CITYWIDE — Revolution came to Santa Monica, but it wasn’t televised.
Representatives and acolytes of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” gathered in Santa Monica Saturday for Oliver’s first Food Revolution Day, 24 hours dedicated to breaking people out of bad eating habits and putting them back in their kitchens.
Agents of the revolution like public health nutritionist Kelly Dumke infiltrated the Virginia Avenue Park Farmers’ Market and the Santa Monica Festival armed with cooking demonstrations and a big bowl of sugar.
A family of four came up to the table, and Dumke held out a 20-ounce bottle of Coca Cola, the “usual” serving size.
“How many spoons of sugar do you think are in here?” she asked Sophie, James and Georgina Watts while their father Jonathan looked on. Then she slowly dropped 17 rounded teaspoons of sugar from a large container into a smaller glass bowl.
“I didn’t think it was that much,” Sophie said after the demonstration.
Very few people do, Dumke said, and that’s why the example is so effective at driving home the message of the “Food Revolution” — think before you eat.
Oliver sowed the seeds of his revolution in 2010 to combat what health professionals are calling America’s obesity epidemic.
According to a recent report by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of American adults and 17 percent of children are overweight or obese, a number expected to expand to 42 percent by 2030.
Obesity-related conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some kinds of cancer already dig deep into the American pocket book.
In 2008, conditions related to obesity cost $147 billion. Obese people cost third party payers, like insurance companies, $1,429 more than people of healthy weight in that year alone.
Those in the revolution believe that the problem stems from using prepackaged foods as a crutch to get through busy lifestyles and a general ignorance of cooking basics.
“No food is off limits,” Dumke said. “It’s just a reduced reliance on processed food or fast food, or anything that you don’t know what’s in it. It’s getting back into fresh ingredients and learning how to cook them yourself.”
That could be as little as one meal a day, Dumke said, and the meals can be simple, fast and cheap. To drive that point home, food revolutionary and private chef Marina Ivlev whipped up quick wraps of freshly boiled small beets and goat cheese with a light vinaigrette dressing and a simple radish salad as Dumke proselytized to the masses.
If the words “private chef” seem to undermine the “anyone can do it” message, Ivlev’s recipes were simple, and her kitchen know-how only recently acquired.
When she lived at home with her parents, her mother tried to encourage Ivlev to cook with her, a task she rejected as stereotypical women’s work.
“Oh the girl cooks,” she said. “I hated that. I didn’t want to be raised as a future housewife or something.”
It wasn’t until an episode of “Iron Chef” (the original one imported from Japan with comically bad English-language dubbing) caught her eye that Ivlev began to think of cooking as something the cool kids did, and it was Oliver’s own cooking show, “The Naked Chef,” that sold her on the art.
Oliver just walked around the kitchen with an armful of fresh ingredients, constantly reinforcing to his audience that substitutions to almost any of his choices were not only allowed, they were encouraged. He gave a shell of a recipe, and allowed his viewers to fill in the details.
“Ever since then, he’s been my inspiration,” Ivlev said. “He ignited a passion. When he came out with this campaign of people not understanding what they’re eating, and impacting their long-term health, that really touched a place in my heart.”
Ivlev walks the walk both in her profession as a private chef and in her time off. She participates in the Santa Monica Young Women’s Cooking Club, a group of women that cooks from-scratch food and meets for a massive potluck.
The group met in Clover Park on Saturday to celebrate the revolution.
“You hear about girls going on diets. This is the opposite,” she said.
Francesca Guerrini, a foreign correspondent for the Italian press who lives in Santa Monica, has always cooked for herself because, as she puts it, “I’m Italian.”
Still, she sees Oliver’s propensity to color outside of the culinary lines as a way to make cooking approachable for Americans who have been living in fear of the kitchen and as slaves to the mandates of recipes.
A top belief of food revolutionaries is that the future lies with the children. Oliver’s most public showdown in America was with the Los Angeles Unified School District over sugary flavored milks in the schools.
It led to a complete overhaul of the LAUSD school lunch program, although that has proceeded with little success.
Parents in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District inspired by Oliver’s work also took up the charge against flavored milk, and won a partial victory in 2011 by creating an opt-out program so parents can choose to keep their children from drinking chocolate milk at school.
Now those same parents are working on healthier options for school lunches and, in partnership with Italian chef Gino Campagna of Kitchendaily.com’s “Kitchen Kids,” they created a monthly make-your-own-lunch program at Grant Elementary School.
Grant parents used to pitch in to buy the food, which Campagna then prepared. Now, the local Whole Foods has become a sponsor, allowing him to do all of the shopping for free. It also produced a large banner with the store’s logo and a picture of the smiling Campagna to alert kids when the monthly ritual is taking place.
The lunches have become popular events, usually serving the free food to between 80 and 100 kids.
Campagna and Grant parents Chris Goddard and Harriet Fraser set up a table at the entrance to Grant Elementary School at 8:30 a.m. Friday to show their support for the revolution.
One by one, the children assembled wraps out of an array of ingredients prepared by Campagna either the night before or that very morning. Options included roasted peppers, fresh carrots, arugula salad, mozzarella cheese and roasted chicken breast.
The finishing touch: a drizzle of balsamic or yogurt dressing and brightly-colored fruit kebabs on the side.
Campagna monitored each selection, boisterously encouraging kids to be adventurous while curtailing less-than-healthy excesses by plucking excess mozzarella off of wraps.
“I’m an ambassador of good food,” Campagna said. “We get them to try something. Nobody tells them to do something, we just offer encouragement.”
Slowly but surely, the seeds of the revolution are spreading in Santa Monica’s schools, parks and markets.
Where will you be when the revolution comes?