Tag Archives: Jamie Oliver

Interview with Sweet Potato Chronicles

A couple of weeks back, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by Ceri Marsh, one of the smart women behind Sweet Potato Chronicles, a funny, useful and great-looking website devoted to the family meal. SPC offers recipes, product reviews, ideas for how to get your kids eating healthily and one of my favourite regular features: “What’s so great about…?” (sage, bay leaves, coffee, pumpkin, etc.). Ceri asked such good questions, I wanted to include a few of them here. For the complete interview, follow the link.

Q: What do you want kids to learn about the world from What’s For Lunch?

A: I hope that children who read (or flip through!) the book will see both their differences and similarities to other kids around the world. I hope they’ll recognize the way that food connects us all. I also hope they’ll read about the kids who are taking charge of what they eat at their schools and in their homes—demanding healthy sustainably grown food, asking questions about how it’s produced and by whom—and see that they can also make a difference.

Q: How important is it for kids to have some control/input in their own meals?

A: I’ve been working with our school garden for a few years now and have seen first-hand how kids who weren’t willing to try a new vegetable (or any veg at all!) ended up eating kale pesto simply because they grew the kale themselves. And I love my own son’s enthusiasm about the knobbly little carrots and bitsy peppers we grow in our tiny urban patch. There’s no question when children have an opportunity to grow, cook, prepare or even just get involved in choosing their food, they take more chances and will eat more healthily. But it’s also more than that: when paired with talk about what all this means (to the planet and their own bodies, for instance) they start to see that even in this small way, their personal choices can have a big impact on their world.

Q: Why do you think there is such a strong interest now in what kids eat at school? Is it the Jamie Oliver effect or is there more to it?

A: There’s no question Jamie Oliver has had a huge impact on the school lunch world. But I think that the interest in school lunch is part of a more widespread engagement in food issues. You can’t turn on your computer or open a newspaper without reading about food safety scares, environmental degradation caused by factory farming, escalating food prices, small-scale farmers leaving the land because they can’t make a living, the obesity crisis. People are starting to understand that the industrial system we’ve established over the course of the last few generations is not sustainable. Interest in school lunch and talking about food with children is part of this. If we can teach our children about food and how it’s connected to all these things they care about (their environment, their health, their community and culture) they might actually have a fighting chance of truly changing this system for the better.

Q: How hard or easy is it for parents to get more involved with the issues of food in schools? I just learned my 5 year old is being given chocolate milk for a snack at her Toronto public school. What the heck?

A: It took me a long time to figure out where I fit into my kids’ school as a parent—whether it’s about academic issues, food or volunteering my time. Nobody wants to be that guy when it comes to the teachers, other parents or administrators, marching in and wagging your finger about bake sales or insisting on whole-grain pizza dough on pizza day. But parents are key participants in the school system and we need to be both clear and respectful talking to schools about our expectations, hopes and concerns. Chocolate milk might be okay as a special treat, but serving it to 5 year olds every day doesn’t sound right at all. There was a huge debate about serving chocolate milk in schools in the US last year. Chef Ann Cooper, a key school meal activist otherwise known as the Renegade Lunch Lady, calls it “sugary soda in drag.” I think schools need to think carefully about the mixed messages they send children when they talk about healthy eating in class (the food groups, nutrients, etc.) and then urge them to sell cookie dough or chocolate bars to raise money or offer them processed food or sugary drinks as incentives or snacks.

For more from the Sweet Potato Chronicles interview, click here.

Comments Off on Interview with Sweet Potato Chronicles

Filed under City gardens, Kids and food, School gardens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

What’s for lunch in England?

Martha Payne, the 9-year-old British school lunch activist, has rocked the world the last couple of weeks with her blog Never Seconds. First she got more than two millions hits for her chronicle of her less-than-nutritious school lunches (as well as pictures of meals kids sent her from around the world). Then, just when it looked like her efforts might provoke some much-needed change, she was told by the local council she had to stop photographing the meals. Then the cries of censorship and tyranny from the blogosphere and Twitterverse forced the council to change its mind. What a month it’s been for Martha!

But in all the discussion about this crackdown on freedom of expression, and the power of social media, the original point she was making about the problem with school meals has been getting a bit lost.

What’s for Lunch in England? Photograph by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Britain’s story about changing school dinners for the better has inspired much discussion and many tributes.  After years of campaigning by organizations such as Sustain, and a powerful push by Jamie Oliver‘s School Dinners TV show, the transformation has been dramatic. Out with Turkey Twizzlers, in with fresh fruit and veg; out with fried foods and low-quality meats on a regular basis, in with new cooking facilities and an emphasis on using food from local producers. (The image above is from my book What’s for Lunch? and represents the new and improved school dinner. )

And the response has been extraordinary. Absences (related to illness) have dropped 14% since the introduction of healthier school meals. Kids who eat the nutritious meals are actually doing better on tests than those who don’t eat them.

Continue reading

Comments Off on What’s for lunch in England?

Filed under School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Kids are people, too

When I was a kid, I had a T-shirt that I wore to death with the words KIDS ARE PEOPLE, TOO! emblazoned across the front in scrawly kids’ writing.

At the time, there was a popular TV variety show of the same name (check out the cheesy theme song, disco moves and trampoline KISS kicks), but for me, it was the message behind the words that really rang true.

From about the time I was 9 and had some independence, I found myself outraged by the way some adults treated kids—as if we had nothing relevant to say, as if we should shut up in restaurants and stores, as if our opinions didn’t matter. I hated that when my friends and I collected our pennies and other coins, hopped on our banana-seat bikes and headed to the corner store, the store owner treated us like we weren’t legit customers. He’d eye us as if suspecting we were planning to pocket the penny candy instead of pay for it, then hustle us out once we’d made our choices. Continue reading

Comments Off on Kids are people, too

Filed under Kids and food, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

The best and worst school lunch

Jamie Oliver at The Stop's Green Barn in Toronto last year

We all know that superchef Jamie Oliver and his TV campaigns for better school food have had a powerful impact in both the U.K. and the U.S.

Whatever you think of reality TV as a force for social change (and there’s been some tough questions of late—especially around the Los Angeles series where his crew was denied access to the cafeterias), Oliver puts his money where his mouth is, and genuinely cares about changing both eating habits and the food system.

This week, his team at Food Revolution revealed their new photo wall: the best and worst school lunches around the world. Visitors to the site are being asked to send in photos of their lunch, and viewers get to vote on what makes the grade. So far, it looks like mostly American lunches, with a few Japanese and Canadian thrown in for good measure.

It’s nice to see some tasty looking salad bars, but if these images are any indication, it looks like American kids are still eating a lot of Tator tots. Blec.

The deadline to post images is November 26.

Comments Off on The best and worst school lunch

Filed under Kids and food, School lunch

Jamie Oliver comes to town

[This guest post and all photos are by Nick Saul, Executive Director of The Stop Community Food Centre]

I’ve known and admired Jamie Oliver’s work as a chef and food activist for a long time, but I didn’t expect the intensity of the frenzy when he came to visit our After School Program at The Stop‘s Green Barn this morning. He really does have rock star status. You could just feel the excitement building before he pulled up—cameras and  reporters everywhere, people bustling around. The kids, meanwhile, were just doing their thing, chopping and prepping the lunch of homemade chicken nuggets, salad, pancakes and more. When he arrived, Jamie was exhausted (he and his wife just had their 4th baby seven weeks ago!) but one of the nicest guys going—laid back but also completely engaged. I showed him around and he was totally impressed by what we’re doing at The Stop. In fact, he told me he’d been all over the world and it was one of the coolest places he’d been.

I figured I’d be asking the questions but he turned the tables and interviewed me. We talked about the greenhouse, our Global Roots garden, our kids’ educational program, the emergency side of our work and even touched on the short-term thinking of capitalism. Well, I touched on it…

Later, he sat down with the kids and had some of the food they prepared. They loved him because he got right down with them, asked them questions and made them laugh.

