In 2008, the Associated Press reported that Huntington, West Virginia, was America’s unhealthiest city. According to data from the Center for Disease Control, nearly half the adult population of this primarily working-class white community is obese, and heart disease and diabetes are well above national levels. The designation caught the attention of Jamie Oliver, the English celebrity chef and food reform advocate who’s turned to television to expose and transform the eating habits of unhealthy Brits (the four-part series Jamie’s Ministry of Food and Jamie’s School Dinners, the special Jamie Saves Our Bacon…). The ever-energetic Oliver saw an opportunity in Huntington to bring his message across the pond, and soon the cameras were rolling on season one of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

The show is melodramatic, reductive, slickly edited, and, frankly, entertaining. Ornery school lunch ladies scoff at Oliver’s suggestions to stop serving kids frozen pizzas and factory-farmed chicken nuggets in favor of homemade fare. A family is convinced to bury their deep fryer in the backyard. “We don’t want to sit around and eat lettuce all day,” says a local radio host menacingly. Optimism briefly lapsing, Oliver delivers a weepy “I just want to help these people” soliloquy into the camera. But embedded in the sensational flourish is a clear message: cooking and eating simple food made from fresh ingredients can literally save our lives.

In the Washington Post, the food writer Jane Black remarked that the revolution had been televised. “But,” she asked, “can the six-part, prime-time series help a real revolution take root?” One night over dinner, she and her fiancé, journalist and West Virginia native Brent Cunningham, decided they should find out. They wrote a book proposal right before their wedding, and soon after, they were on their way to Huntington. For seven months, the newlyweds immersed themselves in the rust-belt-meets-Appalachia community to witness and record a complex conversation about food reform unfolding in Huntington’s schools, offices, and kitchens. Their book on the subject is forthcoming in 2015 from Simon & Schuster.

Beyond the legacy of Jamie Oliver’s TV series, Black and Cunningham were interested in what Huntington, West Virginia, represented: “a place that wouldn’t naturally be touched by the food frenzy that had taken over the coasts,” Black explains. The last decade has seen an explosion of interest in farmer’s markets, healthful cooking, and dismantling the industrial food system, spurred in large part by Michael Pollan’s 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. But the “food movement” of today tends to be dominated by affluent urbanites, and messages from Brooklyn and San Francisco often don’t reach—or resonate with—the majority of places in between.

In writing about Huntington’s efforts to reinvent the way the city eats, Black and Cunningham hope to underscore the need for a more expansive “food movement,” one that places inclusivity alongside idealism. “You can already see the contours of a two-tier food system in this country,” says Cunningham, “where those who have the financial wherewithal and the inclination are eating food that we would agree is healthier, and everyone else is eating the same crap that is slowly killing us.” But with the nation increasingly bifurcating along cultural and political lines, perhaps food—with its ancient capacity to connect—is a frontier we might still be able to traverse together.

Meara Sharma for Guernica

Guernica: I’m curious to hear what drew you to the subject of food and class, how you came to write about Huntington, West Virginia.

Brent Cunningham: Jane and I come from somewhat different class backgrounds. I grew up in West Virginia in the 1970s, and was raised by a single mom who was working class and didn’t finish college. We weren’t poor, though there were certainly times when things were tight. And we ate food that was both of that class and also of that time. That was the height, in some ways, of processed food—and that cut across class lines, because it was seen as modern. I remember eating the “Hungry Man” frozen dinners, and “Boil-in-a-Bag” whole meals that you would just dunk in a pot of boiling water.

My grandparents were from rural southern West Virginia, a coal-mining area, and even after they moved to the city they always had a huge garden which we ate from. I remember a sense of community growing up around food rituals, from helping my grandmother can tomatoes or make pickles to sitting around the table and picking meat off a turkey or chicken carcass after a meal, to use for something else. But none of this made a huge impression on me until I grew up and moved away, and essentially entered a different class, both monetarily and culturally. Part of the legacy of this life is that I learned to cook, and loved to. So I had this interest in food, as well as journalism, and I saw that they could come together. And I became fascinated by food and class, and particularly how that manifested in Appalachia.

