interview with jamie: food revolution episode 5

Interview With Jamie: Food Revolution Episode 5

Wed 13 Oct 2010

Story by Danny McCubbin

In this online exclusive, Jamie answers questions that relate to the fifth episode of his 6-part TV show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution".

It took a long time for you to win the town over. Does this make you think it will be difficult to roll out your campaign in the States?
I think it will be hard. Unfortunately there are lots of people scattered amongst the food and farming industries that are pushing and protecting outdated beliefs even though they know they are damaging the kids. They donít want a food revolution. Obesity is big business and I donít think Iíve even scraped the tip of the iceberg. I havenít even started to get the big guys pissed off as yet. All Iíve done so far is tell a very intimate story about a lovely town. If America really is touched by this show, and if they really do want better for themselves and for their kids then weíre going to see some chaos happening in the next three to six months, and for a few years after that until things change for the better. I donít think itís going to take that much to get the things we want to happen. We donít want to ban French fries or burgers, we just want our kids to eat less of them and to eat real food in schools. We also want to see people who understand food organising the meals for our kids. We want the people involved to really care, and to get that weíll have to shake things up. Thereís no other way.

You reacted quite strongly to the hospital board. Why was this?
I think I was polite, but forceful. I just wanted to be really honest and I didnít want the board to think they were dealing with someone who didnít know what they were talking about. I know the food industry very well from a restaurant point of view, a service point of view, and a school meals and corporate point of view. Iíve also worked with governments on various food-related projects. When I see a place that needs so much help and the people in charge are institutional people just being institutional, I canít help but get frustrated because my strategy is to always get in there and get my hands dirty. Politicians who sit in nice offices and have corporate lunches donít have a clue about whatís really going on because they arenít seeing how things are on the ground. Itís about going to the mortuary and seeing how many people have died from obesity, itís about going to the schools and seeing what the kids are eating, itís about spending the time with the school cooks and getting down to the real nitty gritty.

Was it a pleasant surprise to find that the company US Foods were willing to cooperate with you, and that they did have good food available?
Definitely. As far as I was concerned, US Foods was the company giving the schools all of the crap food, so I went there fully prepared for a confrontation. But the boss there was very clever and said ďLook, we are a distributor. We serve anything and we are no different than a supermarket.Ē He then showed me all their fresh food. If remember correctly, he even said ďWe donít want to serve the schools the crap.Ē That was a big statement because all of a sudden I realised that they werenít the bad guys. All they were doing was running an incredibly slick distribution network around the whole of the States and just responding to what their customers Ėthe schools Ė are asking for.

This made my argument and my mission very, very simple. I just had to find a way to get the schools to stop ordering the crap food and tell their distributors they didnít want the chicken nuggets, they just wanted the chicken. But bizarrely, it costs less to get processed chicken than it does to get the raw chicken! The child nutrition bill that is going through Congress at the moment is one of the most important pieces of legislation and has the potential to radically improve the whole system in schools for the first time in nearly twenty years. This government is trying to come up with new standards that protect the kids without pissing off so many people that they donít manage to get the bill through Congress. The question is whether they will be able to get enough money to really push the changes through before itís too late for todayís generation of kids. Without more money, there wonít be enough to spend on better ingredients or training for the cooks in the kitchen so they know how to handle raw food properly and meet all the hygiene standards.
So what I want is really simple: I want the chicken but I donít want anyone to process it. But what happens then is that the processing industry will lobby against the bill and say they are being put out of work. My view on that is also simple: process something else or clean up the recipes and take the additives out. Governments want to change but they are scared. For too many years now, people in strategic or trusted positions in the food industry who influence the things we eat on a daily basis all have big mouths and big pockets. And the further you dig the more you start to realise that the government really is just a pawn in this game, trying to appease everyone. But my strategy is totally different. I like the idea of revving things up. I just want parents to get passionate and inspire everyone to make better choices. In the UK, when we banned crap from vending machines in schools everyone went crazy. But then, within six months the really bad stuff was replaced with better food so the results were worth it. When you look at a town like Huntington itís clear to see that so many of the food choices available are the wrong ones. People already have to work quite hard to make fairly good choices so the last thing they need is an industry and government that make it even harder.

About the author: Danny McCubbin is the website editor for

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