Spotlight on Jamie Oliver
As a former chubby kid who still constantly struggles with her weight, I know all too well about the importance of eating right and staying active throughout childhood and adulthood. Maybe that's why I've been hooked by the new ABC series "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" where he visits one of the most unhealthy lunchrooms in America to help rid the school of unhealthy food for kids.
To continue to spread the momentum and to show that people care about the importance of promoting healthy food and cooking skills for children, Jamie has created an online petition which he plans to present to the White House: www.JamiesFoodRevolution.com/petition.
So far more almost 300,000 people have signed the petition, and in an interview, Jamie shares why he decided to tackle childhood obesity and find real ways to make changes that could make a positive impact on millions of kids across the country.
Question: It took a long time for you to win the town over. Does this make you think it will be difficult to roll out your campaign in the States?
Jamie: I think it will be hard. Unfortunately there are lots of people scattered amongst the food and farming industries that are pushing and protecting outdated beliefs even though they know they are damaging the kids. They don't want a food revolution. Obesity is big business and I don't think I've even scraped the tip of the iceberg. I haven't even started to get the big guys pissed off as yet. All I've done so far is tell a very intimate story about a lovely town. If America really is touched by this show, and if they really do want better for themselves and for their kids then we're going to see some chaos happening in the next three to six months, and for a few years after that until things change for the better. I don't think it's going to take that much to get the things we want to happen. We don't want to ban French fries or burgers, we just want our kids to eat less of them and to eat real food in schools, and to see people who understand food organizing the meals for our kids. We want the people involved to really care, and to get that we'll have to shake things up. There's no other way.
Question: You reacted quite strongly to the hospital board. Why was this?
Jamie: I think I was polite, but forceful. I just wanted to be really honest and I didn't want the board to think they were dealing with someone who didn't know what they were talking bout. I know the food industry very well from a restaurant point of view, a service point of view, a school meals and corporate point of view, and I've also worked with governments on various food-related projects. When I see a place that needs so much help and the people in charge are institutional people just being institutional, I can't help but get frustrated because my strategy is to always get in there and get my hands dirty. Politicians who sit in nice offices and have corporate lunches but don't have a clue about what's really going on. They don't get out and see how things really are, they don't change things. It's about going to the mortuary and seeing how many people have died from obesity, it's about going to the schools and seeing what the kids are eating, it's about spending the time with the school cooks and getting down to the real nitty gritty.
Question: Was it a pleasant surprise to find that the company US Foods were willing to cooperate with you, and that they did have good food available?
Jamie: Definitely. As far as I was concerned, US Foods was the company giving the schools all of the crap food, so I went there fully prepared for a confrontation. But the boss there was very clever and said "Look, we are a distributor. We serve anything and we are no different than a supermarket." He then showed me all their fresh food. If remember correctly, he even said "We don't want to serve the schools the crap." That was a big statement because all of a sudden I realised that they weren't the bad guys. All they were doing was running an incredibly slick distribution network around the whole of the States and just responding to what their customers, the schools, are asking for.
This then made my argument and my mission very, very simple. I just had to find a way to get the schools to stop ordering the crap food and tell their distributors they didn't want the chicken nuggets, they just wanted the chicken. But bizarrely, it costs less to get processed chicken than it does to get the raw chicken! The child nutrition bill that is going through Congress at the moment is one of the most important pieces of legislation and has the potential to radically improve the whole system in schools for the first time in nearly twenty years.
What's very interesting is what they are trying to do - come up with new standards that protect the kids without pissing off so many people that they don't manage to get the bill through Congress. The question is whether they will be able to get enough money to really push the changes through before it's too late for today's generation of kids. Without the money, there won't be enough to spend on better ingredients and on training up the girls in the kitchen to handle the raw food without people getting worried about a law suit on hygiene grounds.
So what I want is really simple: I want the chicken but I don't want anyone to process it. But what happens then is that the processing industry will lobby against the bill and say they are being put out of work. My view on that is also simple: process something else or clean up the recipes and take the additives out. Governments want to change but they are scared. For too many years now, people in strategic or trusted positions in the food industry who influence the things we eat on a daily basis all have big mouths and big pockets. And the further you dig the more you start to realise that the government really is just a pawn in this game, trying to appease everyone. But my strategy is totally different. I like the idea of revving things up. I just want parents to get passionate and inspire everyone to make better choices. In the UK, when we banned crap from vending machines in schools everyone went crazy. But then, within six months the really bad stuff was replaced with better food so the results were worth it.
When you look at a town like Huntington, it's clear to see that so many of the food choices available are the wrong ones. People already have to work quite hard to make fairly good choices so the last thing they need is an industry and government that make it even harder.