The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory


What Can a Chef Bring to the Table?
March 29, 2010, 3:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Many people involved in food system reform also subscribe to the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Food Policy Comfood listserve. So when the well-known British chef, Jamie Oliver premiered Food Revolution, the listserve was alive and well, hotly debating why Oliver’s approach objectified the citizens of Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington is not just any town. It is the ‘obesity capital of the world’, according to expert nutritionist Marion Nestle. Oliver went, TV crew in hand, to document how he will reform the town’s school lunch program.

Many of the emails that zipped back and forth on the listserve after the show aired, mentioned their disappointment with Oliver’s “paternalistic” or threatening approach. Oliver repeatedly calls food service workers “lunch ladies” and “luv for example.” I agree that his approach might be taken as aggressive, but he’s a savvy businessman, a public relations maven and a showman at heart. But you can tell he is undoubtedly passionate about food and about developing healthy eating habits. Oliver about starts to cry when one of the service workers asks him for documentation to prove that children in the UK use forks and knives at school. Oliver protests:  “You teach your kids to read, you teach your kids to write, but you won’t teach them to eat with a fork and knife? It’s not a class thing, it’s not a proper British thing, it’s basically saying there’s no place for real food in this school.”

As a chef, Oliver understands the importance of meal preparation, that it matters that we use a fork and knife and sit down to eat—because when we do so we gain respect for what we are eating, for ourselves, and generally  make better tasting food.

Folks at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at UNC are working on a number of farm to school initiatives, helping area school systems source local food, linking local growers and child nutrition directors, and evaluating the National Farm to School Network. After nearly two years in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, I’ve taken aback by the authentically sown linkages between public health, local food, and our fine area restauranteurs and chefs, many of which hold much influence over how people think about what they eat.

Certainly, Jamie Oliver will not single-handedly create a food revolution (there have been many people working tirelessly to improve US school lunch programs for years), but his show will pay off enormously by further bringing the topic of the obesity epidemic we are facing in our country to the public fore.

Sabrina


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