Jane Black: I was at the Washington Post, covering food, and Brent was in New York, and we were engaged and trying to figure out how to be in the same place. One weekend I was in Brooklyn and telling Brent about how I had just written this story—like every other food journalist in the world—about Jamie Oliver’s reality TV show in Huntington. What I had written was basically “the revolution had been televised—now what?” And Brent said, “There’s more to that than a 1,200-word news feature.” And I said, “Yeah, but this is your thing.” And he said, “No, it’s your thing.” We went back and forth and then thought, hmm, maybe we should do this together. So we wrote a book proposal, turned it in the week before we got married, the day we got back from our honeymoon we had an offer, and we thought, okay, we’re moving to Huntington.

The idea was not really to write about Jamie Oliver. But we’d tell people where we were going and they’d say, “Oh, wasn’t that where that chef…” There was some recognition. And we were looking for a particular kind of place. A place that wouldn’t naturally be touched by the food frenzy that had taken over the coasts—the majority of the country—and to a certain extent a place that could stand in for all of those places. This is a book about West Virginia, about Appalachia, which has its own peculiar challenges, but it’s really about working-class America.

When the “food movement” tries to get at the other, it tends to be urban, low-income people on public assistance, or immigrants, through food stamps or community gardens, that sort of thing. But the movement rarely talks about working-class white people, who aren’t as wealthy or well educated. There’s a sort of untouchable quality about them. There’s a whole class of people out there who are not on public assistance, and though they’re not wealthy, they do have enough money to do something different about the way they eat. But they aren’t being reached by the “food movement” and aren’t being spoken to in ways that they respond to. We were interested in the wide swath of white working and middle-class people who don’t get talked about because it’s not politically correct.

It was a disaster to have this rich, British, celebrity chef come in and say, I’m going to stay here for a few weeks and tell you what to do and how to eat and fix your problems.

Guernica: What was your initial reaction to Jamie Oliver’s show? Did you see it as positive for the food movement—or a total disaster?

Brent Cunningham: Well, Huntington, like all of West Virginia and Appalachia generally, is very touchy about outsiders coming in and telling them what to do. They have a fraught history with that.

Jane Black: So it was a disaster in one sense to have this rich, British, celebrity chef come in and say, I’m going to stay here for a few weeks and tell you what to do and how to eat and fix your problems. He was the absolute worst messenger for the message, in some ways. And for people in Huntington, who were unfamiliar with the extensive editing process that goes on with reality TV, it was certainly challenging in that people were very worried about how they were going to appear.

But it did kick-start a conversation there that people didn’t want to have because it is a painful conversation. And I’ve been covering school lunch reform for a long time. It’s a really byzantine and complicated and fundamentally boring story. So it was really interesting to see that turned into reality television, which is fundamentally based on humiliation and manufactured drama. I can assure you that he reached more people than I ever did with all my thoughtful, well-researched, well-intentioned articles about school lunch reform. They did a good job dramatizing it, and making it something that a person sitting in their living room watching it on TV could relate to.

Brent Cunningham: It was good for the food movement, because it diverted the spotlight to a different set of issues. It broadened the conversation to include a different set of people. The messenger as well as the message matters. And through reality television—and it wasn’t Jamie Oliver, it was reality TV—it spoke to an audience that isn’t generally included in these conversations.

Guernica: Talk to me about going to Huntington in Jamie Oliver’s wake. Were you concerned about how you’d be perceived?

Jane Black: It was tricky. When I wrote that first story about Oliver, I’d say, “I’m calling from the Washington Post, but my fiancé is from West Virginia,” and they’d be much more responsive. We would joke that Brent was my “hillbilly fixer.” Because the minute you say you’re a journalist from Washington, all these guards go up and people think you’re this jerk who’s going to come in and humiliate them and write about how nobody has any teeth. Which is what people who drop in—or, lazy people—tend to do. So the combination of the two of us was a good one. I had been steeped in these issues for ten years.

Brent Cunningham: And I was your beard.

Jane Black: But after Jamie Oliver, the school staff was just shell-shocked. It took a lot of effort to get them to meet with us and cooperate.

Guernica: You’ve noted that the only thing you’d characterize as a major success thus far in Huntington has been the schools. Tell me about what they’ve accomplished.

Jane Black: So first, a bit of background. The federal government provides a certain amount of money for every child who is at or below the poverty line. And that’s quite a number of people in Huntington. The way the system works is, the more kids you can get to buy lunch, the more money you get from the federal government. Because you only get money if the kid eats. Even if they’re eligible for it, if they don’t come and get it, you don’t get reimbursed. So it’s this tricky situation where you have to give kids food they want to eat, because if they don’t eat, you don’t get paid.

Brent Cunningham: It’s an incentive to do the wrong thing.

Jane Black: Schools have always been judged on whether they met a certain amount of nutrients. Processing was never a question. It didn’t matter if your chicken fingers were made at the school or made at a factory, it just mattered that they had X grams of protein and Y milligrams of salt. So when Jamie Oliver comes in and says, “You’re doing everything wrong,” it is really frustrating for the staff—as it is for a lot of people in schools with food movement people coming in—because they’re like, “Well, we’ve been playing the game you told us to play, and now you’ve come in in the middle and changed the rules.”

Brent Cunningham: And, you’re telling us we’re bad people for not following those new rules.

Jane Black: And the bottom line was that the kids didn’t like Jamie’s new meals, and they didn’t meet the very strict nutrition standards. That was a problem for the school, financially. But rather than just go back to the way that they did things before, which would have been the easy thing to do, they actually made significant changes.

Now they make everything from scratch. When I went in there and sat down to lunch, I had a piece of baked chicken that had been tossed in olive oil and some spices, roasted potatoes with a tiny bit of salt, an orange, and a piece of homemade bread. Was it a $28 meal from a Brooklyn restaurant? No. Was it a damn good meal for the $1.50 they have to produce it? Absolutely.

Brent Cunningham: A big part of it was reworking Jamie’s recipes to appeal to their kids’ tastes. They knew what their students would eat and wouldn’t eat. They toned down some of the cinnamon in the chili.

Jane Black: And they took out some of the garlic in the garlicky greens. They pureed the beans in the beefy nachos, so the kids couldn’t see them.

Brent Cunningham: That was surprising to me, that the kids wouldn’t want beans, because in West Virginia beans are a staple.

Jane Black: It’s not a staple for these kids. It is, in the imagination of New Yorkers and your memory of West Virginia, but in reality, it’s not. Rhonda—the head of food services in Huntington—always told me that if she served cornbread and beans, she’d go out of business. With these kids, the staple is McDonald’s.

Guernica: That’s interesting. It speaks to how different foods hold class associations in often contradictory ways.

Brent Cunningham: Yeah, cornbread and beans is seen as “poor people food.” Whereas fast food is aspirational food.

Jane Black: Barring very, very poor people, I actually think class-wise, fast food went from being modern and aspirational to the standard and just what you like. That’s the dirty secret at the heart of the food movement. There’s this idea that if everybody could have a roasted pasture-raised chicken and a fresh-picked peach, then they would eat it, and they would like it, and that’s what they want. But that is absolutely not true. Given a choice between Alice Waters’s roasted chicken and a McDonald’s chicken sandwich, many people would choose the McDonald’s chicken sandwich every time. Because they like it.

It’s a privilege to want less. It’s a luxury to worry about how the animal was raised.

Guernica: It also has a lot to do with “value,” though, right? You might feel fuller from a McDonald’s chicken sandwich, and you’ve spent a lot less.

Brent Cunningham: Quantity over quality is certainly a class thing. In the book, we write about The Golden Corral, an all-you-can-eat buffet. I went there three times to write a particular scene. The food isn’t quite lowest common denominator—it has all the expected ethnic flourishes like a Mexican bar, and stir-fries—but the quality is not good. And it’s sad, to be there and see people who need to be taking better care of themselves doing what I think is encouraged in this country—gorging themselves on unlimited food.

Jane Black: But there is huge appeal in having as much as you possibly can eat and knowing that no one is going to tell you not to eat it. Not wanting the quantity, and wanting the quality, is usually because you don’t ever have to worry that there’s not enough. It’s a privilege to want less. It’s a luxury to worry about how the animal was raised.

And that, I think, is what is lost in this whole national discussion about food. Because it’s led by people who don’t have to worry. It’s not that people aren’t aware of that, but it’s totally different to really understand it—and to craft messages and strategies that account for it. We had that experience a number of times in Huntington. You’re sitting with people, and they’re really poor, and their lives, because they are poor, are very chaotic. Somebody’s brother is in jail, somebody is on drugs, somebody is working the night shift at the gas station, the kid has ADHD. And you’re sitting there going, “Have you thought about whole grains?” It sounds, to them, like somebody saying, “Oh, my private jet broke down.”

Brent Cunningham: And then those who are more middle class have a somewhat different reaction. Folks in the food movement often have a hard time believing that people who might have the wherewithal financially to make different choices about food, and who might have the resources to structure their time differently, have little interest in doing so. Their reaction is: “Why?” They’re fine with getting their chicken at Walmart. They don’t have a problem with it.

Jane Black: And even though this isn’t what people mean to say, what it sounds like to them is: You should spend more money on your food, you should spend more time shopping for it and cooking it, and you’re going to end up with food that you don’t like. And if you don’t do it then you’re a bad person.

Brent Cunningham: And basically they’re like, “Fuck you.” And rightly so, on some level. So the biggest challenge, from a class standpoint, is the question of how to make people care about these things. And if you can’t make them care, then you have to figure out how to make better choices part of their “normal.”

Guernica: The argument that’s often put forth has to do with making it a health issue—if you don’t do something different about your diet, you’re not going to live as long. Is that not a strong enough motivator?

Jane Black: There are a lot of people out there who fundamentally don’t understand that what they eat affects their health. They say, “Well, I have ‘the sugar’—diabetes—so I take a pill.”

Brent Cunningham: Yes, this idea that you can take a pill or a shot, and eat what you want. There’s a woman in the book who’s very poor and has diabetes, and she’s overweight, and I remember asking her whether her goal was to eventually get off medication. She said, “No, because if you have diabetes you always have to be on medication or taking insulin.” The idea that you could actually control your health to some extent through diet seemed like a fantasy to her.

Jane Black: And then there are people who understand the connection between health and diet, but who don’t act on it. They care, maybe, but they’re hungry, and the kids are screaming, and at that minute the consequences aren’t serious enough.

In the book, we talk a lot to this doctor who’s an expert in what’s called the “small change theory.” He talked about how the idea that what you eat might make you die earlier isn’t motivation enough, because most people are making decisions based on much shorter-term thinking. So rather than saying, “Now you need to go on the Paleo diet,” he might say something like, “Well, maybe you can have a pork chop, but you should bake it instead of fry it.” That’s a small change a person might actually be able to make. It’s a positive step that, in theory, will make them want to build on it, to make other small changes that eventually add up to something significant.

Guernica: A common trope of the “food movement” is young, often privileged, people abandoning city life to go back to the land and grow their own food. What kind of an impact does this have?

Brent Cunningham: If professional-class kids want to forgo a professional career and become farmers, that’s great. I don’t think there’s anything that’s being done or tried around food that shouldn’t continue—I just think it’s not going to be enough. We’re not going to go from less than 2 percent of the nation being directly engaged in agriculture as a living to a nation of family farms, unless something cataclysmic happens in terms of climate, or war, or economic collapse. I mean, it’s just not going to happen, because most people don’t want to do that.

Jane Black: These young people do bring a new approach to farming. They look at it as a business, and they’re not afraid of marketing—in fact, that probably comes more naturally to them than planting kabocha squash. But old-time farmers hate the marketing part, and that’s why so many of them end up selling commodities where there is a set price and they just get what they get. These new farmers don’t have the bad associations with growing food that a lot of people who had to do it do.

People in Huntington who grew up on a farm or have parents who did, they have no illusions about how they want to go back to growing everything themselves. Having a garden is one thing—so many people in Huntington grew corn, tomatoes, and beans at home. It was interesting to see the lack of fetish surrounding growing your own food. People are like, “Well, yeah, of course we have a garden. And we shop at Kroger [the supermarket chain]. And we eat at McDonald’s. We do all of those things.”

That’s a place we want to get to in this country. For everyone to have a small garden, without it being a big deal, without it being romanticized. So you have some fresh food around. And then you sometimes have your frozen pizza. And you cook two nights a week. We want to create a culture in which food matters, in whatever way fits your life. Healthy eating isn’t a sacrifice, but a more reasonable balance.

Brent Cunningham: Because once you have that, then the industrial agriculture system will respond to that.

Jane Black: A lot of the focus today is on production. How food is produced, where it comes from, that sort of thing. But I really believe the focus in this country has to be on the demand. And then companies will respond. You already see big companies selling organic, doing different things. A couple of years ago, Häagen-Dazs came out with Häagen-Dazs Five, which has only five ingredients—inspired, no doubt, by Michael Pollan’s food rule not to eat things with too many unrecognizable ingredients. And Lean Cuisine has Lean Cuisine Honestly Good, which uses more “natural” ingredients and whole grains like quinoa. The key is making people care about it so that they want antibiotic-free meat, and they want to buy things from local farms, or buy things in season. We’ve written this book to instill the idea that it is essential to reach people who have enough money to change things a little bit. Because that will shift the system. And when everything starts to shift, then you’ll see Congress getting on board.

We’ve always exploited someone. First it was slaves, then it was all manner of guest workers. Today it’s illegal immigrants.

Guernica: You mentioned the lack of fetish around growing food. What does the fetish—which often hangs around urban farmers—obscure that is important to reflect on?

Brent Cunningham: It obscures how damned hard it is to make a living as a farmer. And to feed yourself. When you go back and actually read histories of cooking and farming, the idea that most people today are going to go to the lengths that people went to one hundred years ago, before processed food started to take hold, is just absurd.

Jane Black: It’s also the volatility, the unpredictability of life. I talk to farmers all the time who say, “Yeah, I lost my whole crop in a freeze.” People have no concept of what it would be like to lose your whole tomato crop that you were planning on then canning and using for the winter. Those are the kinds of things—when you romanticize about the small farm, and DIY, and small-batch production—people don’t think about. Because it’s just in addition to what they were going to buy at Whole Foods, where they have everything. The risks, and the dangers, of living that way are beyond a modern American’s imagination.

Brent Cunningham: And it also obscures the fact that we’ve always exploited someone. That’s how we dealt with the problem that Jane’s describing. The uncertainty, the hard work. Well, we’ll pay this person crap wages to do it. First it was slaves, then it was all manner of guest workers. Today it’s illegal immigrants.

Jane Black: That’s actually one of the big challenges for these young, idealistic farmers. They don’t want to pay illegal migrants terrible wages. But how much can you really charge people? You’re already charging everybody at a farmers’ market a big premium. And if you actually pay your laborers a living wage, it’s out of the ballpark. It’s crazy amounts of money. Because the whole system is propped up by abuse.

