Jamie Oliver: Stirring Up a Food Fight | Civil Eats

Jamie Oliver: Stirring Up a Food Fight

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is cooking up more than home made meals from fresh ingredients. The show has already stirred up deeply seeded emotions about school food feeding systems…all before the first episode airs tonight!

Conversations and critiques over Jamie Oliver’s 6-part U.S. reality TV show has created quite a cacophony on listservs and talk shows, including Letterman and Oprah. The Washington Post already gave a negative review. So I can’t help but chime in, as should you. (teaser, there will be an opportunity below for possible ABC air time if you want to voice your opinion)

Since the Jamie Oliver show provided an appetizer premiere on Sunday night, food service directors around the country have been berated with calls and the School Nutrition Association released a press release about what ‘ingredients he’s missing.’

As explained by Diane Chapeta, Director Child Nutrition Services, Serving Chilton & Hilbert Public Schools:

I spent my entire day (Monday) talking to “mad” parents, returning emails of “mad” directors, and discussing the program with “mad” students. What did Jamie Oliver accomplish Sunday night? Exactly what he set out to…great ratings. Hurray! What did I accomplish on Monday? Not a darn thing. I didn’t get all my calls in to the farmers on my waiting list, I didn’t make my final call to the senator on my list, and I didn’t get any of the backlog of paperwork done. Hurray? I don’t think so.

Food service staff, like Diane, (lunch ladies as Jamie calls them) have an uphill battle that he doesn’t even touch upon or hasn’t yet. I wish he would bring to the surface the myriad obstacles to bring fresh local food to the lunch room, most of which can be overcome, but it can’t necessarily be done in a couple weeks even with star-studded British flavor. Many food service staff are doing the best they can with what they receive. If we increase the reimbursement per meal, give the kids enough time to eat, give food service proper equipment to prepare meals, many ‘lunch ladies’ would do better than what Jamie cooks up. (hmmm, a challenge?)

What’s my worst fear in Jamie’s ‘get mad’ approach? That the food service staff get defensive and block out good intentioned parents, farmers, teachers, (you) that approach them to start a farm to school program because Jamie poked fun of their profession on national television.

In the end, I think we all want his show to be effective: meaning Jamie’s School Food Charter becomes a reality instead of a reality show. If folks get angry, great. But generate that anger into a phone call to Congress during the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which is happening NOW, where we need our elected officials to reauthorize the bill at least at the amount the Obama Administration requested or divert that anger into energy to work with a local nonprofit to make change in the school system.

Diane does it every day:

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I will continue to work with small and mid-sized farmers, and school districts, and the powers that be to keep making a change in the way our students eat; in real time, in the real world. I don’t need reality television to show me how to “get angry.” I’ve been “angry” for quite some time now. I turned my anger into something positive; farm to school. What he (Jamie) should have done on prime-time television is shown the rest of the country what we are doing about this problem, and how much more we could accomplish if we just had their support and assistance. Jamie Oliver can keep his anger; I have no use for it. The food revolution has already begun. I’m in it every day.

In sum, Jamie, instead of trying to “start” a revolution, start supporting the one that’s already going on! I will watch hoping that you do.

In the meantime, after voicing our concern about no representation of the grassroots food movement/entities on the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution preview, we’ve been given an open window to shout and sing our message to the masses. They are wrapping up their filming for the season finale, to play on April 23rd. This is not a guarantee of any air time, but who knows? It is worth a try. We’ve got one week to show our strength.

A special note from the producer of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
How are you starting your own Food Revolution?
“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” wants to hear about what you are doing to start your own Food Revolution!

Whether its planting your own vegetable garden, “passing it on,” cooking dinner for your family, or if you just want to bring attention to something in your community that needs change – we want to hear about it!

E-mail us a high definition video and answer the following:
• Who are you and what is the problem you’re facing in your school and community?
• How are you currently, or how do you plan to improve the state of affairs?
• How has Jamie’s work inspired you?
• What do you want to say to Jamie?

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E-mail your response to: JOFoodRevolution@gmail.com
Please include your name and contact information – you may be selected to be featured on Jamie’s new TV show!
You can also post written responses on their blog here.

