Currently browsing posts about: Jamie-Oliver

Aug 16 2010

Great Britain backs down on healthy school food

The new conservative government in Great Britain is doing all it can to promote unhealthy eating.

First, it backed down on traffic-light food labels.

Then, it took the food label regulatory functions away from its too-interventionist Food Standards Agency.

Now, it is reneging on regulations requiring schools to serve healthier foods:

Education Minister Nick Gibb has told MPs all new academies will not have to stick to tough rules limiting the fat, salt and sugar content in dinners…when asked if academies would have to comply with nutritional standards for school meals…Some existing academies are required to comply with these standards through their funding agreements.  However, new academies will not be required to comply with nutritional standards for school meals. They will be free to promote healthy eating and good nutrition as they see fit.

Oh.  Voluntary guidelines.  We know all about those.

As a disappointed Jamie Oliver puts it, as he watches his work undone: “This will take us back to the days of junk food vending machines in schools, and Turkey Twizzlers on the menu.”

Apr 12 2010

Eating Liberally: A vote for Jamie Oliver

In part in response to the outpouring of hate mail about Jamie Oliver’s “food revolution,” Kerry Trueman has tossed in another question from Eating Liberally:

KT: The last two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution have yet to air, but folks are already assessing whether Oliver’s attempt to launch a culinary coup in the community of Huntington, West Virginia was a success or a failure. Jamie’s ‘people’ consulted you at the start of this project. Did they heed your advice? If it had been your show, how would you have gone in and done it?

Dr. Nestle: I don’t watch much TV (technophobe that I am, I have yet to figure out how to turn it on without resorting to instructions), but I would not miss the Jamie Oliver show. I first heard about it from students in my NYU Food Ethics class. They made it clear that the show was well worth watching by anyone who cares about how America eats.

I was dubious. When I met with Jamie Oliver’s staff in London last summer—an information session, not a consult—I thought the project sounded kind of arrogant but knowing nothing about reality television, I was curious to see how it would go.

Splendidly, I would say. What I hadn’t realized is how much fun this guy is, and how gutsy. OK, he has annoying Briticisms. OK, a lot of this is about him.

But he wants everyone to learn to cook healthy food and have fun doing it. He wants school lunches to be better. He wants people to be healthier. Along the way, he is exposing deep flaws in the federal school meal programs and in the kinds of foods that many people eat without giving what they eat much thought. Sounds good to me.

I’m kind of stunned by the hostility the programs have evoked among people I would have expected to support these goals. My teaching assistant, Maya Joseph, a doctoral student at the New School, categorized the criticisms for me:

• the wounded ego messages (how dare Jamie Oliver not mention MY work!!)

• the ugly foreigner message (how dare Jamie tell AMERICANS what to eat!)

• the outraged sensitivity messages (how dare Jamie Oliver not take account of X,Y, and Z when he so rudely ballooned into this town).

Maya adds: “I would have thought that it would be obvious…that this is (a) a TV show! and (b) great publicity for our food system tragedies.”

Me too. Or, as food consultant Kate Adamick points out in the first of  her ongoing reviews on the Atlantic Food Channel, “the revolution will be televised.”

This is reality TV aimed at an important public health problem. Is it theater, or is something bigger going on?

From the number of people I know who are watching it and talking about it, I’m voting for bigger. I think it’s useful for people to know that kids at school think it’s normal to eat pizza for breakfast, French fries for lunch, and nothing with a knife and fork. And they have no idea what a tomato or a potato looks like. People need to know that schools and USDA regulations allow these things to happen. They need to know that better food costs more.

From my observations of school food over the years, getting decent food into schools requires:

•  A principal who cares about what kids eat

•  Teachers who care about what kids eat

•  Parents who care about what kids eat

•  Food service personnel who not only care what the kids eat, but also know the kids’ names.

Jamie Oliver is trying to reach all of these people, and more.

I think the programs have much to teach about the reality of school food and what it will take to fix it. The New York Times reviewer, also dubious at first, ended his review with this comment:

One thing noticeably absent from the first two episodes is a discussion of any role the American food industry and its lobbyists might play in the makeup of school lunches and in the formulation of the guidelines set for them by the Agriculture Department. If Mr. Oliver wants a real food revolution, it can’t happen just in Huntington.

Yes! And these programs could help.

Finally, let me comment on the West Virginia University’s evaluation. This survey found that the kids didn’t like Oliver’s meals (but did try them). The staff didn’t like the increased work. Everything cost more.

Once again, this is TV, not a real school intervention. Real ones start at the beginning of a semester, not in the middle, and are about food, not entertainment. They also do not leave it up to the kids to decide what to eat.

