On Saturday, May 19, people all over the world will celebrate the first Food Revolution Day, a day of action designed to help everyone think about where their food comes from, consider making healthier, less-processed choices about what they put in their bodies, and gather together to share those ideas and meals as a community of cooks and eaters committed to eating well.
Celebrity chef and food activist Jamie Oliver, who has been working in the United Kingdom and in the United States since 2004 to improve school meals for kids throughout both countries, is using the day to expand awareness about ways to eat well, and why it's so important to do so. I had the opportunity to ask Jamie about his work and about Food Revolution Dayread on to learn more about the bigger picture into which this important day fits, as well as small ways that everyone can take part.
Genie Gratto: You've now worked on food systems issues in the United States for a few years. What surprised you most about trying your food revolution in America versus the United Kingdom?
Jamie Oliver: In America, there are many more layers than in the UKthousands of school districts in 50 states following their own regulations that are guided by federal regulations, which are not nearly as strict as they need to be. It takes much longer to make sweeping change. You have to attack it school district by school district. After Jamie's School Dinners aired in the UK and the campaign collected petition signatures, not only did the government vote in 500 million dollars to improve school food but The School Food Trust, a registered charity and specialist advisor to government on school meals, children’s food and related skills to set the standards was created.
GG: After the final credits roll on each season of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, how does the work continue? How can the Food Revolution scale beyond individual towns or school districts, and change food systems across the country?
JO: The Food Revolution campaign is going stronger than ever. On Saturday, May 19, we're launching our first-ever global day of action, Food Revolution Day, which encourages people to stand up for real food. Right now we have more than 600 events in 400 cities in 45 countries across the world. Go to foodrevolutionday.com to check all of them out and get involved. We also launched stoppinkslime.org to support Bettina Elias Siegel's petition and continue to shed light on food issues through the website, social media and all of our incredible Food Revolution Facebook groups across America.
GG: The obesity problem is no longer the sole purview of the Western world. Why did you pick the U.S., and why do you care so much about this country?
JO: America leads the world in so many thingsnot just obesityand it is so big and there are so many amazing people here doing wonderful things, I figured if Americans started making better food choices, learned to cook and stopped buying processed foods, then the big companies that make processed food will change what they are offering. You have a lot of power just in the choices you make. If you stop buying crap food, they will stop selling it. McDonald's in the UK, for example, is completely different than McDonald's in the U.S., because the public there has demanded those changes.
GG: What is the proper role of the food industry in resolving the crisis of obesity in the United States?
JO: They need to be more responsible and truthful and transparent in what they are creating. You have the right to know what is in your food. If you see a label with words you can't pronounce or more than one or two ingredients, don't buy it.
GG: How do you feel about the way the fast food and processed food industry markets to kids?
JO: I think it's shameful, but we can all learn from them. Marketing to kids is powerful with positive messages too. In the UK and in Huntington, kids chose plain milk over flavored only when their teachers told them it was better (for the younger kids) and we made it cool with posters and stickers and marketing (for the older kids).
GG: What regional differences have you seen in the U.S. in terms of readiness to change food systems?
JO: Huntington and Los Angeles were worlds apart but I don't think it has anything to do with their location. It's all about the people. The people of Huntington wanted to make changes. They wanted their schools to serve better schools, they wanted to help the kids get healthy. In Los Angeles, they thought they were doing well enough—and didn't want to listen to the parents asking for change. We did get them to ban flavored milk, which was great, but there was so much more we could have done if the school board had wanted lasting, sustainable change. Huntington is a changed town. They are healing themselves, and it's amazing and wonderful to see.
GG: How does Food Revolution Day fit into your larger effort to change how people eat? How can one day make a difference?
JO: One meal can make a difference. It's about choice. Choosing real food over processed. Water over fizzy drinks. Fresh vegetables. Plain Milk. Cooking vs ordering in. All of these small changes add up to big change. Food Revolution Day is a chance for people to STAND UP and choose real food.
GG: If someone only has the time and energy to participate in Food Revolution Day in a small way, how do you recommend they get involved?
JO: Cook something and share the knowledge with someone who needs it. Plant some fresh herbs or tomatoes. Anyone can grow them on a windowsill. Choose NOT to eat or buy processed food for the day (and hopefully longer). This a grassroots movement and the point is just to participate. Go to the websitethere are hundreds of events and ideas and recipes to inspire you.
GG: When May 19 is behind us, how will you know that Food Revolution Day has been a success?
JO: It's already a success. Have you seen the website? Have you seen how many people are standing up for real food? People really want to make change. Food Revolution Day is just the beginning.
How will you participate in Food Revolution Day? What changes are you making in your eating habits to create healthier lives for you and your family and friends? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Genie is the Communications Director at ChangeLab Solutions, a nonprofit that creates law and policy innovation for the common good, and a partner with Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day. She blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also the Food Section Editor for BlogHer.
[ BlogHer Food '12 will bring food bloggers together to learn, share, inspire, and of course, to EAT! Whether you're new to food blogging or an old pro, you should join us in Seattle, WA on June 8-9, 2012 -- register now!]
BlogHer Food '12 will bring food bloggers together to learn, share, inspire, and of course, to EAT! Whether you're new to food blogging or an old pro, you should join us in Seattle, WA on June 8-9, 2012 -- register now!]
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