Using School Lunches to Launch a “Revolution”

10132_459674565000_452002240000_9189541_1325105_n It seems the school lunch program in Clarke County is not the only one that is under scrutiny these days.   It may actually be part of a “Revolution.”

On March 26, British chef Jamie Oliver premiered his reality TV show “Food Revolution” in which he visits Huntington, W.Va.   The impassioned chef, TV personality and best-selling author is determined to take on the high statistics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the US, where the nation’s children are the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents. The show pits Oliver against an entrenched USDA-regulated school lunch mentality that has labeled french fries as vegetables and ketchup as a fruit. His approach is to address healthy eating community wide.

” We’re setting up a community cooking center and we’re working with the lovely local lunch ladies to put fresh food on school menus,” says Oliver.

The community however, does not seem to be interested in his help. The chef launched his revolutionary assault by visiting the local radio station to be interviewed and explain the project. He was panned by local DJ Rod Willis who started the discussion by stating, “We don’t want to sit around and eat lettuce all day.” The combative discussion ended with the chef leaving dejected and   the DJ summarizing the town’s position. “I really take issue with a guy coming into town and telling us how to run our lives.”

The employees of the school system were quickly wishing he had never come to town. The show’s star villains are the “lovely local lunch ladies” as he calls them who ended up looking so bad that the national School Nutrition Association issued a press release in their defense (See press release here).

While the show is built around creating drama, there are some surprising demonstrations. In one “tried and true” demonstration the chef attempts to show a group of school children how processed chicken nuggets are made in order to show them how bad they really are. As he goes through the process making a pink pasty gruel out of leftover chicken parts, he finishes the process, fries them up and asks, “Now who would still want to eat that?” Surprisingly all the kids raised their hands.

In another poignant demonstration Jamie brings a basket of fresh vegetables into a classroom to have kids identify them. Holding up tomatoes he asks, “What’s this?” One student guesses potatoes. Cauliflower? Nope. Potatoes? Nope. The children were unable to identify any of them. They were able to immediately identify chicken nuggets, pizza, burgers and french fries.

Producers of the program selected Huntington, W.Va   because it was recently designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the unhealthiest area in the United States. But it also serves as a good snapshot of a typical community. The food that is served in the school system is familiar to any parent who has visited their child’s school at lunchtime. Too many starches and highly processed foods like chicken nuggets and pizza are typical everywhere. So, while the show takes a sensational approach it does highlight a very real issue.

This issue has become a source of discussion in Clarke County recently.   School Superintendent Michael Murphy convinced the school board to explore the option of outsourcing food services in our county. Our system has suffered from perennial losses and very few students elect to eat school provided meals. As the school examines this issue perhaps the increased awareness created by shows like “Food Revolution” will spur a new approach to what we feed our students and how we train them to eat throughout their lives.

The show airs on Fridays at 9PM on ABC. You can also see full episodes online here.


  1. I was wondering if Jamie’s show was gaining any traction with mainstream America when, lo and behold, the guys at South Park gave him the biggest compliment by taking a gentle poke at him and his food revolution

  2. Jamie Oliver may be the saving grace for our children’s dietary health during the school day. He is a father of 3 with one on the way, which gives me the confidence that his priorities for our children’s welfare are valid. It takes a village, right? Thank you, Jamie!

  3. Lonnie Bishop says:

    Is this a feature article, or an editorial?

  4. Lonnie Bishop says:

    As for what’s offered, healthier lunches can be had. The kicker is what would it cost, and how can federal lunch program guidelines be met to do so?

    • Jules Winnfield says:

      I think the federal lunch program is THE problem. Processed foods flow down from government agencies and the feds still characterize french fries as a vegetable and ketchup as a fruit. Old systems have to be changed from the bottom, not the top…

      • Lonnie Bishop says:

        Yeah, you’re right about that, but a system that is set up like the school lunch program is set up (follow federal guidelines to get federal dollars, etc.) does limit what is available.

        It’ll be nice to get a decent understanding of what options are out there. Bringing in some fancy-pants chef, though, whose TV show doesn’t have the same money restrictions that a school system’s budget would isn’t the answer. Did it make folks more aware of options? Probably. But, until folks change their habits @ home, school changes only go so far. The kids in that WV town regularly turned their noses up at Jamie’s offerings and attempts at healthier food items.

        It’d seem that, given that school lunches – in their current offerings – are seeing a dropoff in sales, perhaps some folks are thinking more healthily.