by intern Christine Binder
Have you been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? For the past four Fridays, several million viewers, myself included, have been tuning in to watch the passionate Brit in a pea suit work to improve school lunches and teach people to cook in Huntington, West Virginia.
(The last two episodes of the 6-episode series will be airing on ABC on April 16th and 23rd at 10pm EST. If you’ve missed any of the previous episodes, you can watch them online here.)
While I can’t wait to see what Jamie accomplishes in Huntington, I’m actually more fascinated by the strong responses he’s evoking nation-wide. Jamie certainly has both supporters and skeptics. At the moment, over 272,000 people have signed his petition in support of saving cooking skills and improving school food, but opinions seem to vary widely in the blogosphere. (Here are two interesting takes from nutrition professor Marion Nestle and school lunch expert Kate Adamick.)
For those making bets on how the Food Revolution will unfold, here are two studies of Jamie’s work that may help you make a guess. The first comes from the Royal Economic Society and looks at middle schools in the London borough of Greenwich, where Oliver implemented a healthy school lunch program in 2004. According to researchers, excused absences dropped 15%, scores on standardized tests increased by several percentage points (a significant difference), and participation in the lunch program also increased.
The other study from researchers at West Virginia University evaluates the short-term effects of Oliver’s program in Huntington using surveys from 4th and 5th grade students, teachers, cooks, and the food service director. In this case, students preferred the standard school food to Jamie’s entrees, and participation in the lunch program decreased. Children were, however, more likely to try new foods as a result of Jamie’s program.
In my opinion, the best things about Jamie’s show are that it brings awareness to the important issues of school lunch and childhood obesity and that it has helped to ignite a serious conversation that America desperately needs to have.
This blog post is an open thread: please use the comments below to share your thoughts. What do you think about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution?