Posts Tagged ‘jamie oliver’

Seven Reasons Why the Time is Ripe for School Lunch Reform

April 5, 2010

Could school lunch get the universal overhaul it needs — not unlike, say, health care — and some time soon? You betcha, says Janet Poppendieck, author of the recently published Free For All: Fixing School Food in America. (Read a review at Civil Eats.)

At a midday panel held at the California Endowment Conference Center in downtown Oakland, hosted by California Food Policy Advocates, and attended by anti-hunger activists and school food folk, Poppendieck, a sociologist at Hunter College, City University of New York, outlined why there’s no time like the present for reform in the lunch room.

Not surprisingly, given the hour and agenda, lunch was on the menu. School lunch to be exact, courtesy of chefs from Newark Unified School District Nutrition Services. (School food staff, including the all-important drivers, showed up to feed the crowd on their Spring Break. I’m assuming they were paid for their efforts. Still, giving up a day off  to cater an event is impressive.)

And, in case you were wondering, I noshed on a perfectly edible meal of bow-tie pasta with marinara sauce made from scratch, a panini sandwich on sourdough with commodity cheese and school-made pesto, salad bar offerings, and fresh, cut fruit.

Well fed, we moved on to the matter at hand. The accessible academic walked us through her “7 Cs” — bite-size talking points illustrating why school lunch is ripe for reform:

1. Convergence of agendas: Concerns about hunger, nutrition, obesity, health, and the environment are merging in the public arena.

2. Conditions of urgency: Obesity among children is on the rise, lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes are skyrocketing among the young, yet more kids are going hungry. Concerns about carbon emissions, loss of farm land, and global warming are all going up, up, up.

3. Credibility: The recession gives school lunch renegades street cred. Everyone knows someone who has lost a job. Unemployment increases demand for emergency food services. More people know about so-called food deserts, or lack of healthy food in low-income communities.

4. Consciousness: Awareness of hunger, food insecurity, and the impact of lifestyle choices on what we eat and how it’s produced, is growing.

5. Company: Lots of fellow travelers on the better school food beat are coming together to break bread on this issue. Advocates for school food reform, health and medical associations, even seemingly unlikely allies like the Department of Defense, are joining forces at the cafeteria table.

(Poppenieck notes that a group of retired admirals and generals active in Mission Readiness recently wrote a report on the impact of the obesity epidemic from a national security perspective. The irony here: The current school lunch program owes its existence to a push, in large part, from military leaders seeking to beef up school nutrition because many young men were so undernourished during World War II they were unable to serve in the Armed Forces.)

And, of course, the big gun herself FLOTUS, otherwise known as Michelle Obama, is on board.

6. Citizens: Concerned adults are demanding that food improve in the school cafeteria.  We’re talking millions of angry moms and dads.

7. Critics: People like Jamie Oliver, who bopped across The Pond to shake up the school lunch menu in West Virginia, and the anonymous teacher blogging at Fed Up With Lunch, who documents the sorry state of food at one Midwestern school every day, are raising awareness and presenting alternatives to what’s on offer now.

Poppendieck is a proponent, as her book title suggests, for doing away with the current three-tier payment system (free, reduced, and full fare) for school lunch across America. But she’s no starry-eyed idealist.

She knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch; her best guess is that a wholly subsidized program would cost the U.S. government an additional $12 billion a year. Depending on your perspective, that’s an awful lot of cash, or a drop in the bucket compared to what the country spends to go to war.

To paraphrase Jamie O in a recent Food Revolution episode: “It’s all about the money.” Dominic Machi, director of Child Nutrition Services for Newark Unified, would agree. So would many others.

The discussion sparked lots of chatter about the status of school lunch reform in Congress and the nutritional requirements of school food. Some got down to details in snappy fashion. But with all due respect, policy wonks can waffle on about legislative agendas, government data, and nutritional guidelines until your eyes glaze over.

The youngest panel member Beebe Sanders, a junior at Berkeley High School, kept things real and fresh. This girl has wisdom beyond her years and gives me hope that maybe we’ll see a national shift in what kids eat at school in my lifetime, as long as we adults don’t mess it up.

Beebe Sanders hit the bull’s-eye with the suggestion that nutrition education needs to take place in schools — in the classroom — to change childrens’ attitudes about school food, which can carry a stigma, even with the youngest eaters, as bad food for poor people.

Jamie Oliver long ago figured out you need to get the kids to buy in, as have numerous school food fixers before him.

“We need to change the mind-set about how kids feel about school food and why they think it’s uncool to eat it,” says Sanders, who works with Farm Fresh Choice, a local effort to get food to impoverished, hungry people.

