Celebrity chef tries again with American kids

Jul 12, 2013

Jamie Oliver—celebrity chef and influential player in the “pink slime” debacle when he doused some beef with household cleaning solution and told audiences that was what was in their children’s school lunches— has launched a new nonprofit group. The Jamie Oliver Food Foundation seeks to “bring food education to schools and youth groups, businesses and communities.”

The California-based 503(c)(3) group is a recent addition to Oliver’s other two similarly-themed groups: UK charity Better Food Foundation and his “Ministry of Food” program in partner group The Good Foundation in Australia.

Motivating the creation of the U.S. version of Oliver’s outreach is a stated concern over childhood obesity, “dying food cultures,” and a general lack of understanding about food and where it comes from among school children.

“There’s a serious lack of knowledge about food and cooking, and the result is the modern-day epidemic of obesity and bad health we are currently facing,” wrote Oliver in his “Ministry of Food” manifesto. Though there is little information on what sort of food education his Food Foundation will be pushing for, the efforts of his earlier campaigns are likely to be similar.

In the manifesto, Oliver outlines a number of goals for his “Ministry of Food” campaign—named after the World War II British ministry, rather than anything with religious overtones— most of which involve community education and providing “professional cookery teachers” in community centers to teach basic cooking. The goal for children and students is similar.

“Government research in the UK already acknowledges that kids who get a chance to cook at school often end up changing the way their family eats at home (for the better). So it makes sense to put proper cooking lessons on the school curriculum to ensure kids are learning about food and how to cook as early as possible.”

Oliver acknowledges the cost of getting such programs into schools, but he recommends having grocery stores “adopt” local schools. “They could then provide ingredients for free or, at least, at cost,” he suggested. “Not only would they be doing something wonderful, they’d be educating potential future customers.”

The effort to educate children and young adults on how to cook and eat healthy meals is indeed a laudable one, but how the proposed education decides to define what a healthy meal is is unclear. There is little mention of where meat, or specifically beef, falls into Oliver’s push for food education in schools. There is an emphasis placed on fruits, and especially vegetables, in much of the information about the Food Foundation.

From Oliver’s previous efforts with influencing the tastes of American school children, he seems to have a decidedly vegetarian and vegan view of what constitutes a healthy meal. In late 2011/early 2012, Oliver revamped the lunch menu of the Los Angeles Unified School District with a largely vegetarian and vegan menu of items. It didn’t take long before the students roundly rejected the unfamiliar food and a “black market” for junk food had grown up in the schools. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor