by Marion Nestle
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.

  • mosprott

    Thanks for spreading the word on this. I tend to be suspicious of motives, especially when it involves “reality TV,” but Jamie Oliver seems to put his money where his mouth is. He’s got a restaurant in England that’s primary purpose is to train kitchen staffs, pulling kids off the street and putting them to work – that place has been going for at least 5 years now. His concern about school lunch programs, as well as how children eat *outside* the school, appears to be genuine.

    I think people are missing the point. This isn’t about Huntington, WV. This is about how far standards have fallen, and the need for us to value where our food comes from, the preparation of that food, and the culture that we’re losing, both in terms of food and in terms of family life.

    In this culture, theater is the only way to get people’s attention. But I don’t doubt his sincerity. Not for a minute.

  • Emily

    Does it matter what his motives are if this program makes a difference? Like mosprott, I tend to believe in Jamie Oliver because this is a campaign he’s been on for a long time. He didn’t meet with nearly the success he hoped to in the UK but he’s kept on trying, apparently passionately. That said, though, if he can make some people rethink the way they eat and feed their children, then I don’t care much if he’s just a publicity-hound.

  • Joy

    It’s time for the food revolution, with no better place to begin than feeding our children. Childhood is where habits begin, and the more good habits we teach, the better kids can grow into intelligent adults with common sense, discipline and an appreciation for the purpose of food (which is not comfort or love or validation) but to fuel the body and offer background for social interaction through an entire lifetime.

  • Wow, I was surprised by the ignorance of many of the people shown in that video! Looks like Jamie will have a lot of work. Pizza for breakfast, really? I mean, everyone’s probably indulged in a little pizza for breakfast before, but it should definitely not be served to school, making it seem like a healthy, acceptable breakfast option. I’m sure there’s a little theater involved in the show, but what TV show doesn’t include that. The point is to make viewers want to watch right? I have high hopes that this will be pretty educational, and is a great thing that Jamie is investing his time into.

  • Cathy Richards

    Hey – I eat pizza for breakfast. Loaded with veggies and half the amount of cheese.

    Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners (UK — means School Lunches) series was extraordinary. I bought the DVD and used snippets of it frequently in my public health work. Good tv, good motives, good (great!) outcomes. I’m thrilled he’s going to ‘give it a go’ in the States.

  • Cassie

    I watched his TED talk, and was really struck by a video clip he showed of elementary age kids who did not know what a tomato looked like. When he showed this group of kids common foods, like a potato, a bunch tomatoes, a head of cauliflower, they could not identify them!! How is it possible to get to the age of 5 or 6 and never have seen these foods in their raw state?!

    I had no idea the problem was that bad. I wish him all the best.

  • I think Jamie started off sort of on the wrong foot when he was super young, cooking ‘after-bar food’, decadent pastas, meats, lots of cheese and his food is still really indulgent. But, on the whole, I think he’s an amazing personality who emphasizing simple cooking techniques and taste–he wants kids to taste something! It may not wipe out obesity, but there is something to be said for introducing kids to food, real food, and I am super excited to follow him on this journey. I would also gladly be his assistant.

  • I think he is for real. He did completely change the school food program in England. I am excited, albeit a bit trepidatious, to see how successful he is this side of the pond.

  • Balun.s

    As amazing scary as those poor children are, why do I get the feeling that that is exactly what the schools want to happen. Complaining about schools and what they teach has been going on for a very long time.If they can’t feed themselves,

  • Mom of Two

    As I posted at

    I’m struggling with this talk. I appreciate his message and passion, but can’t get past the recipes on his website. First one in Main Courses:

    Delicious Roasted White Fish Wrapped in Smoked Bacon with Lemon Mayonnaise and Asparagus. With its 4 pieces of bacon and 1 tbsp of mayonnaise per portion (~250 calories right there, over 200 of them from fat) I’ll bet it’s delicious! His risotto? 740 cals. per serving.

    [Most recipe software automatically generates nutritional data. Is there a reason he doesn’t include it at his site?]

    I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but he has 26 cheese recipes, 31 pasta recipes (all the ones I saw used white flour pasta), 28 fried food recipes, and only 2 under ‘steamed’ (one of which is 350 cals, with 45% from saturated fat). His last breakfast recipe?

    I’ve seen IHOPs serve smaller portions. Even many of the fruit recipes include 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar.

    I prefer to let Pollan’s 7 words continue to set the standard in my home.

    I’m actually considering starting a blog that takes one recipe of his per day, and posting the nutrition data. If his idea for school lunches are anything like what he suggests at his website, I’ll keep cooking breakfast at home and packing my kids’ lunches.

  • Here’s the link to his TED talk. I think he might be the real thing:

  • First, I’m a huge TED fan. There are many incredible and inspiring videos at the site. I found Mr. Oliver’s to be a little over the top. And, I feel some of his credibility was lost when he states that a 16 year-old girl will be dead by the time she is 22.

    We all know that obesity has its health risks. However, bold statements and sound bites make for good TV, but don’t solve problems.

    Ken Leebow

  • Joe

    Jamie Oliver is a creative chef and I have admired his work for some time. However the fix for school lunches in the US or in Britain is to get the overbearing government rules and regulations out of it.

  • Pete

    Guess we’ll have to wait and see who the sponsors are. Would kind of be hipociritcal to seek revenue from food companies, but they do have plenty to go around. If I see a Kraft product or the like in there (even if its a local cable spot) then this could turn into just another marketing vehicle.

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  • Liz Kiousis

    To: Jamie Oliver
    What about all of the schools that ARE doing something? I am the food service manager at Medina Senior High School in Medina, Ohio. We offer vegetarian optionsEVERY DAY as meal choices, 2 types of vegggie burgers EACH DAY, fresh fruits and veggies EVERY DAY. I am on a committee to have gardens that grow produce in schools and we have 3 gardens at the High School site…ready for expansion. Our Environmental Science class is growning veggies from seed (seed that we got from a donation) hydroponically that we will plant in garden in two weeks. I am applying for a grant to get fruit trees on our high school property.Students here are learning where their food comes from, are interested in gardening and I have a great “vegetarian core group” that participates in our lunch program EVERY DAY. This while we are loosing teachers and support staff to budget cuts.Why not focus on the positive…their are schools that care about nutrition.