One of the things his visit really made clear to me is how essential it is to have a place—like The Stop or his Ministry of Food projects in England—where people can come together and get engaged with food. We agreed that the key to changing attitudes toward food and ultimately changing the food system itself is getting people involved—whether it’s eating, cooking or growing. It alters something for people—low-income or high—it opens them up to the bigger picture of how food operates in our society, how it’s connected to so many other important issues.

It was a really fun morning. I hope we’ll see lots more mind-melding with Jamie Oliver and The Stop. (Check out twitter for minute by minute reporting on the visit and lots more photos.)

UPDATE: Check out Jennifer Bain’s story on the visit in The Star

Comments Off on Jamie Oliver comes to town

Filed under Kids and food, School gardens, School lunch

Where’s the trust?

I’ve written before about the School Food Trust, an organization in Britain that acts as a kind of support, research and implementation wing of the government’s school dinner program. It started as an arm’s length agency under the Labour government following chef Jamie Oliver’s campaign to expose unhealthy meals served in school canteens, and became a registered charity a few years later—though it continues to rely on government funding.

According to teachers like Jackie of Jackie’s School Food Blog, it’s done a huge amount to change and improve school lunch, and there is much that remains to be done. The case studies on the SFT website looking at schools that have transformed themselves with its help are clear evidence of the enormous potential.

But last week, following months of worry from healthy school food advocates, word was leaked out of the new coalition government that the School Food Trust is on the chopping block. Along with 176 other organizations the SFT may lose its status and funding.

Just when Americans are starting to wake up to the need for better government support for healthy school food, Britons are at risk of losing theirs. Advocates believe the move is motivated by ideology rather than economics. It’s hard to imagine a more short-sighted approach to something as important as the health and well-being of a country’s young people.

Comments Off on Where’s the trust?

Filed under School lunch

A cautionary tale from Scotland

After blogging earlier in the week about Mexico’s efforts to cut down on junk food available in the schoolyard, I came across an interesting story from the BBC about what’s been happening in Scotland—and the limitations of rules and bans on school food.

School meals have changed dramatically in the UK over the last five years. Rising rates of childhood obesity combined with the lobby of food activists (not to mention celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s high profile take-down of the nasty offerings in canteens on his TV show Jamie’s School Dinners) caused UK governments to reexamine the food served to schoolchildren.

Today,  school kitchens in Scotland can’t serve more than 3 deep-fried foods a week;  and chips can only be served as part of a balanced meal. Two types of veg and fruit must be offered at each meal and no confectionery (candy) or savoury snacks (except crackers, oatcakes and breadsticks) are allowed.

UK blogger/teacher Jackie's school meal from June 9, 2010

Among school feeding advocates, the UK has been heralded as something of a success story. The BBC article on Scotland, however, shows that work is still to be done, and bans and regulations alone aren’t enough when it comes to school meals.

According to the piece, many kids in Scotland simply end up rejecting the new canteen meals, and going outside school gates to buy fish and chips or pop at commercial vendors.

All of which is not to say that schools and governments shouldn’t create rules or institute bans on unhealthy food. I’ve argued before and will again that such measures are essential. But they need to be backed up by creative and responsive education and food service. That means school kitchens that do food tastings and offer attractive, tasty meals. It means making canteens/cafeterias nice places to be. It means making healthy food look good.

The School Food Trust has known this from the beginning. It is the inspirational UK agency (which had its budget reduced by a million pounds when the new coalition government in Britain took power) charged with the remit to:

“transform school food and food skills, promote the education and health of children and young people and improve the quality of food in schools.”

They do this by creating the rules and regulations but also through research,  the creation of helpful materials aimed at children, parents, teachers and caterers, as well as celebrating school success stories— all of which reveal that transforming the physical space and taking a holistic approach to food in schools can improve uptake, health, learning ability and childrens’ engagement with healthy eating. Check out some of their fascinating case studies here.

Comments Off on A cautionary tale from Scotland

Filed under Kids and food, School lunch