I have been enjoying Jamie Oliver's kinetic whirlwind act on his Food Revolution show. The first two episodes have chronicled his efforts to transform the lunch foods on offer at an elementary school in Huntington, West Virginia, the supposed unhealthiest city in America. It is quite entertaining and it is raising awareness of the issue of unhealthy school lunches in our collective conscience, but according to an article at Alternet it may be a failure at its grand goal of revolutionizing the school lunches at the school.
Spoiler Alert: If you're a fan of the show and want to see things unfold over the next couple of weeks you may want to skip the rest of this post. It reports on the progress 2 months into the process in real time whereas the show is only two weeks in.
Arun Gupta reports;
The reality behind "Food Revolution" is that after the first two months of the new meals, children were overwhelmingly unhappy with the food, milk consumption plummeted and many students dropped out of the school lunch program, which one school official called "staggering." On top of that food costs were way over budget, the school district was saddled with other unmanageable expenses, and Jamie's failure to meet nutritional guidelines had school officials worried they would lose federal funding and the state department of education would intervene.
In short, the "Food Revolution" has flunked out. At Central City Elementary, where Jamie burst in with loads of fanfare, expense and energy, the school has reintroduced the regular school menu and flavored milk because the "Food Revolution" meals were so unpopular. In what looks like a face-saving gesture, Jamie's menu remains as a lunchtime option, but given the negative student response, don't be surprised if it's quietly phased out by next school year. (You can see both menus here.)
Ultimately, Jamie picked the wrong target. Dr. Carole Harris, who along with Dr. Drew Bradlyn evaluated student responses at Central City Elementary to the "Food Revolution" program, says factors such as sedentary lifestyles, fast-food consumption, family meal patterns and junk-food advertising aimed at children are "a much bigger problem than food served in schools."
Even if Oliver's efforts don't ultimately revolutionize the lunch menus at Central elementary I wouldn't call the show a failure. It is raising awareness, taking the niche conversation about food lunches and making it mainstream. Feel good entertainment and fly by celebrities will never revolutionize a communities food systems - that takes local folks embedded in the community to network and sort through it. It's the old time mantra of community organizing - Don't do for people what they can and should do for themselves. Empower them to speak for themselves.
The real issue in Huntington is poverty - with almost 25% of the population living below the poverty line. When the cameras leave town and ABC stops supplementing the school districts food budget they will be left to deal with that.