Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”

I didn’t watch the show. I wasn’t going to blog about it, for one thing. But this article Arun Gupta wrote at Alternet is fascinating, digging into the various federal and state requirements for school lunches, how both policy and kids’ tastes encourages the use of processed foods … and here I am, blogging about it.

That [Jamie Oliver] failed to meet the nutritional guidelines, went way over budget and put the school district at risk of losing federal funding is bad enough. The fact that so many children stopped drinking milk, dropped out of the program and appeared to be eating less food,* strongly suggests they were worse off under his program. As Cabell County has sidelined his menu it’s more evidence that the “Food Revolution” collapsed at the barricades.

That said, school food could be improved tremendously. But it’s a comment on how bad the broader food system and culture is when studies show kids who participate in the school lunch program are eating healthier food than they would otherwise.

Why did kids stop drinking milk?  He banned flavored milk as being “too sweet” — despite that almost half of the sugar in the milk is lactose, which, y’know, is in all milk.   He also decried serving baked “french fries” at school — because they’re French, I guess, because it’s not like they were deep-fried.

*Gupta also notes this was a school where 86% of the kids qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.  They may not be able to afford to buy or bring another lunch.  Hell, some of those kids may not get any food that isn’t at school.

27 thoughts on “Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”

  1. I’ve said it before, Jamie Oliver is a chef, not a dietitian or a nutritionist. He knows how to make food taste good when following a recipe, but as for making a meal that meets nutritional guidelines for a large number of people within a small budget – he doesn’t have a clue. He’s blundering around, thinking he has the solution to end obesity and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to nutrition, let alone anything else.

    • Oh, but don’t you know? Anyone who’s thin automatically knows how to be thin. So, y’know, just eat like him and you’ll be thin! [/sweetness and light and sarcasm]

      Yeah, the whole premise of the show is stupid. Reportedly they’re misrepresenting the standard menus (passing off baked fries as deep-fried, not mentioning that the breakfast pizza is low-fat whole-wheat, etc) and presenting it as a school or district in isolation, and skipping over how federal / state mandates influence things.

      • I totally read “just eat like him” as “JUST EAT HIM” and I was all, “RIGHT ON!” Then I realized I read it wrong.

        I still prefer the “Just eat him and you’ll be thin!” idea. At least it’d get him to shut up.

        Eat him. With a side of baby donuts.

  2. Not to mention, it turns out some of his possible alternatives for school lunches had higher fat and calorie content than what was being already served at the school. AND, he went over the federal & state budgets too! So, epic fail on his part.

    I think many people wouldn’t disagree on improving the nutrition and quality of school food, but you don’t get a high-profile, wealthy , fat-hating chef to go into a poor rural town to try and change things. It’s classist and Oliver already has major fat bias…he’s only throwing fat children under the bus and targeting a certain group for “poor habits” when all kids, regardless of weight, can benefit from improved school meals.

    The best thing West Virginia can do is tell Oliver to leave and take his fat-phobic behavior with him.

    • Not to mention, it turns out some of his possible alternatives for school lunches had higher fat and calorie content than what was being already served at the school

      One thing the Alternet article noted is that the federal school nutrition criteria are a minimum number of calories and a maximum of 30% of calories coming from fat. The minimum dates to WWII, when there were concerns that underweight youth were being drafted; the max fat % was added in the 80s. So a common trick if the fat % is too high is to add low-fat calories and thus reduce the % of calories coming from fat.

      It’s not just Oliver’s trick:

      If a school district finds a meal has too much fat, it can raise the calorie count to lower the proportion of fat. “The quickest, least expensive fix … is to add sugar,” writes Poppendieck. “Sweetened, flavored milks have become a staple of the cafeteria, and desserts are making a comeback. An additional serving of vegetables, the element in which American diets are most glaringly deficient, would usually fill the calorie gap, but it is beyond the financial reach of most schools.”

  3. Jamie Oliver bugs the hell out of me. He reminds of MeMe Roth in that he is saying he has a solution for something which he knows almost nothing about.

  4. So let me get this straight: the great Jamie Oliver swoops in to save us all from being fat by fixing the school lunch program, and he makes higher fat, higher calorie meals that cost more than the school districts can afford, stops the kids drinking milk, and still thinks he’s done everyone a huge favor?

