on the schools and also our community of Huntington.

COOK: I think that the show made us all aware of the problem and maybe we will make better choices in what is served in our schools, brought in a bag or lunch box, and purchased for our families.

Now that the show is over and the media coverage fades, will the community sustain the changes?

GANNON: Rhonda (McCoy) and the Cabell County school system are really in a tough place. I'm sure they would like to continue serving fresher foods, but government regulations, lack of funding and dissatisfaction among students will make it hard to keep all of the changes.

COMPTON: I emphatically answer yes. I realize there are still a lot of issues to be addressed and still a lot of red tape to be cut up and trashed. And obviously for the schools money will be a big issue. It is not cut and dry by any means. But after seeing what has happened so far, seeing what is possible, and knowing that so many people truly do care about improving the diets, and subsequently the lives, of our children, I know we can do it. I have made a personal commitment myself to make a change in my own diet and food selection.

McGUIRE: It will, even though Jamie has gone he has planted a seed that will grow into a garden of success and by getting people to back him up here in Huntington he can go back to his home knowing that people here do care and are right beside him in this food revolution. It might need to be checked up on every once and a while by someone like Jamie to see that the schools and community are still on track.

COOK: I think that the show was very hard on the USDA and didn't mention the fresh fruit and vegetables that come through them. Some of the foods do need to be changed out but by allowing us to purchase foods at lower costs we are able to bring in more fresh items to offer students.

What wasn't addressed in the entire show that you feel should have been talked about?

GANNON: While it is obvious that most school meals are overly processed, it is important to recognize that West Virginia's nutrition standards are among the most progressive in the nation. Our state mandates that all schools in West Virginia must serve breakfast every day. All but two counties have removed sales of soda from schools during the school day. West Virginia schools require the use of more fresh fruit and vegetables and more whole grains than most other schools in the country.

McGUIRE: Nothing really, it all seemed to be well addressed and the message behind the actions were shed in a very positive light.

COOK: I would have liked for them to address the cost of the food. I know that the food bills at my school have jumped and I am not serving as much variety as I was before we started the chef's menu.

Are you disappointed that the show didn't feature Ritter Park or any of the 5K events we regularly do?

GANNON: Of course this is disappointing. There is a lot of hard work being done in Huntington to combat obesity. The School of Medicine launched an obesity prevention program several years ago with school-aged children. The Department of Dietetics at Marshall has a nutrition education grant that is used to teach kids at schools across Cabell County about the importance of healthy foods and physical activity. And, on a recent Sunday afternoon visit to Ritter Park, I saw hundreds of people jogging, walking, biking and playing for hours on end. I think it would have been beneficial to see what is already happening and connect Jamie's work with some of these programs.

COMPTON: Initially I was very disappointed that the show wasn't addressing the many positive programs that were already in place here. We have an incredible park system, state of the art health facilities with the YMCA and Marshall University's Rec Center and even the Huntington Museum of Art has a wonderful walking trail. ... I still think that it would have been nice to feature some of those in the show.

I support Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution! And I ask that you please do so as well.

McGUIRE: It would have been nice to show that in the community we have events such as the 5K run that promote healthy lifestyles but all in all it didn't negatively impact Huntington. It still showed that we were changing and that people were actually losing weight in the couple months that Jamie had been gone.

More online

"Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" ended its six-episode run on Friday. Here is how you can reflect on the show at www.herald-dispatch.com.

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 those comments 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 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.