Brent Cunningham: Then in the kitchen, once you’ve grown all this stuff, there’s the challenge of turning it from the raw to the cooked. Historically it was women who spent all their time doing that. And now that’s often not the case. So who’s going to do it? There are all these things that don’t really ever get dealt with.

Guernica: You’ve talked about the importance of the messenger, and Michael Pollan and Alice Waters not being the right messengers for everyone. So how do you actually reframe the debate?

Jane Black: In addition to expanding the base, as we’ve been discussing, we’re also talking about expanding the leadership. Once a week, tens of thousands of Americans go and sit in church, and they listen to what usually a white man, or a black man, has to say. Churches and faith-based institutions have a huge role to play.

Brent Cunningham: And there are already a lot of things happening there around food. Not only in the more liberal denominations, but even in some conservative churches. The secular food movement and the faith-based food movement don’t really talk to each other. But there are millions of people in this country who are going to listen to their pastor before they are going to listen to us. That is one way to change the messenger.

But the message also needs to change, so that it isn’t this all-or-nothing kind of thing. And isn’t about a moral failing and these huge abstract controversial issues, like global warming, or the environment broadly, or healthcare costs. We have to find things that actually are meaningful in people’s lives. Such as not demonizing all processed food and making it seem like if you eat a frozen dinner, you’re not “with us,” and that you’re part of the problem.

Incremental change isn’t sexy, but it’s real, and these are the kinds of things it’s going to take to move people in a different direction on diet.

For someone who is not poor but not rich, someone who is obese, it might be talking to them about things they can realistically do. Instead of recommending walking thirty minutes a day, maybe they walk ten minutes a day. Little things that seem sort of inconsequential but actually are important lifestyle changes. There’s research that shows that if you ask somebody to do something they’re destined to fail at, they’re going to fail and then quit. But if you give them something they almost certainly can do, then they’re going to feel good about that and feel encouraged to do more. Incremental change isn’t sexy, but it’s real, and these are the kinds of things it’s going to take to move people in a different direction on diet.

Thinking about messengers, Rick Warren, the mega-church pastor out in California, is a good example. He started this thing called The Daniel Plan—Dr. Oz is involved—and you could look at it from Brooklyn and say, “This is cheesy evangelical nonsense.” But the fact is if you actually look at what he’s preaching to millions of people, much of it is straight out of a Michael Pollan book. That is huge. Because he is reaching an entirely different audience. We have to acknowledge and embrace that as progress instead of dismissing it or saying it’s not enough.

Guernica: Is that divide traversable? Because the modern iteration of the food movement began among a privileged class, is it always going to be hindered by that?

Brent Cunningham: That’s the million-dollar question.

Jane Black: Historically, there’s often been an upper-class and moral component to attempts to reform diet. And they are always a failure. So if history repeats itself, it’s not looking good for the foodies. But we’re writing this book because we hope that it doesn’t have to be that way. And I do think the fact that you’re talking to us about class, and the 1 percent and the 99 percent are now common terms, and that at last class is at least acknowledged in this country in a way that it never has been before—there’s hope that perhaps the conversation might adapt accordingly.

There’s a huge cultural gap in America between the coasts and the heartland, between the classes, between Fox and MSNBC. But it took me living in Huntington for seven months and reporting on it for four years to feel confident to talk about it. It isn’t easy to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. And food becomes another thing that politicians use. I think the hope, though, is that unlike guns or prayer in schools or education reform, food is more universal.

Brent Cunningham: Food of course has a history of bringing people from different classes together, even as it divides people in other ways. And I think issues like food safety and the cost of healthcare and its relation to diet cut across class lines.

But you can already see the contours of a two-tier food system in this country. And I think that if we don’t have the conversation that we’re describing here, and if we don’t decide that there are things that we can do that are short of our ideals, then we’re at a great risk of having a two-tier food system, where those who have the financial wherewithal and the inclination are eating food that we would agree is healthier, and everyone else is eating the same crap that is slowly killing us.