    I do think that more can be done to make school lunches (which, for far too many of the kids who eat them, are sometimes the only reasonably filling, nutritious meal they can count on) more nutritious and filling… but most of it would be helped by providing more money to the programs. When you’ve got an average of $0.80 to $1.50 per kid to pay for meals, that’s going to seriously limit what can be offered to the kids.

    Shouting ‘give these kids more organic greens and everything will be hunky dory and they’ll all magically become socially acceptably thin’ is about as useful as handing someone a teaspoon and telling them to empty the ocean into a leaky bucket. Until the poverty many of these children live in is fixed, there will be children whose only access to decent, nutritious meals is through the schools. Until schools are properly funded, the budgets they are given to feed these children will continue to be inadequate to their needs.

    And even once every child is given three nutritious square meals every single day of the week, some of those children will still be fat.

    Crusade for better lunches for these kids, and I’ll be happy to have your back. Lobby to make children thin, and I don’t have time to be a part of your witch hunt.

    • Crusade for better lunches for these kids, and I’ll be happy to have your back. Lobby to make children thin, and I don’t have time to be a part of your witch hunt.

      ;)

  5. This just disgusted me when I read it. Jamie Oliver doesn’t have to worry about where his next meal is coming from, but many of these kids do. He put this district in danger of losing it’s federal school lunch funding with his classist bs.

    Even the Alternet author gets it wrong:

    Many people opt for flavor-intense, highly processed, calorie-dense food because it’s cheaper, easier and more fulfilling than cooking healthy foods from scratch. And there’s no one helping to educate them and help modify their behaviors and habits

    No. Just no. Poor people aren’t too stupid to eat differently, they’re too poor! When the household food budget is based around food stamps, you can’t afford fruits and vegetables. There’s not enough calories per dollar in food you cook yourself, and when you only have a dollar per meal with which to plan that’s really effing important! “Education” does nothing but shame people who cannot survive making the “right” choices.

    The kids at this school would have been better served if Jamie Oliver had just donated a bunch of his money to the school lunch program and stayed the hell away from planning the menus. That wouldn’t have let him, the viewers at home, and the slow food movement feel superior about themselves.

    • Poor people aren’t too stupid to eat differently, they’re too poor!

      And, don’t forget the time issue. It takes time to shop for the food you need to make home-cooked meals. I know that, in my city, you can easily pick up packaged stuff at a number of corner markets, but getting fresh ingredients requires, for most people, a car, or the ability to take a whole morning or afternoon off to get to a store using our crappy public transit system. It obviously takes time to cook. I’m a stay-at-home mom right now, and with a new baby I still find it hard to manage to cook many nights. I don’t think we realize how pressed for time many parents are. If you work full-time, you’re getting home right around dinner time. Your kids have homework to do. You’ve got housecleaning to do. You end up with just a few hours to get everybody fed, done with their homework, cleaned up, and ready for bed, and you might even want to have some fun with them. Spending the time it takes to make a meal from scratch simply isn’t feasible for many people, poor or not.

      I find the whole show appalling. I really wanted to weep when I saw Jamie looking at a pile of food and telling a mom, “This is going to kill your kids!” How f-ed up as a society are we if we look at food and say it will kill us? Tens of thousands of children are going to starve to death today. That food, no matter how high in fat or salt or whatever is “wrong” with it, would keep them alive. Can you imagine what their parents would think if they saw Jamie Oliver berating a mother for feeding it to her children and then forcing her to cook it all then throw it away? It’s just unconscionable. That food isn’t poison, and it’s not going to kill anybody. It’s insane (and really sad, I think) that we believe it is.

      AFAIK even the most fat-hating studies indicate that even the most morbidly obese people have a lifespan only a few years shorter than the fittest people. Even the most morbidly obese women still live longer, on average, than a fit man. It’s just baseless fear-mongering to claim that people are killing children by feeding them the same food–pizza, nuggets, fries–that kids have been eating for the last 40 years or so, while our life expectancies have been steadily rising and deaths from the so-called “obesity-related” illness (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) have been declining.

      This has nothing to do with health; it’s all classism. Call the food that poor people feed their kids “not real food,” so they can feel shamed, and those of us with the time and money to feed our families differently can stand back and feel smug.

