Jamie Oliver and Taking A Stand for Healthy Lunches

BlogHer Original Post

 “So Josh, what’s going on?”

 His jade green eyes stared back as his voice faltered.

 “I dunno, I didn’t do anything..”

 The smile played on my lips for a second before I spoke.

 “Josh, you can’t sing “Who Let the Dogs Out” in the middle of a math lesson. Let’s go over the math here where it’s quiet.”

 “I don’t want toooo!” His whine was nails on a chalkboard, grating on my patience.  He pushed his chair back and began kicking the table leg harder, now.

 “Wait a sec.  Did you have breakfast?” His blonde head shook silently. 

 “What have you got for lunch?”

 His shoulders shrugged slightly as he shook his head again.

 “No lunch.”

 Then came a question I never ask, but this time the words were out before I could catch myself.

 “So what did you have for dinner last night?’

Silence.  His eyes, now sad and vacant, searched mine as the horrible truth washed over me. This child who had seemed so defiant, angry, and out of control moments before in the classroom was not a behavior problem.  The problem was that he hadn’t eaten anything substantial for close to 24 hours.  Instead, he had survived on the offerings of his well meaning friends; a pop, some fries and gravy, a bag of popcorn, and candy.

Two Schoolgirls Sitting at a Table in a Canteen Eating Their Lunch

Later on  that evening Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was on TV. Now -- you may say that Jamie Oliver is a bit crazy; who does this guy think he is, coming over to America and telling people how to eat?  Why does he care? Why should anyone listen to him, anyway?  Does it really matter that 31 million children participate in the USDA’s school lunch program and 11 million in the breakfast program? Or that many of those kids are consuming up to half of their daily calories at school?

You bet it does, especially when child obesity rates have tripled in the last thirty years.  Between schools offering less time for PE, marketing for junk food aimed at children, government subsidies for corn farmers, struggling school districts with little money to train their staff, and processed food costing far less than anything healthy, it's obvious that we have a problem. It doesn't take someone like Jamie Oliver to point this out, but perhaps it takes the glaring spotlight of Food Revolution to highlight just how serious the problem actually is.  Unfortunately, it appears that Los Angeles Unified School District in particular doesn't want all eyes to be on them.

Set to be the new school district that Food Revolution whips into shape, the Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest in the country and serves 69 million lunches every day.  However, this district declined to be part of the Food Revolution, citing that their "direct work with nutrition experts, health advocates, the community, schools and students is the most effective strategy for continued success and improvement..." (Melissa Infusino).  Which sounds all well and good -- California is, after all, number 41 on this list of states ranked by weight, until you look at the LAUSD's website

As I perused through the menus and offerings, I began to wonder.  Coffee cake for breakfast? Chicken nuggets? Sausage rolls? Corn dogs and fish nuggets?  What the hell is a peanut butter and jelly pocket? Are they kidding?  What nutritional expert would approve of that?  As I dug further, I also noticed that while one can find the calories, carbs, and fat content on all the items served, the amounts of sugar, salt, and ingredient lists are missing.  Without a list of the actual ingredients, the calories are meaningless.  Think of it this way:  

  • Banana and 8 oz of 1% milk:  approx 200 calories
  • Breakfast pastry: approx 200 calories (along with things like tricalcium phosphate, high fructose corn syrup, and red dye #40)

 As anyone who reads Mrs. Q at Fed Up With Lunch knows, school lunches that look good on paper rarely make the grade when one digs around to see what is really in the food. If the food is so nutritionally sound that they don't need Jamie Oliver stepping in, then why hide the real nutritional information?

Okay, you say, so what?  What's the big deal?

Studies have shows that kids who eat healthier preform better in school, even beyond socioeconomic status, and if 31 million children are eating school lunches, isn't it our responsibility as the adults to demand that those lunches are the best possible? Shouldn't our kids eat real food, not something that sounds like it came from the chemistry department?

Don't we owe it to our children to make sure that they at least have life spans equal to ours, despite big business, politics, and the like?  Fake food is obviously killing them, so isn't it time to stand up and demand that they are provided something that we can at least recognize and pronounce?

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is the big glaring spotlight that comes into town advocating for fresh -- not fake -- food and exposes the deficiencies in school lunch programs.  Nobody likes to look bad, and it's somewhat understandable that school districts are going to be reluctant to put their lunch programs on display to the rest of the nation after they saw the reaction to Food Revolution in Huntington, Virginia.  With LASUD facing huge deficits, perhaps they are struggling to find the funds to train their staff and provide healthier options. This issue isn't isolated to one school, one state, or even one country.  In Canada, our school districts are also struggling, but perhaps if we work together, we can find solutions.  Students at Windermere Secondary in Vancouver have turned a simple box garden project into an urban garden, and Chef Ann Cooper has launched The Salad Bar Project to get more salad bars into US schools. There are good things happening in our schools both in Canada and in the USA.

Perhaps Jamie's glaring light, although somewhat uncomfortable to sit under, has been a wake up call for all of us.

Remember Josh?  Despite the fact that in BC Canada we don't have a government funded program and there's only a smattering of programs funded with grants, donations, and run by volunteers, he had a healthy lunch every day since that conversation.  His grades went up, attendance improved, and he was rarely seen in the office again.  Soon he began exercising more, lost some weight, and was the happiest he had been since he arrived at the school. 

The surprising thing is all it took was a healthy lunch, and someone who was willing to take the stand to provide it.




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