In 2004, Jamie Oliver was shocked by the dreadful food Britain’s schoolchildren were being served every day of the school year. He wanted to change school food from bland and horrible to healthy and flavorful foods that kids would actually enjoy. He took over the kitchens at one school in Greenwich (southeast London) and launched the Feed Me Better campaign.
In early 2005, his series “Jamie’s School Dinners” spread his message and encouraged the British public and media to take a stand. More than 270,000 people signed an online petition on the Feed Me Better website, and Jamie delivered this petition to the prime minister in March 2005. The government responded by pledging millions of pounds to improving school dinners and training school cooks. Jamie followed up with a new series, “Jamie’s Return to School Dinners,” which led the government to pledge even more money, investing a total of £650 million to improve school lunches.
Now Jamie Oliver is taking this campaign to America. He has been awarded the TED Prize, an award of $100,000 to be used to fulfill “a wish to change the world.” Jamie will reveal the details after the official award ceremony in February, but he says “it’s basically a campaign we’re working on that takes the best bits from my School Dinners and Ministry of Food campaigns here in the UK, over to the US.”
I have been hoping that he–or someone inspired by him–would do something about school lunches in this country. In the US, school food is not only horrible, but it’s the cheapest of the cheap ingredients. Just as an example, the New York Times revealed how the federal school lunch program buys ground beef from a company that processes beef with ammonia, presumably to kill pathogens, and yet tests for E. coli and salmonella have found the pathogens dozens of times in the meat intended for our children.
Take those cheap (and potentially hazardous) ingredients and add lackluster recipes, and the resulting mess is unhealthy foods that few kids want to eat. In his television programs, Jamie Oliver has shown time and time again that it’s not rocket science to prepare healthy, tasty food that people love. I hope his efforts will make a difference for our school children.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to send my kids to school with packed lunches.