Monday, March 22, 2010

Response to Jamie Oliver's New Reality Show "Food Revolution"

Last night was the "Sneak Preview" of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. A show about tring to serve better food in our schools. While I agree that something needs to be done, I don't feel his approach is the right one. As a Chef and parent who works in School Nutrition, I feel the need to comment. Parents do need to take some of the blame; but seriously, there are children in this country that rely on school meals as their ONLY nutrition of the day. On the weekends these students eat whatever is available. Children are hungry and schools meal programs feed these children. Are their problems with the types of food being served, YES. Are we sitting back watching this happen. Absolutely NOT! School meal programs are unlike any other food service program in the country. We rely heavily on subsidies, government reimbursements and USDA commodity food products to serve these meals. Do we strive to serve the best food that meets the nutritional requirements set forth by the USDA, ABSOLUTELY! Are there things we can do to improve school meals, yes there is and WE ARE. For the last several years states have been working closely with the School Nutrition Association and local advocacy groups to pass local legislation to improve the quality of the foods offered. Connecticut is one of those states. There are strict guidelines outlining what kinds beverages can be sold to children. There are also a voluntary set of guidelines outlining food that can be sold to students. Although voluntary, a good majority of school districts participate because the state offers an additional $.10 in reimbursement for every lunch sold if you volunteer to participate in this program. The $.10 adds up quick, for New Haven Public Schools that equates to roughly $300K a year in additional reimbursement. This additional reimbursement is meant to replace the income lost from selling "junk food". It does not cover all of the loss but it is a good start (There is a proposal by Gov. Rell of CT to cut this funding in half, which will be devastating to the children of CT!). The food served meets the more strict requirements set forth by the state's Child Nutrition Office. These guidelines can be found here. In New Haven Schools and other schools across the state we serve whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, many even from local farms (NHPS has served almost 50,000 pounds of local fruits and vegetables this year alone) and serve hormone and antibiotic free milk. Last year NH School Food restricted all a la carte food sales in our K-8 schools. This year we eliminated mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets and breaded chicken patties from our regular menus. We serve roasted chicken on the bone, utilize red potatoes (from a local farm when available) for our mashed & roasted potatoes and limit the amount of french fries we menu. We are speaking with our food manufacturers to strive to offer less processed food at affordable prices. I am beginning a dialogue with our dairy to procure chocolate milk without HFCS. We are planning school gardens and exploring starting our own farm. I, along with several members of the School Nutrition Association of CT and SNA members from across the country were recently in Washington, DC to meet with our Congress men and women, the USDA and the White House to discuss what we can do, moving forward to continue to improve nutrition. Michele Obama has made school nutrition her focus as First Lady; the USDA is ready to see through with change and Congress is working on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. We are not just sitting down letting the world go by; we are all banding together to see this change go through. The best thing we can do is to take baby steps. Change is difficult for people, especially children. To come in like the food police and ban everything and serve all home cooked organic meals or only vegetarian meals will not work. We have made big changes in New Haven; the Wellness cmte along with several community groups laid the groundwork in New Haven for changing the foods. When I was hired by Dr. Mayo, Superintendent of NHPS, my task was to serve more real foods, work with local farms, balance the budget, keep the staff happy (NH School Food's Staff is #1 in my book!) and see to it that change is happening. A big task, maybe, but I was just as excited about it then as I am now. Chef Jamie's tactics of not only putting the staff down but ridiculing the students is unacceptable and should not be tolerated; while I realize this is TV and not everything happens exactly how it appears and there needs to be a WOW factor, it appeared that Chef Jamie was a bit over the top. I will be the first person to stand up and say we need better meals for our children; we need to serve delicious, healthy, real food in our schools; we need to work with our community groups and local chefs to make this change. BUT what we don't need is a revolution against School Nutrition Professionals who are doing nothing wrong. These men and women are following the rules set forth in place by Congress and USDA under the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program. Revolution, NO. Change, YES!

1 comment:

  1. I too work in school food service, but on the otherside of the industry. I work for some of the largest manufacturers that produce "K12 commodity product." I think part of the probelm is that school lunch has become a huge industry and there are several companies that can stand to loose a lot of money if schools start using fresh and local products. As you know some of these companies are very powerful and they want to keep things the way they currently are as long as possible, to keep thier products on lunch trays across the country. These manufactures have become very important to school lunch, so how do we keep these companies happy and make school lunch healthier for our children? I think that is the only way we can make this work.