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“Teach Every Child About Food” Rhetorical Analysis

Sean Kingdon

This essay analyzes a TED Talk by Jamie Oliver, a chef from Essex, England. The TED

Talk was uploaded and published through YouTube on February 12, 2010. This speech would

aid the argument of those who believe in moving away from fast food, processed foods, and any

food with a lot of sugar, oils, and other such things that can be part of an unhealthy diet. The

whole purpose of this speech is to help motivate a large group of people towards this goal, the

group being the audience and the millions that watch this TED Talk online.

Jamie Oliver’s mission is to drive healthy eating into the world, especially youth. He

specifically targets parents, school administrators, and anyone who is still in high school. The

goal is that by moving these young people into a healthier diet, they will both live longer lives

and help influence the rest of the world to change. He opens by showing the death rates in

America, their causes, and then highlighting the causes that are food-related. It’s clear (according

to Oliver’s data) that most deaths in America are food and obesity related. He reiterates many

times the importance of teaching children how to know how to cook, and how to cook food that’s

good for them. He says many times that we are essentially killing children. The places he says

will achieve this goal are Main Street (advertising, labeling, and overall consumerism and

popularity of fast food), School, and Home.

Jamie Oliver uses pathos, the rhetorical strategy used to appeal to emotions, specifically

in this TED Talk. There’s a little bit of ethos, the rhetorical strategy that gives credibility to the

presenter/author/speaker, in the beginning, and some logos, the strategy that uses logic, statistics,

and data, sprinkled throughout, but he says things like how we’re killing children, or how we’re
abusing children, or how people are dying because of diet. He uses these kinds of statements, a

lot, and they’re the main points he uses to persuade his audience.

The first place Oliver states a need for change is what he calls Main Street. He opens by

saying, “Over the last thirty years, what’s ripped the heart out of this country, let’s be

honest...Well, modern day life. Let’s start with Main Street” (Oliver, 6:15). Just in that statement

alone, he’s said that modern society has destroyed what America stands for. This statement

clearly uses pathos. It over exaggerates the role of diet in America. While diet is important, and a

key factor in life, it has nothing to do with “the heart of this country.”

He goes on to use an example that is a symbol of the USA--fast food. He says, “Thirty

years ago, the food was largely local and largely fresh. Now, it’s largely processed and full of all

sorts of additives, extra ingredients, and you know the rest of the story” (Oliver, 6:39). While this

has elements of logos, he fails to provide any data or hard information that actually proves the

statement, and ends up passing this off as common knowledge, by saying “...you know the rest of

the story.” This could be an example of logos because of the fact that he does provide

information concerning the generality of the ingredients used in modern food, it is not because he

does not provide any evidence of that generality. This statement falls more into pathos, where

he’s using this change as a way to show that we’ve devolved. Words like “fresh” have a positive

connotation, whereas words like “processed” have a negative, degenerative feeling to them.

He then moves onto labeling, a.k.a. marketing. Oliver states, “Labeling is a massive

problem. The labeling in this country is a disgrace. [Companies]...want to self police themselves,

the industry wants to self police themselves. What, in this current climate? They don’t deserve it.

How can you say something is low-fat when it’s full of so much sugar” (Oliver, 6:55). Again, in

this statement Oliver provides information to help prove his point (the reference to low-fatness of
food and the large amounts of sugar actually in it), but does not provide proof of this happening.

Of course, if you want proof of this you could go to any grocery store and pick anything that says

diet, low-fat, or has packaging that makes it appear healthy, and read the ingredients. The main

part of this statement is how much he degrades food companies. He says that these companies

don’t deserve to self police themselves, a phrase parents use to describe an irresponsible child.

The degrading and discrediting used towards these companies is a way to evoke a shameful look

from the audience towards the food companies Jamie Oliver targets. He calls them a disgrace,

and essentially accuses them of being irresponsible.

At this point, Oliver has gained credibility. He now has ethos through the use of pathos.

Because of the feelings we’ve already felt at this point, we’ve decided that this guy has

something important to say, and that this guy knows what’s going on, he has an answer.

Jamie then moves to the home. He says, “The biggest problem with the home is that it’s

supposed to be the heart of passing on food and food culture--what made our society. That ain’t

happening anymore” (Oliver, 7:16). This statement, as most other statements in this speech, uses

pathos. However, this time he isn’t using an accusation towards a company, but an indirect

accusation towards the audience. He’s saying that in our homes, we’re not doing what we should

be in terms of food. That’s on us, and that’s entirely our fault. However, we don’t fight this

statement because of the ethos gained throughout the speech, and because of the indirect nature

of the statement.

Oliver then says, “I’m about to show you a situation that’s very normal right now”

(Oliver, 7:40). He then shows a video where he’s sitting down in a home with the mother of a

family, and their dining table hectically covered with food that this family supposedly eats every

week, in the proportions that they eat it. He talks to the mom about how this food is literally
killing her family. Using that “very” in front of normal before showing the clip changes his

expressed opinion or tone from a norm that needs to change to a norm that has settled into

America, becoming a defining factor, and has essentially been normalized and accepted by the

people. At the end of the clip, the mother has tears coming from her eyes, and she’s says that she

realizes that she’s killing her kids and that she doesn’t want to. The whole thing is very

emotional, and is therefore in use of pathos. Something about mother’s love is always enough for

us to feel strong emotions. This plus the way that Oliver says this kind of situation is normal,

helps to persuade the audience towards Jamie’s goal--to help young people have a healthier diet,

and then have them pass that on.

