Mon, Aug

Chef Jamie’s Gone but His Food Revolution Truck Rolls On

MY TURN - Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver won’t be shaking on down to San Pedro High School to help whip the campuses’ after school cooking club into “food revolution” shape and he and his mixing bowls have apparently gone back to England.

At least until the fall, an Oliver spokeswoman said. But I still think Oliver did some good challenging the Los Angeles Unified School District and America at large to improve its food with his reality show, Food Revolution, an attempt obliterate obesity in America.

While he might not have gone into Los Angeles schools cafeterias with cameras in hand, he did get school officials to rethink ways to improve food at the second largest district in the nation.

"We are always seeking ways to improve our menu," said Robert Alaniz, who also explained the district only has 77 cents to spend on each meal it makes. "The district already serves ample servings of fresh foods and vegetables on that limited amount for thousands of students."

If you spotted my article more than a week ago, I excitedly slipped in an invitation to Oliver to come down to San Pedro High and help a lonely volunteer with its after school cooking club. Up until two years ago, the campus had a culinary program until the teacher, who had waiting lists of up to 500 students at a time, retired and was not replaced due to severe cuts.

To show how popular Oliver remains, the City Watch editor reported the story had over 200,000 hits. And I did receive a quick response more than a week ago on my request from Oliver’s folks.

“Thanks so much for sending along the information about your after school program,” emailed Kim Yorio, with YCMedia in New York. “It sounds amazing. Unfortunately, Jamie’s schedule is completely booked for the two days he’s in LA and then he’s back to England until the fall. Please keep us posted on your classes.

“Maybe we can cover it in the Food Revolution newsletter.”

The famous chef had thought he could revolutionize LAUSD  with his reality show – on ABC –  called “The Food Revolution,” but school officials were quick to gag at his menu to enter school cafeterias with cameras on and like most reality shows – would likely have honed in on the negative involving the district’s food, which concocts 120 million meals a year.

Although Oliver did make some headway when the new LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said he would agree to a proposal to remove “flavored milk” from the district’s menu, the school board still needs to approve such an action in July, Alaniz, the district spokesman said.

Things aren’t looking too delicious at the moment for the chef either.

His Tuesday night show was pulled during May sweeps to make way for exciting reruns or expanded shows of Dances With the Stars and won’t air again until Fridays beginning June 3 at 9 p.m., according to TV By the Numbers website.

Oliver’s  “woeful ratings,” might make the show “disappear for awhile,” wrote Robert Seidman, on the site.

When TED, a non-profit devoted to spreading worthy ideas, invited Oliver to appear in the U.S., the chef started with his fearful verdict that Americans and Brits were dying because of what they were eating – pizzas, fries, hamburgers and foods soaked in fats. Death came early for many from health-related obesity issues and years of life were being sliced away for our children, he said.

“My wish is for you to help a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food to inspire families to cook again and to empower people everywhere to fight obesity,” Oliver told the crowd.

Los Angeles school officials, fretting over the negativity and drama such a show would bring, only agreed to let Oliver come aboard with a proposal and give the district’s food service supervisors suggestions – but without cameras. Oliver did not fill that request, Alaniz said.

As far as LAUSD banning flavored milk – another sore point with Oliver as he carted out hordes of sugars on the TED program that a single child consumes in a few years from flavored milk  –  only time will tell whether the school board will approve it.

The milk issue remains, only  a recommendation, Alaniz added, and explained when tried in the past, school officials noticed a severe decrease in the milk students drank – a huge concern because milk includes so many nutrients.

“The overall thought,” Alaniz explained, “was that the nutrients and vitamins (in flavored milk) outweighed the negatives.”

Celebrity fitness trainer Mike Torchia, who intends to make America fit and runs Operation Fitness, said he’s encouraged the school district for years to drop flavored milks.

If Oliver succeeds in this, Torchia said, even though he disagrees with the chef’s approach to come “into our schools with camera crews and dissect our cafeterias,”  he’d be thrilled if flavored milk was dumped.

“Milk contains many nutrients that are important for children,” Torchia emailed me. “Unfortunately, flavored milk contains much higher levels of sugar, which can potentially lead to health problems if consumed in large quantities and long term use.

“We must stop feeding our children high sugar food products and focus on  providing them healthier and well balanced food choices in our schools. I support the decision of L.A. Schools Superintendent  John Deasy to no longer offer chocolate and strawberry flavored milk.”

Torchia, in the meantime, complained that Los Angeles schools still served highly-sweetened cookies on their daily menu.

Since Oliver couldn’t visit, which made sense since we came in late on our request, I then asked if we could have the Food Revolution truck drop by. The 70-foot-long truck, run under the auspices of Oliver’s foundation, comes complete with stations to teach children how to cook. But it will only saturate four areas, explained Laurie Malkin, the operations and legal director for the foundation.

The first year, the truck will be handled in a pilot project with The California Endowment’s “Building Healthy Communities,” and will be “embedded in four communities” in South Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Ana and Boyle Heights, Malkin said.

“It will not be traveling from school to school,” Malkin added explaining the truck takes hours to set up and break down. “The truck will most likely find a home in those four communities and stay planted. Programming will be run by chef-instructors and their assistants fully trained in Jamie Oliver food ethos and healthy scratch cooking curriculum.”

Even though San Pedro High didn’t score with this project, thousands of students across Long Beach and Los Angeles will. That’s what we really should care about because that will impact generations to come.

To spread Oliver’s word, catch his talk click here.

(Diana Chapman has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at:     [email protected] or her website theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com )    -cw

Vol 9 Issue 37
Pub: May 10, 2011