  6. It’s British imperialism all over again…but it’s kind of cool to see how resistant Americans are to the sort of classist paternalism that people in the UK just accept. English kids are brought up to be seen and not heard, but things are obviously more healthy in the US, where children know how to stick up for themselves (I say all this as an Australian, where we tend to slavishly follow the UK in almost everything).

  7. Chris Gregory, that’s ridiculous. There’s plenty of paternalism and condescension to go around from most corners of the globe concerning fat hatred. See MeMe Roth, and Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign as two recent examples.

    Most of the fat-hating ‘science’ disseminated to global news organisations currently comes out of the US simply by virtue of the US being bigger and having more of a current obesity focus than many other countries (which is not to say that the US is somehow ‘worse’).

    Oliver’s similar “Hey let’s force kids to magically eat healthy!” TV show in the UK also failed, with the children and their parents refusing to play by his rules.

    Please don’t make generalisations about an entire culture based on one bigoted, privileged twit’s (not unexpected) failure.

    ___________________

    And oh! Jamie Oliver endangering the health and wellbeing of impoverished children to further his own ego just makes my blood boil. What a hateful, unconscionable thing to do.

  8. I would recommend watching the show. From what I took from it, his goal is to take all of the processed crap and replace it with real food. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that and I don’t understand why some people seem to be so threatened by that. (And I agree that he can come off as a bit pompous, but I agree with what he’s trying to do.)

  9. Oh please, like screaming at some poor woman about how she’s OMG KILLING HER KIDS and making her cook all the food in the house and then throwing it away while continuing to berate her has one thing to do with anything BUT assigning shame. And what exactly was with his little stunt of wearing a fat suit and sitting on a broken scooter for a photo op?

    This year the devil du jour are the twin specters of processed food and high fructose corn syrup. Once it was carbohydrates. Before that meat was the problem. Before that it was fats.

    Most of the time a “processed” devil food and it’s counterpart angelic “real” food are almost exactly the same, nutrition wise… and sometimes it’s nutritionally worse.

  10. Amen. We can & do get the nutrients we need from processed foods & for those of low, or fixed income, the working poor, people on welfare, & the elderly on fixed incomes, getting as much food as we can for as little money as possible is a GOOD thing. I am SOOO freaking tired of perfectly good food being called “crap’ because it is processed. If I were to eat ‘unprocessed’ boneless, skinless chicken tenders, I would be eating them raw, & that ain’t happenin’. I am getting more than a bit fed up with the widespread healthism & classism. And, for a country which has supposedly ‘terrible’ eating habits, we are overall healthier than ever before & we are gaining up to 4-5 months per year in average life expectancy. Schools should have more money with which to feed more children, many of whom DO desperately need the food, but let’s leave the damn food nannies & the blithering idiots like Oliver out of it.

    Jamie Oliver NEVER ‘means well’, any more than Meme Roth. He is out to belittle & degrade people while getting himself as much money & publicity as he possibly can. He is also totally clueless.

  11. This isn’t really relevant, but I’d love to know Jamie Oliver’s actual BMI. Because, seeing him, and seeing things like the BMI Project and the Photographic Height/Weight Chart, I’d honestly be shocked if he wasn’t solidly in the overweight range.

    • Lori, I was thinking the same thing as I was watching, and to me it is relevant because if he can be overweight eating what he eats how can he tell anyone else what is the correct thing to eat when he’s not in the wonderful perfection that is “normal BMI” range. If you’re going to trot out those rather arbitrary stats to gauge who’s fat and who’s not you have to live by them yourself.

  12. While I agree that Jamie Oliver isn’t doing much to help any problem in the US, I do think that the quality of school meals is not-so-great.

    People get so down on people like Meme Roth and Jamie Oliver for dispensing nutrition advice when they themselves are not nutritionists or doctors, but then they go and then state their own opinions about nutrition as fact. Also, when nutritionists and doctors advise against being obese, these same people who pull the ‘not-a-nutritionist’ card on people such as Roth or Oliver cite other studies, claiming that the doctors/nutritionists are wrong. It’s as if no one is right unless the agree with the person complaining.