It’s at this point Jaimie transitions to Schools. He says, “Let’s move onto schools,

something I’m very much a specialist in” (Oliver, 8:24). This is the second example of ethos in

this speech, the first being at the beginning when he introduces himself. “..for the last seven

years I’ve worked fairly tirelessly to save lives in my own way. I’m not a doctor, I’m a chef. I

don’t have expensive equipment or medicine, I use information and education. I profoundly

believe that the power of food has a primal place in our homes that binds us to the best bits of

life” (Oliver, 0:37). “We haven’t evolved [school] to deal with the health catastrophes of

America” (Oliver, 8:48). He then leads up with, “School food is something that most kids, thirty

one million a day actually, have twice a day...a hundred and eighty days a year” (Oliver, 8:53).

This is an example of logos, because of the statistic that school food is eaten by thirty one

million kids a day. This helps to inform his audience so they can relate to and understand what

he says next. “So you could say, school food is quite important really, judging the

circumstances” (Oliver, 9:06). At this point he sort of leans in towards the audience. This causes

a chuckle from the audience, because of the sarcastic nature of his comment. For the last nine
minutes, Jamie Oliver has been discussing and informing the audience on how we are feeding

our children crap, and then sort of winks at the audience as he barely says that what they eat at

school is incredibly important. While pathos can be used to fear or guilt your audience, it can

also be used to cheer them up, like making a sarcastic comment or a joke. Making a joke like this

after talking about how people are dying is a way to lift your audience’s spirits and keep their

attention, and that’s why he used one in this instance. He also says, “Before I crack into my rant,

which I’m sure you’re waiting for...” (Oliver, 9:16). This is another example of the same use of

pathos to get your audience to laugh.

“The lunch ladies, the lunch cooks of America, I offer myself as their ambassador. I’m

not slacking them off, they’re doing the best they can do. They’re doing their best, but they’re

doing what they’re told, and what they’ve been told to do is wrong” (Oliver, 9:30). This

statement is a mix of both pathos and ethos, because he’s offering himself to the lunch ladies,

and standing for them, which makes us feel like he’s a good person, and makes us trust him

more. He deflects the blame of bad lunch food from the lunch ladies to the people in charge of

them, making us have sympathy for the lunch ladies, and disgust towards the “accountants”

Jaimie Oliver says are in charge of them. He goes on, “If you’re an accountant, and a box-ticker,

then the only thing you can do in these circumstances is buy cheaper shit” (Oliver, 10:05). You

can see here that he has completely shifted the blame for poor quality school food, off the cooks

in school cafeterias, onto the people who provide the ingredients, the “accountants” as Jaimie

calls them. However, he doesn’t necessarily entirely blame them either. You know this because

he says, “...the only thing you can do...” They are only doing their job. The real question would

be who’s making the jobs of these people to provide lower quality food, and who’s letting it

happen.
“Now, the reality is, is the food that your kids get every day is fast food, it’s highly

processed, there’s not enough fresh food in there at all, you know the amount of additives, e-

numbers, ingredients, you wouldn’t believe” (Oliver, 10:12). When something is processed, it

means it’s generic, it’s been through a machine, it’s impersonal. By using processing in his

description of fast food, he’s turned it from food that tastes good to food that has barely touched

human hands. It’s now something that passed a test or a checkmark, or met all the qualifications

needed in order for it to be served. This point is also supported by the use of the word e-number,

which adds to the impersonal, processed feel of the food being served in schools. “There’s not

enough veggies at all, french fries are considered a vegetable, pizza for breakfast...” (Oliver,

10:25). This is an important point, because he has now compared food that we consider healthy

and food that we like to eat. Vegetables being healthy, and french fries and pizza that most

people would much rather eat than a vegetable. We know vegetables are better for us, so in

comparing the two foods, we both reflect on ourselves and on the schools. What we’re doing

wrong, and what the schools are doing wrong. “...they don’t even get given crockery. Knives and

forks, ‘no they’re too dangerous!’ There’s scissors in the classroom, but knives and forks no.

And the way I look at it, if you don’t have knives and forks in your school, you’re purely

endorsing, from a state level, fast food, cause it’s handheld” (Oliver, 10:29). He shifts blame

from the “accountants” afore mentioned to the government, because they’re the ones who are

endorsing this. They’re the ones with the power to make change, but they’re not changing

anything. “And yes by the way, it is fast food, it’s sloppy joes, it’s burgers, it’s wieners, it’s

pizzas, it’s all of that stuff” (Oliver, 10:46). This whole paragraph is representative of both

pathos and logos. He uses facts about what is being served in schools to help bring to light his
point, and move people against current school food because of the way they feel about what their

kids are being served.

“10% of what we spend on healthcare, as I said earlier, is spent on obesity, and it’s going

to double” (Oliver, 10:55). This sentence uses logos again to influence pathos. “10% of what we

spend on healthcare” would be the example of logos, as it’s a statistic, and uses data. By saying

that the ten percent will double, and that it’s being spent on this thing that he’s been describing

as terrible and preventable for the last eleven minutes.

“We’ve got to start teaching our kids about food in school, period” (Oliver, 12:00). At

this point, Jamie Oliver has presented a problem in the food we serve our kids. He’s also

presented a few solutions, but this is the one that gets applause from the audience. For some

reason, this is what gets people to really approve of what he’s saying. The reason for this is

because of the clip he shows before saying this, where he’s at a school, showing vegetables,

which were previously established as good for us, to children. These children don’t know any of

the names for the vegetables, and that’s because they are not eating them enough, and have not

had enough exposure to them to really wonder what they are. When a solution is presented

directly after a problem has been proven, the solution seems clearly valid. In this instance, you

see Jamie Oliver proving the problem of bad food in schools by showing this clip, then providing

a solution immediately following the end.

“Milk isn’t good enough anymore...because someone at the milk boards probably paid a

lot of money for some geezer to work out that if you put loads of flavorings and colorings and

sugar in milk...more kids will drink it” (Oliver, 12:31). Here we see Jamie present a probable

cause or reason to the audience without much proof behind it, as to why we have chocolate milk

being served in schools. This reason isn’t supported by any kind of fact, but to us it’s plausible
because it seems so obvious once presented. We don’t know if actually there were some parents

that explicitly wanted this to be served at schools. We don’t know any of the actual reasoning

behind why chocolate milk is even served at schools. However, since this reason seems most

reasonable we don’t question it. This statement uses pathos, because it moves the audience to

agree. It makes them feel like Jamie is right, providing ethos in a way. He then asks for a mock

applause from the audience, sarcastically clapping and moving his hands in a way as if to ask for

applause (Oliver, 12:46). This is further proof of the use of pathos in this statement, as the

sarcastic, mocking attitude coming from Oliver makes the audience feel disgusted with

whoever’s idea it was to put chocolate milk in school.

“There’s our milk, there’s our carton. In that is nearly as much sugar as one of your

favorite cans of fizzy pop” (Oliver, 13:08). Soda hasn’t necessarily been specifically labeled as

bad for us in this speech, yet the audience knows it is. The reason is because we hear that it’s bad

for us every day, and it has also now been correlated with chocolate milk, recently described as

bad by Jamie Oliver. It also fits the description of something that’s loaded with flavorings and

sugar. So now, chocolate milk is in the same category as soda. “Let me show you. We’ve got one

kid here having, you know 8 tablespoons of sugar a day.” (He then dumps a cup with some sugar

in it onto the floor). “There’s your week. There’s your month. And I’ve taken the liberty of

putting in just the five years of elementary school sugar, just from milk” (Oliver, 13:19). At this

point, Jamie Oliver has dumped a wheelbarrow full of sugar out on the stage. This is clearly an

example of pathos. He didn’t need to bring exact measurements of sugar to show the audience if

he just wanted to tell facts. In order to make them feel the horror of what he’s trying to say, this

demonstration was necessary. He then goes on, “Now I don’t know about you guys, but judging

the circumstances, right, any judge in the whole world would look at the statistics and the
evidence, and they would find any government guilty of child abuse. That’s my belief” (Oliver,

13:46). This is where Oliver presents the hopeful effect of the proposed solution to the presented

problem. He hopes that someday, on a world government level, the sort of things going on in the

school food system will be one hundred percent absolutely considered a crime. Because of the

information presented to the audience, and the influence from Jamie Oliver, this effect gives the

audience ambition, hope, and drive to make this solution become effective. This is what every

persuasive presentation hopes to achieve. Clearly, this uses pathos, and it works, judging from

the applause from the audience.

This speech has proven several things. Not one of the three rhetorical strategies has any

effect alone. A presenter/author/speaker can talk all they want about how credible they and their

sources are, but with no information to back these claims, it means nothing, ethos without logos

is nothing. With no drive, passion, or experience behind these claims, they mean nothing, ethos

is nothing without pathos. They can spout facts all day, and it won’t mean anything unless they

don’t have the experience, credibility, passion, and care for their topic to back up the facts. They

can talk about how terrible or amazing something is for their whole life, but it will not mean

anything without facts, information, and evidence, and credibility to back that data. You cannot

have any of the rhetorical strategies without influence from the others.

This speech has also proven that in a persuasive argument, pathos is extremely powerful

if supported by the other two rhetorical strategies. As a matter of fact, the whole argument is

pathos, the goal of a persuasive argument is to change how your audience feels about a topic. All

you have to do is support it with logic and credibility.

No argument can have purely one rhetorical strategy, as it would be both ineffective and

completely impossible to do. And maybe this doesn’t matter in everyday life, some people may
never argue...and those people will only be half living. Arguments and debates are what drive us

forward, and help educate our species and drive younger and current generations forward, and

knowing how to argue is the way to achieve the most effective results. Though we work towards

peace, goodness, and overall betterment for society, we must fight to achieve it.

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