When I grew up, in the ’70s, everybody in my town shopped at the Kroger. Rich, poor, middle class, that was the only option, the only supermarket. Some people bought more meat or a better cut than others; some used a stack of coupons. But we all had the same options. And that contributed to a kind of shared taste. Whereas now, it’s much easier to use food to distinguish yourself. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Guernica: Was there anybody in Huntington who was particularly surprising or influential?

Brent Cunningham: The short answer is no, because in many ways what you’re seeing in Huntington is what’s happening all over the country: a professional class trying to make changes that reflect other places they might have lived in or visited or heard about. But there is this couple, Andie and Dee, who couldn’t be less a part of that crowd—they [describe themselves as] redneck farmers—and they had a huge impact on how we think about these things.

Jane Black: They were essentially trying to start a farmers’ market with no premium prices. They were going to get local food and sell it and not make a big deal about it. First, we thought they were brilliant—trying to bring this unfetishized local food to a mass audience at a price they could afford. And then we realized the economics absolutely did not work. The project ultimately “failed,” but their impulse to bring local food down from this elevated plane, and to just make it normal, was important. They’re nothing like anybody who is involved in this food movement, and we need people like them.

There’s something about the food movement that’s so punishing.

Guernica: Are they disheartened by their failure?

Brent Cunningham: Not really. They’re scrappy, and they’ll just go do something else. What they’re doing—this is important to understand—isn’t mission-driven at all.

Jane Black: It’s just who they are. They’re working-class people who love to eat and they love the garden and love the farm. And they’re just hanging out, doing their thing. They’ll pull strawberries from the garden, and make a pie, and they’ll put Cool Whip on it.

Brent Cunningham: They’d never make their own whipped cream.

Jane Black: Oh my god, never.

Brent Cunningham: It would never even occur to them. And they wouldn’t usually even make their own pie crust. But they’re going to grow the berries and make the filling and they’re going to give it to you and demand you eat as much as they do.

Jane Black: They’re the un-foodiest foodies you’ve ever met. They make their own pickles, they can everything, even hot dogs. They can hot dogs. They make broccoli casserole with Velveeta and Ritz crackers.

Brent Cunningham: It’s sort of the farmers’ market meets the processed food aisle.

Guernica: Is that the dream? Or at least, a more realistic balance?

Brent Cunningham: A lot of people do respond to that.

Jane Black: What’s wonderful about Andie and Dee is the joy they bring to food. I don’t want to eat broccoli casserole with Velveeta necessarily, but I love that they love it. And that their family comes together around it. Could they eat healthier? Of course. But we’ll get there. There has to be pleasure in it. There’s something about the food movement that’s so punishing. “Well, if you don’t do this, then we’re ALL GOING TO DIE.” It turns people off.

I’m an Italophile, and I’ve lived in Italy. People there just love food. It’s a simple thing. I once heard someone talk about how if you’re a rich winemaker in Chianti in a big villa, in the summer, you will sit down and have tomatoes and mozzarella and a glass of red wine and a bowl of pasta. And if you’re a poor person, you’ll sit down and have tomatoes and mozzarella and a glass of red wine and a bowl of pasta. Because that’s what people eat in the summer. Maybe it’s a little bit of a different quality. But fundamentally there is food that people love and value, no matter what class. That’s something to strive for in America. We’re a much different and diverse and bigger country, so we can’t expect everybody to eat the same things, but if everybody loved and respected food and took pleasure in it, we’d all be a lot healthier.


Meara Sharma

Meara Sharma is a senior nonfiction editor for Guernica. As a journalist, her interests include religion, the environment, and cultural memory. She has produced radio for WNYC's On the Media and contributed to the New York Times, NPR, Matador, Studio 360, and elsewhere.

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