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For the better part of a decade Jamie Oliver has been a household name, fighting to improve eating habits and child nutrition. In 2005, disappointed by the unhealthy food being served to British schoolchildren and the lack of healthy alternatives, he launched the Feed Me Better campaign, out of which the television series Jamie’s School Dinners was born.
This series was followed by Jamie’s Ministry of Food, which showed Jamie teaching residents of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, how to cook fresh food and establish healthy eating as part of their lifestyle. In 2010, Jamie’s Food Revolution crossed to North America. In the first of two seasons, he visited Huntington, West Virginia, one of America’s unhealthiest cities, in an attempt to improve its residents’ eating habits.
These advocacy campaigns have been fundamentally changing the way people think about food. Public awareness has been raised, and the British Government has listened, pledging to spend £280m (over C $4 million) on school meals. In 2010, Jamie was awarded the TED Prize for his campaigns to create change on both individual and governmental levels.
Across the Pond
In February 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move! initiative in an effort to raise a healthier generation of American children. The action plan includes items for parents, schools, chefs, elected officials, community leaders, kids and health care providers alike. It also includes programs such as matching chefs with school districts to help improve health and nutrition; encouraging community gardens and farmers markets; and encouraging physical fitness. The First Lady has also spoken out about food deserts: areas that lack access to affordable, healthful foods.
One Chicago teacher (turned accidental activist) credits Jamie’s efforts for the success of her own advocacy campaign. In October 2009, Sarah Wu was introduced to the food in the school cafeteria for the first time when she forgot to bring her own lunch. She was shocked to discover what students were served and how little time they had to eat it. As a result of this experience, she made a commitment to eat the same cafeteria lunch that students ate every day for all of 2010.
Using the pseudonym Mrs Q., Sarah documented her experience through blogging, tweeting and sharing photos on her blog, Fed Up With Lunch. Picked up by media around the world, the blog was also discovered by Jamie, who then became one of her champions. He later contributed a testimonial for the cover of the book she wrote (based on the blog), where he commended Mrs. Q for “leading the way in showing the world the rubbish that American kids are being fed.”
In November 2011, the USDA sent its final rules on nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. The USDA’s proposals included preventing tomato paste on pizza from counting as a vegetable and limiting starchy vegetables to two servings a week. Unfortunately, Congress released a spending bill contrary to this, fighting the Obama administration’s efforts to take unhealthy foods out of schools.
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