Healthy revolution

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver, British chef, takes on America's schools.

If you couldn’t tell from some of the stuff I write about, I’ll say it now: I like food. I like cooking it, eating it, buying it (local and organic), and watching shows about it. At home, my family always made fun of me, because I made it a point to watch No Reservations, Top Chef, Man vs. Food, and Kitchen Nightmares.

So I was going through my Hulu queue the other day, and I came across Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. At first I resisted, and then I became curious. Was this another Kitchen Nightmares-esque show where some British chef goes around to try to reform restaurants?

Well, yes and no.

Jamie, who happens to be a helluva lot nicer than Gordon Ramsay and touts a nice cockney accent, is on a mission to change America, starting with our schools. We’re immediately dropped into Huntington, West Virginia, a city that was recently deemed “most unhealthy” by the federal government. His first mission: to completely reform school lunches, beginning with one elementary school.

Unfortunately, Jamie is met with a surprising amount of opposition from just about everyone—from a family he’s exclusively working with (they continued to eat fatty foods until he took their obese kids to the doctor, scaring them with the very real future of diabetes) to the lunch ladies and higher-ups to the actual kids. You can’t help but root for the guy.

The school-meal program is absolutely, downright despicable, and in obvious need of major reform. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, we see kids eating pizza and strawberry milk, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch saturated in chocolate milk for breakfast. And then chicken nuggets for lunch. Everything highly processed and full of sugar and sodium. The most disturbing scene, in my opinion, is when Jamie shows a group of kids how chicken nuggets are made. He cleanly divides the chicken into breasts, legs, wings, explaining to them that this is the good, edible, expensive part of the chicken. He then shows them the stinking carcass (to which everyone says EWW), throws it in a blender—bones and all—with some chicken skin and purees and then sivvs. The kids are still squeamish. Then he adds some flour and flavoring, rolls it out, cuts it out, then fries it. And to our shock and horror…after all that…the kids want to eat it. Le sigh! This is how brainwashed our kids are! Then when it comes to school-lunch reform, he is able to come up with his own menu, but the kitchen workers are uncooperative. On the one hand, we’re supposed to probably look at these people as just being stubborn, but there’s a whole other side to the story that I can pretty much guarantee won’t be explored.

People working in our nation’s school kitchens are some of the lowest-paid and most undervalued employees, period. They work long hours, and put up with a lot from parents, school officials, and their own political stratification. They’re bogged down in technicalities, paperwork, and schedules, and I can see with 100 percent clarity how these ladies would have been frustrated with the changes Jamie was trying to make. These people are powerless to make such huge changes by themselves, and the added work of cooking from raw is surely not welcome, considering their current working environment.

At the same time, it’s obvious that the schools in Huntington need a major overhaul.

Where I’m from—Portland, Oregon—Nutrition Services (which works in tandem with Portland Public Schools) is light years ahead of the atrocities we see in Food Revolution (although I think Portland as a whole is light years ahead of most of the rest of the country). I don’t say that lightly, either. Not only are their nutritional requirements completely different, but they have made a conscious and concerted effort to incorporate fresh, local, and healthy fare. Last year, they had Harvest of the Month, which was one meal that was completely locally produced.

This year, they upped the ante and have nixed Harvest of the Month in exchange for a constant emphasis on the local and fresh. The salad bar is always unlimited, and kids learn at a very young age how to make good, wholesome, balanced meal choices. Nutrition Services does not serve flavored milks at breakfast, and when they serve it at lunch, it’s of the nonfat variety that is not in a huge bottle. And I’m pretty sure that they don’t count French fries as a vegetable. They do, however, consider freshly roasted squash as veg. See where I’m going with this?

I’m not telling Oliver to stay away from my hometown, but I am saying that perhaps schools across the nation could take a cue from Portland and start treating kids like the future of our world that they are.

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Published by

Danielle

Exuberant photographer, artist, writer, designer, wannabe chef, and Crossfitter.

6 thoughts on “Healthy revolution”

  1. But they think they’re treating their kids well…feeding them well…feeding them the foods they were brought up on. It’s a horrible cycle.

    I see it some in my own friends’ kids. They think nuggets and boxed mac and cheese are meals. It’s one of those things that have always irked me. They bitch and moan that their kids won’t eat anything other than frozen waffles, yet they continue to offer them. Kids are usually not adventurous, so if you don’t start it from an early age, you’re kinda screwed.

    I know, for myself, I suck at eating well. I like fat and sugar. Though I feel like, soon very very soon, I need a complete overhaul of my diet. Not to lose weight, but to FEEL better. And, so that I can be make good choices for Alexa to model after. I want her to do as I do, and not just as I say.

    1. You are ABSOLUTELY right. It really is so discouraging seeing people defend their lifestyles because it’s easy and familiar. I hope that when I have kids I can be a good role model. Even if I’m fat, I can still show them that you can eat well, be active, and be healthy.

      Alexa is lucky to have you guys as role models. And I think that just being able to consciously know what you need to do for her is a big leap in the right direction, and you’re setting yourself up for success. 🙂

  2. I am so addicted to this show now! I wanted to watch it when I saw the previews. He is SO right too. Now clarify for me, my school was not in the Portland School District but in the Beaverton. Did we change the standards too? Because I remember that school had fast food/fries available every day. Anywho, I’ll be watching the show-viva la food revolucion!

    1. That’s a really great question, Amy. I actually did not go to PPS, but I spent a lot of time in their kitchens, and I can tell you that they have different standards for elementary, middle, and high schools, and I’m sure a lot of the healthy stuff that’s now taking place happened in the last 5 to 10 years. Elementary schools have meals and salad bars; while middle schools have meals, salad bar, and ala carte items (e.g., pizza by the slice, but I actually think they canceled that and the Taco Bell program); and high schools have meals, salad bar, and the student store, which sells pizza and bottled beverages, but the cooked food is made in the school kitchen (i.e., not delivered by Pizza Hut or whatever). At the high-school level, when they have the option of buying from the student store, an entire meal is eons cheaper (we’re talking like less than $3 for a full meal, salad bar, and drink, at the normal, non free-and-reduced price) in the cafeteria than buying ala carte.

      I also remember there was a big uproar with the students (and the teachers) when they stopped selling “megachip” cookies (enormous chocolate-chip cookies) and fresh-baked cookies. They were too unhealthy, if I remember correctly. They also used to have fries, but I’m pretty sure that’s been nixed, too.

      You should look into what you guys do (here’s the link: http://www.beavton.k12.or.us/home/departments/nutrition-services/); I didn’t find much on their website, but I’m curious to hear if they are connected somehow to PPS, and where they get their food!

  3. This is why I feed my kids breakfast at home and pack their lunches myself! Last year, my oldest son was eating breakfast and lunch at school where they had chocolate milke, Pizza Hut every Friday, chicken nuggets and on and on. He gained 20 pounds! Since I’ve been packing his lunches this year, he has not gained any weight. What ever happened to packing lunches? Great analysis, Danielle. I never would have stopped to think about all of the work involved in changing the menu and the people that have to do it 🙂

    1. Good point, Jen. The whole school-lunches phenomenon is strange to me, because, like your kids, I grew up eating breakfast at home, and complaining about the PB&Js my mom packed me, haha. It was always a ONCE IN A WHILE treat when I got hot lunch. But for the kids who rely on school lunches, we need reform in many areas; how sad that your son gained 20 pounds from eating what the school prepared for him. It should be of national interest to take care of our kids!

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