This spring on national television, British celebrity chef, restaurateur, and food system revolutionary Jamie Oliver filled a school bus with sugar.* The white stuff poured over seats and out of windows, piling into three foot drifts outside the bus as a handful of school parents looked on, speechless. The sugar represented the total amount in Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) milk every week. “Yeah, I’m trying to make it dramatic!” Oliver shouted, “Because I want people to care!” Oliver was dismayed that more parents weren’t there to witness the stunt. “Maybe coming to LA was a big mistake,” he lamented.
Oliver’s crusade for better school food began in England, where he got £2 billion voted into the budget for cooked from-scratch meals in 2005. Last year he launched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in the U.S., accompanied by an ABC television series filmed in small-town West Virginia that went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Reality TV Program. For this year’s season of Food Revolution Oliver had hoped to film inside cafeterias and a large food processing center in the LAUSD. But he was blocked by the school board, or more specifically, Superintendent Ramon Cortines.
To hear the media tell it Jamie Oliver has had a rough year. In addition, some food activists have been critical of Oliver’s show and methods. But to see 2011 as a failure for Oliver is to miss the point of his mission. It’s not to dominate American television ratings or even to directly influence food policy. Oliver’s mission is to ignite and expand an army of food revolutionaries in the U.S. who will drive change themselves. With the full force of his celebrity and national exposure he continues to be spectacularly effective in recruiting food activists. Read more