As I said in one of my blog posts on these programs, I want to know what happens in schools and in the community after the TV crews are gone. If the programs are any indication, I think real changes will take place in the minds, hearts, and stomachs of at least some participants and viewers. Whether researchers can figure out how to capture those changes is another matter.

Watch them. And get your kids to watch with you.

Addition April 21: Jane Black of the Washington Post has done a thorough evaluation of the TV series accompanied by notes on her  personal interview with Jamie Oliver.   She thinks he did some good.  Me too.

Mar 30 2010

Spoil alert: Jamie Oliver evaluated

TV is one thing but Jamie Oliver’s school intervention is over in real life and has already been evaluated in a study by researchers at West Virginia University.

They asked seven questions of 109 4th- and 5th-grade students, 35 teachers, 6 cooks, and the country food service director (Results):

1. Are the new menu items acceptable to the students?  Not much.  77% said they hated the food (but 66% said they tried new foods).

2. Do the new menus impact lunch participation? Yes, badly.  Participation decreased by 9%.

3. Does removal of flavored milk impact milk consumption?  Yes, milk consumption decreased by 25%.

4. How do teachers perceive the new menus?  Not too differently than they perceived the old ones, but they thought the new ones were more nutritious.

5. Do the new menus impact the workload for food service staff?  Yes, they didn’t like it that they had to work harder and longer, and they preferred their own food.

6. Do the new menus impact meal costs?  Yes, labor and ingredient costs were higher.

7. Do the new menus meet the federal and state nutrition guidelines?  Yes and no.  Fat and saturated fat were higher than USDA targets, sodium and fiber met guidelines, and vitamins and minerals exceeded targets.

So what to make of this?  Remember, this is reality TV, not a real school intervention.  Real ones start at the beginning of a semester, not in the middle, and are about food, not entertainment.   They also do not leave it up to the kids to decide what to eat.

I think it’s telling that the first question asked is whether kids like the food.  This assumes that liking food is independent of external influences like peer pressure and food marketing.

Since when do kids get to decide what’s best for them to eat?  Isn’t that an adult responsibility?

I’m more interested in knowing what happens in schools in that town after the TV crews are long gone.  If the programs are any indication, I think real changes will take place in the minds, hearts, and stomachs of participants and viewers.  Whether researchers can figure out how to capture those changes is another matter.

Addendum: Here’s the Associated Press story on the evaluation, which quotes me.

Mar 28 2010

Jamie Oliver’s food revolution. Yes!

I’m not much of a TV-watcher but from what I’ve been hearing about Jamie Oliver’s new series, I thought I had best take a look.

Don’t miss it.  Get your kids to watch it with you.

Oliver, in case you haven’t been paying attention, went to Huntington, West Virginia (ostensibly the obesity capital of the world), TV crew in hand, to reform the town’s school lunch program.

Take a deep breath.  Try not to get turned off by Oliver’s statement that “the food revolution starts here” (no Jamie, it doesn’t).  Try not to cringe when he calls the food service workers “girls” and “luv” (OK, it’s a cultural problem).  Remember: this is reality TV.

With that said, let’s give the guy plenty of credit for what he is trying to do: cook real food.  What a concept!

And let’s cut him some slack for what he is up against: USDA rules that make cooking too expensive for school budgets, entrenched negative attitudes, widespread cluelessness about dietary principles as well as what food is and how to cook it, and kids who think it is entirely normal to eat pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch, neither with a knife and fork.

What impressed me most is that Oliver is going about addressing these barriers in exactly the right way.  From my observations of school food over the years, the key elements for getting decent food into schools are these:

  • A principal who cares about what kids eat
  • Teachers who care about what kids eat
  • Parents who care about what kids eat
  • Food service personnel who not only care what the kids eat, but also know the kids’ names.

For a school food program to work, all of these elements must be in place.  That’s why the school food revolution must be achieved one school at a time.

Watch Oliver go to work on these elements in this one school.

Teacher that I am, for me the most moving – and hopeful – sign was what happened in the classroom.  Oliver holds up tomatoes and asks the kids what they are.  No response.  Not one kid recognizes a potato or knows it as the source of French fries.

How does the teacher react?  As any great teacher, she recognizes a teachable moment and uses it.  When Oliver returns to that class, the kids recognize and can name vegetables, even an eggplant.

This program has much to teach us about the reality of school food and what it takes to fix it.  That is why I so appreciate the comments of  the New York Times reviewer. His review ended with this comment:

One thing noticeably absent from the first two episodes is a discussion of any role the American food industry and its lobbyists might play in the makeup of school lunches and in the formulation of the guidelines set for them by the Agriculture Department. If Mr. Oliver wants a real food revolution, it can’t happen just in Huntington.