“Kids just don’t like the idea of eating at school —  cafeteria food is just not that pleasing, let’s face it — so they go off campus and buy fast food,” she adds. “Schools need to explain to students why eating healthy school food is a good thing.”

Do you agree? Is it the money, the mind-set, a combo of the two, or something else entirely that needs addressing before all our kids get to sit down at school with a tray of food that’s nice, nourishing, and doesn’t have nuggets in its name?

Jamie Oliver: School Food Revolution or Reality TV Rubbish?

March 29, 2010


It’s time to talk about the Limey lad’s Appalachian invasion.

Unless you’ve had your head in a school lunch garbage bin for the last week surely you know Brit wonder boy Jamie Oliver has landed on American shores to save our children from the food we feed them.

The kind of food mind, the mopped-topped megastar tells us, that is killing our kids — or at least leading them to an early grave.

In case you missed him on Oprah, Letterman, or Hockenberry, Jamie jetted into Huntington, West Virginia, to film Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution for ABC. (You can catch the first two episodes on Hulu.)

The six-part series is a hybrid of two similar programs Oliver fronted in England, Jamie’s School Dinners and Jamie’s Ministry of Food, the former resulted in sweeping school lunch reform, though even the mastermind himself admits it’s not yet a resounding success.

Stylistically the shows couldn’t be more different, if reflective of their respective cultures. Think British public television documentary versus American network TV reality pap. Food Revolution is produced by American Idol‘s Ryan Seacrest.

Why West Virginia? Two years ago Huntington got gonged as the country’s unhealthiest area, courtesy of CDC data. That means fattest. Let’s not sugar coat things, most obese, and sickest on such measures as heart disease and diabetes. But Huntington is just the first stop in Oliver’s national nutrition mission. He wants nothing short of radical reform on Americans’ plates.

The celebrity chef favors fresh food from scratch or stripping food down to its bare essentials, as he likes to say, (hence his Naked Chef nickname), versus reheated edible food products. (Did you see the footage of the packaged “mashed potato pearls” served at school? Scary stuff.)

His premise is, as you might expect, a simple one. If you teach people to cook a handful of dishes, you’ll get them hooked on healthy eating.

Locals chafe at the TED prize award-winner‘s campaign for change. The cultural disconnects are cringe worthy. The thirtysomething refers to the middle-aged school cafeteria staff as “lunch ladies,”  “darlin'” and “sweetheart”. Jamie is gobsmacked that school kids eat pizza for breakfast. For breakfast! And aren’t given knives and forks to eat their food at lunch. Those American barbarians!

Here’s what I know: The show is entertaining, if scripted, garnered good ratings, and generated big buzz. It’s prime fodder on foodie listservs, such as the Association for the Study of Food and Society‘s, where one academic wag likened canned and processed food to masturbation. (“It’s easy, convenient and gets the job done….but I’m guessing most people, given the opportunity, would prefer the messy, complicated, time-consuming, delightful option of the real thing.”)

But I digress. Stripped of its sensationalism, Food Revolution is simply sad. There’s the pastor flicking through photos of townsfolk he’s buried prematurely due to dietary decisions. There’s the super-sized family fueled only on fat-fryer food. There are school kids who eat chicken nuggets for lunch AND dinner and can’t identify ANY fresh vegetables when Jamie quizzes them in class.

Here’s what I’m not sure of: Once Oliver wings his way home to his own family, will his food revolution make any difference to those he set out to help Stateside? Or will things stay the same here while the self-described hyperactive, dyslexic chef jumps to his next pet project under the umbrella of his multimillion dollar international food emporium?

Here’s what I want to find out: What do American school food advocates such as, oh, I don’t know, Michelle Obama, Alice Waters, and Ann Cooper, for starters, think about a foreigner getting his hands dirty in the American school food debate?

Debra Eschmeyer of the National Farm to School Network noted in a recent Civil Eats story that absent from Food Revolution to date is any acknowledgment of the homegrown edible educational experiments happening around the country. Responding to such criticism, the program’s producers have encouraged viewers to share video of local food heroes here.

Few can argue with the fact that Jamie is cooking up trouble at a critical time.  Congress is considering legislation to toughen rules that regulate school lunch and increase funding for better food. The First Lady just launched her Let’s Move initiative. A school teacher in middle America is garnering gobs of interest for her blog documenting the horrors of U.S. school lunch.

Jamie Oliver reminds me a bit of another successful British TV export. Bob the Builder anyone? Parents may recall the plucky truck driver’s catchphrase: Can we do it? Yes we can!

So, what say you readers: Can the cheeky British chef take on American agribusiness behemoths whose food products fill school freezers across this great land and tackle Byzantine government bureaucracy that threatens to stymie school lunch reform — not to mention address most Americans’ undying love affair with fast food?

Will Jamie Oliver win the Battle of the Bulge?