Debra Eschmeyer, Co-Founder and Program Director of FoodCorps, Farmer, and Communications and Outreach Director of the National Farm to School Network, has 15 years of farming and sustainable food system experience. Working from her organic farm in Ohio, Debra oversees the FoodCorps program development for service members working on school gardens and Farm to School while deciphering policy and building partnerships to strengthen the roots of FoodCorps. She also manages a national media initiative on school gardens, farmers’ markets and healthy corner stores. Read more >

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  1. While I am a staunch supporter of the Farm to School program, I am befuddled by the criticism of Ms. Eschmeyer. That's great that there are grassroots efforts beginning to take hold, but America needs a serious wake up call, and one that's shouts, not whispers lovingly in your ear. If there is one thing that mainstream America proves time and time again, it is that it cannot take a subtle hint. The obesity and cardiac problems did not happen overnight and despite nutrition labels being placed on everything up to sticks of gum, it still takes a nationally televised reality show of a chef telling a mother she is killing her children slowly with food for a stir to be generated. I feel that most food service workers at schools are just as concerned as Chef Oliver at what is being served and contrary to Ms. Eschmeyer's assertion, he does touch on the problem; when the red tape generated by powerful lobbying groups whose business it is to keep the junk in schools (and money in their pockets) makes it near impossible for programs like Farm to School to make REAL headway, we have a problem. When the nutritional guidelines that say that pizza crust counts as a bread, we have a problem. I appreciate that Farm to Schools doesn't wish to alienate staff at school districts, but I don't think the target audience for the show was meant to be food service workers and Child Nutrition Services Directors, but everyday Americans who are either ignoring their (and their childrens') tightening waistbands, or need a mirror shoved in front of their faces!
  2. LaTrice
    So, Diane Chapeta wants to know "What did Jamie Oliver accomplish Sunday night? Exactly what he set out to…great ratings" Wrong Diane, he set out to open this country's eyes to the abysmal quality of the food being served to our children both at school and at home. And, judging by the number of phone calls and e-mails you say you've recieved, I'd say he was successful. Many of us have been trying for a number of years to improve the quailty of school lunches with very little success. If a reality show hosted by someone from the outside brings the issue to the forefront, the so be it. I say YOU GO JAMIE!
  3. Michael,

    Thank you for taking the time to write. I agree with many of your points. The reason I wrote this piece in the first place is because I like, Jamie Oliver, want to wake up America and part of my job is turn anger into action. Real positive action.

    I think Jamie's series is a superb spotlight on the flaws in our school feeding system, but he has a great opportunity to highlight simple facts such as: Huntington actually has amazing kitchen facilities. Did you know that many schools don't have ovens or knives? Imagine Jamie walking into that scenario? The cooks don't have 'crockery' let alone the kids!

    I hope that by the end of the season this reality TV series generates a new wave of real school food reform that is not only transformational for kids' health, but also a community builder in creating vibrant regional food systems. We have the same end goal.

    I was remiss in not pointing out earlier that Jamie did provide a nod to Farm to School in his TED speech, which I hope we hear more of as this series continues:
    "It's local cooks, teaching local people, it's free cooking lessons in the main street...this is real, tangible change...around America, there's plenty of wonderful things going on, there are angels in America doing great things in schools: farm to school set-ups, garden set-ups, education. There are amazing people doing this already. The problem is, they all want to roll out what they're doing to the next school, and the next--but there's no cash. We need to recognize the experts and the angels quickly, identify them and allow them to easily find the resources to keep rolling out what they're already doing and doing well." http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html
  4. What's for Lunch? What's for snacks? And on and on.

    We would be a lot better off if we recognized that school children may be improperly nourished but they are not hungry and thus, still picky about what they will eat (yes, the holy trinity of fat, sugar & salt). Give them less at lunch ... a fruit, a yoghurt, a whole grain bun. Don't ask them, just give it to them. And do not let food come from home.

    What schools do is a lot better than what homes do. Look at the sorry state of the family on Jamie's episode who worried if their young son already had diabetes. Was that the school's fault? Jamie should have dumped what kids eat at home into that tarp of his.