Yes!

Addendum #1: Here’s Jamie Oliver’s TED talk.

Addendum #2: the case against Jamie Oliver, courtesy of reason.com (unreason?).

Mar 4 2010

Research alert: childhood obesity and how to fix it

It’s almost impossible to keep up with what’s being written about childhood obesity.  The papers and commentary pour in.  Much of this is well worth reading.  If you want to keep up on the latest thinking about the issue, here are some places to start:

1.  Health Affairs: Thanks to Matt Gruenberg for alerting me to the issue of Health Affairs devoted entirely to obesity topics.  Here’s the Table of  Contents.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation had a hand in this and discusses some of the papers on its website.

Even better, Health Affairs has produced a series of “issue briefs” to go with the journal articles.  These are available on the Health Affairs blog. They cover:

2.  FoodNavigator.com has a “special issue” on childhood obesity from the business standpoint:

Giving children the best nutritional start: With childhood obesity rates apparently sky rocketing around the world, celebrity chefs redesigning school meals, and international initiatives to influence what our children eat, now is an interesting time for child nutrition.

Kids’ food trends in the spotlight: Some major trends in children’s eating habits could change as the economy recovers – but foods marketed as natural and healthful are here to stay, according to a senior analyst at Mintel. 

How characters can help children eat healthily: From Disney to Tony the Tiger, consumer groups have been campaigning hard to break the links between childhood icons and unhealthy foods. But furry friends and super-heroes are now putting in more of an appearance on healthy products.

Kids’ TV food commercials down, but cross-promotions soar: Cross-promotions on food packaging targeted at children increased by 78 percent between 2006 and 2008, according to a study from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy.

3.  Michelle Obama’s campaign:USA Today reports on Mrs. Obama’s talk to the school nutrition association, the organization of people who work in school lunchrooms – those who Jamie Oliver refers to as “lunch ladies.”  Check out the coverage and see the video.

What is one to make of all this?  Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue and deserves the attention it is getting.  Let’s hope some of it works.

Feb 23 2010

Jamie Oliver’s fix on American school food: watch the video

Jamie Oliver, the British celebrity chef who has taken on school food as a personal crusade against childhood obesity – and with some success in Great Britain – wants to do the same for us.  He is starting with a school in Huntington, West Virginia, a community that gives itself credit for being the unhealthiest in America.

Thanks to NYU student Jessica Watkins for forwarding this video of his plans. The reactions of people in the community to Jamie’s ideas are especially interesting.

This is the start of a TV series.  Is his campaign about theater or is this real public health?  I guess we’ll have to watch and decide.

Update March 7: Here’s Jamie Oliver’s famous TED video.

Oct 13 2009

School food makes news, endlessly

I can think of many reasons why school food is such a hot topic these days: kids eat a significant portion of their daily calories in schools, schools set an example for what is appropriate for kids to eat, and schools are a learning environment.  Here’s the latest on what’s happening on the school food scene:

1.  The New York City Education Department announces new rules for school vending machines, as part of its new school wellness policies.  According to the account in the New York Times, the vending machines have been empty since the Snapple contract ended in August (Really?  That’s not what I observed a couple of weeks ago).  The new standards will exclude the worst of the products but the lesser evils will still be competing for students’ food dollars, thereby continuing to undermine the solvency and integrity of the school meal programs.

2. The CDC reports (MMWR, October 5)  that junk food is rampant in schools, but the percentage of schools in which children are not permitted to buy junk food or sodas is increasing in at least 37 states.

3.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) takes the USDA to task for not alerting schools when foods in the school meals programs – meat or peanut butter, for example – have been recalled because they are contaminated with dangerous bacteria.  Usually, the GAO talks straight to government.  I don’t know what happened in this case but here is its first, rather incoherent, recommendation to USDA regarding the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS):

To better ensure the safety of foods provided to children through the school meal programs, and to make improvements in three areas related to recalls affecting schools: interagency coordination; notification and instructions to states and schools; and monitoring effectiveness, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FNS and that the Secretary of HHS should direct FDA to jointly establish a time frame for completing a memorandum of understanding on how FNS and FDA will communicate during FDA investigations and recalls that may involve USDA commodities for the school meal programs, which should specifically address how FDA will include FNS in its prerecall deliberations.

The other recommendations make somewhat more sense.  They begin by repeating the first part up through “the Secretary of USDA should direct FNS to”:

  • develop guidelines, in consultations with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), to be used for determining whether or not to institute an administrative hold on suspect commodities for school meal programs.
  • work with states to explore ways for states to speed notification to schools.
  • improve the timeliness and completeness of direct communication between FNS and schools about holds and recalls, such as through the commodity alert system.
  • take the lead among USDA agencies to establish a time frame in which it will improve the USDA commodity hold and recall procedures to address the role of processors and determine distributors’ involvement with processed products, which may contain recalled ingredients, to facilitate providing more timely and complete information to schools.