And can the school food revolution be televised?

Stay tuned.

Five Fabulous Fruit Desserts

July 14, 2009

I’ve been waxing on a lot lately in this space about food films and food books. And I’ve been digging doing blogs about resourceful residents who grow and forage in the urban jungle.

But it’s time to talk about cooking again. The weather has turned positively balmy in Berkeley this week and we’re heading into the lazy days of summer (for some) so it seems a good time to reintroduce recipes into the rotation, don’t you think? Let’s start with dessert and dish about some of the great-tasting fruit in farmers’ markets right now.

My son got things kick started by suggesting we make a lemon blueberry bundt cake for a backyard barbie our neighbors threw last weekend. He was trying to cheer me up. I was hot (my little cottage is like a proverbial oven on steamy days, when the inside temps can hit close to 90 degrees), hormonal (i.e. cranky & crabby), and a herniated disc was giving me hell. (Taking a poll: Should I try a steroid shot for a bad back that’s been nothing but grief for 6 months now? Opinions? Experience? Horror stories? Do tell.)

I was also covered in flea bites from a trip to a public pool. (Word to the wise: When swimming at an unfamiliar spot dry off on the concrete and avoid the green stuff, no matter how inviting it may look. Scratch. scratch. Word to local readers: Stay off the grass at Temescal Pool.) What better way to beat the blues than to bake a cake with your sweet son who does not, thank you very much, want to go to the beach, the samurai exhibit, or the pool?

Gabe sourced the blueberries from Lance & Nancy’s bushes next door and plucked a couple of Meyer lemons off our tree and away we went. My son thinks a bundt tin is a cool contraption and loves watching what happens when you pour buttermilk into the mix. He was chuffed with the end result — remember, I’m a card-carrying member of the baking-challenged brigade. The cake was a hit at the party and the leftovers got scoffed up the following day by Gabe, his buddy Griffin, and sister Nora, who were ravenous after running around at soccer camp all day. A soccer camp, mind you, that serves mostly organic, healthy lunches and snacks. How fantastic is that???

We’re also a bit partial to a fruit crumble, crisp, or cobbler in my house — my standby recipes for crisp or cobbler come from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. We use whatever fruit combo we happen to have on hand. Nectarines and blueberries are swell together, as in this Blueberry and Nectarine Cobbler from Nicole at Baking Bites. Or try this Nectarine and Peach Cobbler from Elise at Simply Recipes. Or this Plum and Peach Crisp from 101 Cookbooks, which goes easy on both the sugar and butter and includes yogurt to keep things moist.

My friend Marge, channeling her inner Martha, excelled last week at a scrumptious crumble with strawberries, rhubarb, orange rind and juice, sliced almonds, and oats, among other ingredients. Maybe if we beg her she’ll post the recipe here. We ate at her place while we played the board game Apples to Apples. But alas, no camera in tow to record this delectable dessert — the kind that almost gets eaten in one sitting but there’s just enough left over for brekkie — in bed! — the next day. Play hard. Eat well. Don’t forget the cream.

Here’s my list to get you jazzed about whipping up something fruitful some time this summer. And do share the wealth, fellow fruit lovers. I wanna know: What’s on your dessert menu?

The List

1. Glazed Lemon-Blueberry Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

Recipe from Cooking Light. Garnish with fresh blueberries and ribbons of lemon rind. Especially appealing for afternoon tea with a cuppa.

2. Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen or try this version Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble from Eating Well. Either way, serve with lashings of cream laced with vanilla essence.

Recipe from Margaret to come (no pressure my friend;).

3. Pavlova with Berries, Kiwis, and Passionfruit

The pav recipe I routinely turn to is in Sydney Food by Bill Granger. My sister, Amanda, and sister-in-law, Alice, also make to-die-for versions. But between them, Mand and Ali have seven kids, demanding jobs/lives, and they’re not too sure about this blogging business so you’ll just have to take my son’s word for it: Their pavlovas rock. Regardless of whether this dish actually harkens from Australia or New Zealand it’s a Down Under delight. The version here, from Stephanie at Joy of Baking, looks pretty darn delish. Plus the girl has created a chocolate pavlova. Oh my!

4. Baked Peaches

What could be simpler or more scrumptious than a baked peach? My sis-in-law, the aforementioned Alice, dots the top of each peach half with butter and brown sugar. In the version here, Jamie Oliver stuffs ’em with raspberries.  Works wonderfully with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce, also found in Sydney Food. Apartment Therapy’s the kitchn offers a grilled version, topped with bourbon vanilla whipped cream, for you outside cooks.

5. Lemon Sorbet

Refreshing. Easy. Fast. Say no more — other than you do need an ice-cream maker. This version comes from Tori at Tuesday Recipe.