    Kids eat well at school when they eat well at home ... not visa versa.
  5. Erika Albert
    I am an advocate for “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” for various reasons. First, Oliver’s show is bringing the issue of food quality into the limelight. Broadcasting on Friday evening, his show is reaching a diverse and wide audience, many of whom have probably never even thought critically about this issue. Second, his show is creating a platform for community advocates to build upon. Simply bringing this topic to the attention of thousands of Americans has got to have some meaningful consequences. Additionally, the show emphasizes the infinite problems with the school lunch system in the United States.
    In the most recent episode, Oliver brings attention to the fact that French fries are counted as vegetables while his seven vegetable based sauce failed to qualify as vegetables in accordance with school lunch standards. Similarly, in the second episode Jamie Oliver is forced to provide hamburger buns, because his meal is lacking the mandatory two servings of bread. Ironically, one slice of pizza meets this criteria. In these episodes, the obvious irrationality of the school food standards sticks out. These nutritional requirements are outdated and causing the demise of our population’s health.
    While I do applaud the show for bringing food justice into the everyday discourse of millions Americans, I do have some critiques for the show. First, Oliver advocates for fresh, not processed food, but on the show, we are not able to see where this food is coming from. Vegetables are seen on a cart entering the kitchen, but where do these veggies come from. Are they local? Organic? How much do they cost? We are left with a scarcity of information that makes the revolution of school food difficult to replicate. Similarly, it is obvious that Oliver is not familiar with the wide array of laws and rules centering the school lunch program, but are American families familiar with these regulations? I think the show could utilize its position of power to actually inform the public about these regulations so that they could protest the laws.
    Also, there are fundamental problems in the system that need to be redressed. Jamie Oliver’s show presents the problems, such as lack of funding, lack of training, and a shortage of time for cooking and consumption of food. However, rather than truly revolutionizing the system by changing nutritional requirements, increasing funding for school lunch programs, and giving children an adequate amount of time to eat with a fork and knife, Oliver makes temporary, isolated changes. I am happy that this show has entered the mainstream media and is encouraging millions of Americans to consider the quality of the food we eat, but if he really wants to start a revolution, Oliver needs to become an advocate for policy changes at the national level.
  6. daniel Lawler
    Hello, this is a general response to the article, as well as a retort to Paul's comment. To get to Paul's comment first; while you are correct that Jamie Oliver should be focusing on what children eat at home, I think Ms. Eschmeyer will agree when I state the fact that many children receive half or more of their meals at school. Further, many of the children in the school district that Jamie is currently dealing with are on reduced meal and free breakfast programs. This would highlight the low income nature of many of the children in the school system there. What that also may entail, if you're following, is a situation at home in which parents are either at work most of the day, thus robbing them of time they need to prepare multiple healthy meals a day, or they themselves have trouble making ends meet to purchase healthy food. Further, many low-income neighborhoods lack healthy food options in the form of grocery stores, farmer's markets, restaurants etc...So while people should be more responsible in feeding their own children, its pretty obvious that the public school system has a large role in that as well.
    Now for my general opinion on this article as well as the Jamie Oliver show in general; I don't think Ms. Eschmeyer is denying the essential goodness or awareness that this show seeks to build, rather I believe (without putting words in her mouth of course) that there is a greater structural issue here that has very much so to do with politics, the media, and the reality of things. In reference to politics; what is not mentioned on the show is the sheer immensity of bureaucracy and policy that goes into changing a public school food system. Some of the obstacles, that Debra alluded to in reference to the duties of "lunch ladies" include competitive procurement requirements food directors must follow. Guidelines such as the need to follow a "sealed bid" model of procurement, in which there must be a competitive process between providers of the ingredients and products that go into school meals. This greatly effects the mobility that "lunch ladies" have in determining what they serve since many of the cheapest foods and are from large, industrial farms and/or are heavily processed and very unhealthy (frozen pizza, tater tots, french fries). Besides that, there is a myriad of interest groups that are blocking policy changes at all levels that would make the purchase of organic and healthy food easier. Luckily, people like Michelle Obama, Diane Chapeta, and Debra Eschmeyer (and the rest of the Farm to School staff and supporters) are in fact thinking about the structural deficiencies that have caused this crises and are actively seeking to change that. I agree that Jamie Oliver could be the great mainstream catalyst that propels the movement. The key is that he must help to, not only "rile up the people," but also give them realistic and tangible outlets to express their anger in a constructive way! Like supporting Farm to School, or starting an educational garden program at your local elementary or middle school!
  7. hannah
    Why must this article divide the cause? You need to UNITE! You don't like how he is going about change, but there is more than one way to get somewhere...and it might not be your way. The more we divide ourselves the less we accomplish over silly bickering. Something needs to be done and lots of people are oblivious the this problem and Jamie is shedding the light on this through mainstream media. That is one way and there are many ways to fix the problem. Stop bickering and start working to fix things.

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