This needs an editor, but you get the idea.

4.  The GAO has produced yet another report, this one devoted to getting states to comply with federal rules about meal counting and claims.  These are measures designed to make sure that ineligible kids don’t get fed.  I wish I knew how much money such measures cost.  They are a tragic waste.  We need universal school meals.  Period.

5.  And then there is Jamie Oliver, who has transformed the British school meals system and is now attempting to bring his school food revolution to the United States (see the food issue of the New York Times magazine).  One can only wish him luck.

Aug 15 2009

Let the school-meals revolution begin!

My latest Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about school food.  As always, the column is a Q and A

Q: School is starting soon. Is there any hope that school food will ever improve?

A: Yes, there is. The food revolution is upon us. Go into any school that has joined the revolution – many have – and you will see kids eating recognizable foods, helping themselves from salad bars, finishing what they take, all within the typical 30-minute lunch period. And nary a chicken nugget or soda in sight. Teachers in such places swear that the kids behave and learn better, do not bounce off the walls after lunch, and show fewer signs of eating disorders.

From what I’ve seen, this miracle requires a committed principal, a dedicated school food service director, and at least a few teachers and parents who care what kids are eating. If the food service people know the kids’ names, it’s an especially good sign. With such elements in place, the food will be real and taste good enough for the kids to want to eat it.

But the school food revolution can do more. It can turn the cafeteria into a teachable moment. I discovered that on my first teaching job when I saw how easy it was to teach biology through nutrition. Everyone eats.

Schools can use what’s served for lunch to teach the chemical composition of food and its biological effects. They can use recipes to teach mathematics, food choice to teach political science, and the entire eating experience to teach literature, English or foreign languages. Kids can be taught about food plants and animals, how they are produced, and the associated monetary, labor and environmental costs.

Individuals like you can make this happen. The national model, of course, is Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. If your dream is to have your school connect food production to eating, take a look at Berkeley’s Center for Ecoliteracy’s how-to guide, “Big Ideas: Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment.” (Go to ecoliteracy.org.)

Although many schools are not equipped to grow or cook food, they can still produce healthy meals that kids want to eat. I’ve just met with some of the people who work with the British chef, Jamie Oliver, on his school dinner campaigns. Oliver used his cooking skills and celebrity status to produce revolutionary changes in English school meals which, if anything, were worse than ours. I like his ideas because they sound much like mine, and I especially enjoy the British way he puts them:

  • Ban the junk. Please, let’s. It’s time we got rid of vending machines, a la carte service and everything else that competes with federally funded school meals. If we did that, we wouldn’t have to have all those nutrient-based arguments about what’s allowed in vending machines. Kids need water? How about fixing the drinking fountains or supplying tappable containers of filtered water as I’ve seen done in the Berkeley schools.
  • Big love to dinner ladies. This is Oliver’s way of calling for better support – financial, material and emotional – to the school food service people. I vote yes.
  • Teach kids about food. Teach kids to grow, cook and taste food, and they will never look at fast food or food “just for kids” the same way again.
  • Half a quid a kid! Translation: School meal programs need and deserve more money. In American schools, the federal lunch program is required to be self-supporting while everything else is subsidized. Education officials in San Francisco tell me they know how to produce healthy, tasty meals for kids but they desperately need more money to do it right. Slow Food USA is sponsoring a Time for Lunch campaign aimed at getting legislators to better support school meals. Join it. The program kicks off with an Eat-In on Sept. 7. (Go to slowfoodusa.org for more information.)

These are great ideas, but I don’t think Oliver takes them quite far enough. I want another action that I think is essential for American school meal programs:

  • Make school meals universal. Our present system requires a hugely expensive local and national bureaucracy expressly devoted to preventing kids who are deemed ineligible from getting free or reduced-price meals in schools. This ugly system stigmatizes poor kids and makes the kids of illegal immigrants go hungry.

Why not just say that we think all kids should be fed breakfast and lunch while they are in school? Doing this would allow all that bureaucratic waste to be applied to the meals themselves, making it easier for the “dinner ladies” to obtain better food and be paid decent wages.

The school year begins soon. Here’s your opportunity.

[Marion Nestle is the author of "Food Politics," "Safe Food" and "What to Eat," and is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. E-mail her at food@sfchronicle.com and read her previous columns at sfgate.com/food.  This article appeared on page K - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle. © 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.]


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