“Naked Chef” Needs “Econ 101”

Los Angeles public school officials remain reluctant to allow British food scold Jamie Oliver to bring reality show drama to their cafeterias, but Season 2 of Oliver’s Food Revolution had its premiere last night anyway. Instead of dissecting and ridiculing school cafeteria food, the spotlight-craving celebrity chef wagged his finger at a mom-and-pop hamburger stand.

“They won't let me in their schools, which means it’s war,” Oliver told the cameraman—and whoever else managed to endure his show’s painfully boring season opener. But we’re guessing L.A. burger-maker Deno Perris didn’t expect Oliver to wage war against his family business. Entertainment Weekly recaps the scene:

Oliver tried to convince the guy to re-do his menu with healthier items that would cost this small-businessman more money, which cost would be passed on to his customers. Can you blame the man for not wanting to be used as Jamie Oliver’s guinea pig, and to lose business while Oliver passes off yogurt smoothies as milk shakes?

Oliver’s criticism of tasty and inexpensive food is typical of his fellow foodie elitists’ zero-tolerance policies towards such things. And apparently, food purveyors ignore the clichéd “Buy fresh, Buy local” tagline of food snobs at their own peril.

But restaurateurs understand that the locavore’s mantra comes at a steep price. Perris told the Food Revolution audience last night that the high-priced menu changes Oliver pressure him with would turn away cost-conscious customers and put his family business … well, out of business.

If you didn’t catch Food Revolution last night (or were dozing throughout), Oliver elaborated on his strategy for transforming fast-food restaurants during a Florida news interview this week:

If we could change fast food, we could really impact people's lives immediately. It's not more expensive to eat healthier and there are absolutely places that you need to invest in … You can buy a higher-quality product and use a smaller portion of it. And fill up the rest of the plate with salads or vegetables.

Oliver is correct that eating healthier doesn’t need to be expensive. USDA economists agree—at least for “conventional” supermarket foods. But only buying “local” and “organic” groceries is generally less affordable.

For small business owners who make their living by satisfying Americans’ occasional desire to indulge, spending more money on orthodoxy—while giving customers less of what they demand and charging more for it—is simply bad business.

Unless, of course, your name is Michael Pollan, and you believe paying more for everything we eat is a great idea. In Pollan’s case, at least, foodie elitism can be quite profitable.

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