  13. Just because a meal has more calories does not mean it isn’t healthier.

    I don’t understand how there are people saying that BMI means nothing and then criticizing his weight. How does that help anything?

    As for the hate on the Let’s Move campaign..what is wrong with? “Let’s Move will give parents the support they need, provide healthier food in schools, help our kids to be more physically active, and make healthy, affordable food available in every part of our country.”

    • I’m not criticizing his weight at all. Pointing out that somebody appears, based on comparison with pictures of other people, to perhaps be overweight isn’t criticizing them. I think the man looks fine. I’m guessing he’s healthy and active, and I certainly don’t think he needs to lose any weight.

      But, the point is that, this is a person who is donning a giant fat suit and pretending to break a scooter as his example of what the “obesity epidemic” looks like, when in actual fact, the average overweight/obese adult looks a whole lot more like Jamie Oliver than they look like him wearing his fat suit.

      I’ve seen many situations where a person who is, based on their BMI, actually overweight or even in the lower part of the obese range start ragging on how awful it is to be fat and how the obesity epidemic is ruining our country, blissfully unaware that THEY are the epidemic. They think the problem is *really* fat people, since obviously they’re healthy and active and “normal.” They see the obesity epidemic as an epidemic of people they think are much too fat, and not as something based on BMI classifications that would actually put them in the obese range. I get the sense that Jamie Oliver tends to be playing on the same sentiments.

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  15. So while I totally agree with everything everyone else has already commented on, I wanted to add one thing.

    Appalachia has been exploited by “outsiders” for generations. Period. And you know what? We don’t like fancy pants asshats coming in to show us how to do it better because we can’t figure it out for ourselves. Just like most people are saying, West Virginia is poor. Most of the people in it are poor. And I worked with kids who only got to eat at schools because they didn’t have food at home, and I worked a summer program where parents enrolled all their kids in it if possible because it served breakfast and lunch. And it’s not because we’re all lazy hillbillies, it’s because jobs in WV suck, and most people are afraid to leave because we’ve been treated so badly by people not from WV that we can’t imagine that there’s anything out there for us except scorn.

    Which is really crappy, because we fed and took care of the reporters who came in to report on the mine explosion because that’s the type of people who live in WV.

    I’m not even in WV anymore because I had to leave to find a decent job, but it’s still home, and I like Jamie Oliver’s food but his philosophies suck and he needs to stay the hell out of Cabell County.

    Ahem. That is all.

  16. Wow! What a LOT of HOSTILITY toward someone who is TRYING to do something about the dreadful PROCESSED food diet Americans consume!
    Take that which will benefit you – and what you can afford and toss the rest! Add one fresh veggie or food to your families diet this week, and another next week; you don’t have to go Whole Foods in a day!
    I listened to JO on radio this morning and he believes treats should be enjoyed, the problem is the Processed Foods have all the markers of Indulgence built in – in other words ALL processed foods are Treats, and we are eating a steady diet of treats rather than reserving treats for special times.
    Get off your behinds and help out at the school lunch and breakfast programs, lobby the school board, lobby the gov, the fast food joints and MAKE CHANGES rather cutting down someone who is out there actually doing something about it; putting his money where his mouth is! You don’t need money to write or yell at your politicians, picket fast food joints or the Coke vending machines in schools… we can ALL make a difference!

  17. You people disgust me. His focus was on the TREMENDOUS AMOUNTS OF PROCESSED INGREDIENTS in the food. “Nutritional guidelines” should not be something that has to be put into place, and if they were using real, fresh ingredients they wouldn’t have to. To pick apart any aspect of his message is to be in a deep, deep denial about reality.

    Have fun trying to survive. I’m sure you won’t take any responsibility for it. And while you’re at it, keep trusting huge, subsidized corporations to provide you with “nourishment!”

    I mean, really, you work SO hard, you deserve “treats,” even if they’re lethal.

    • “Nutritional guidelines” should not be something that has to be put into place, and if they were using real, fresh ingredients they wouldn’t have to.

      The US government put them in place over 50 years ago, and schools must adhere to them to get state and federal funding to pay for the food. This is a fact of the current system. Actually discussing this might have been useful.

      I will also note that kids don’t eat messages. They eat food.

      I am also amused that you seem to think you know what everyone who has left comments on this post eats every day.

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