Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution‘s first season has come to a close, but hopefully its small impact will make a big change, including continuing this series in a new town. In case you missed the six episodes on ABC, this reality show was a crusade led by Chef Jamie Oliver to change the public school system’s lunch program in Huntington, West Virginia, and hopefully the country. In a system where the requirements include 2 mandatory bread items (because who doesn’t need a roll with their pizza?), French fries count as a vegetable, the ingredients lists on the processed foods read like science experiments, and flavored milks contain as much sugar as soda, it was clear that something needs to change. And lest you think that this is just a local problem, these school lunch regulations are from the federal government, and therefore country-wide.
While I’m not naïve enough to believe that a six episode series will change the entire country, I found Oliver’s approach refreshing, comprehensive, and inspiring. Jamie Oliver used a three-fold approach that while certainly could have been expanded upon, provided a decent framework to affect change in the community: schools, civic community, and personal family. By trying to make positive change n each area, a community was able to somewhat work together to provide a healthy change for the residents who chose to be a part of the process.
Oliver’s biggest push was within the school lunch system, stemming from the belief that if kids are taught about and given healthy food options from an early age, they will learn how to make life-long healthy choices. He threw out the processed foods and replaced them with fresh options, loaded with vegetables and nutrients. Gone was the flavored milk, and when the only option was plain, white milk, the kids drank it (shocking!). While the lunch ladies griped at the extra work and drastic changes at first (especially the famous Alice), they turned out to be Jamie’s biggest fans in the end. The whole school got behind his efforts, and the effects were positive, from kids behaving better and no longer falling asleep in the afternoons after a sugar crash, to even the principal losing 25 pounds. The program was allowed to continue throughout the district, and funding was procured to train and educate the entire district’s food staff. While it seems that the program still faces obstacles, like the head of foods for the district ordering cheap, processed foods despite the changes, it seems that this program could serve as a model to other districts and states of how to do school lunches in a healthy way.
In the community, Jamie Oliver worked with one obese family one-on-one and opened a community kitchen in the town square where anyone could come and receive free cooking lessons. He was even able to recruit 1,000 people in 5 days to learn how to cook, making a believer out of the town’s biggest radio DJ who did nothing but slam Oliver’s efforts over the air in the beginning. By starting with the kids and ending with the parents, his efforts had a chance of producing real change. Since the last episode was filmed only weeks before it aired, time will tell whether or not the change in Huntington is permanent.
As a mother of three, I found Food Revolution to be inspiring and educational. I only allow my son to buy lunch once a week, but finding out some of the statistics about the school lunch program was quite troubling. It not only made me glad that the program was on the air and that Jamie Oliver is on a mission to really change the health of kids and families, it also made me wonder what I can do in my own public school. My fear is that a small series like this will raise awareness for a month or two, fade into the oblivion, and the American public will move on. To me, that would be a tragedy. This is certainly an epidemic worth changing, and public support will help to bolster the ABC’s confidence in keeping Food Revolution on the air in a second season in another town. If this could gain the momentum of a show like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I feel that change just might be possible across the country. Here’s hoping that this is the case, and that a reality show actually worth watching gets the support it needs.
If you missed this series or would like to watch it again, all 6 episodes are currently able to be viewed on the Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution website here. You can also sign a Food Revolution petition to support the efforts of this show on the website.