Jamie Oliver has already admitted to Grub Street that it will be hard to gauge the success of his mission in Huntington, West Virginia: “Ultimately there’s never going to be a happy ending — it’s just going to be a hopeful question mark.” But that hasn’t prevented a couple of outlets from taking him to task. First, AlterNet has its doubts about whether Oliver really accomplished much.
At the end of one episode, we hear Rhonda McCoy, director of food services for the local county, tell Jamie that he's over budget and did not meet the fat content and calorie guidelines, but she's going to let him continue with the "revolution" as long as he addresses these issues. What is not revealed is that the "meal cost at Central City Elementary during television production more than doubled with ABC Productions paying the excess expense," according to a document obtained by AlterNet from the West Virginia Department of Education.
The reality behind "Food Revolution" is that after the first two months of the new meals, children were overwhelmingly unhappy with the food, milk consumption plummeted and many students dropped out of the school lunch program, which one school official called "staggering." On top of that food costs were way over budget, the school district was saddled with other unmanageable expenses, and Jamie's failure to meet nutritional guidelines had school officials worried they would lose federal funding and the state department of education would intervene.
Grub Street asked John Turenne, who, as the founder of Sustainable Food Systems, is heading up Jamie Oliver’s efforts in Huntington, to respond to these points. He writes:
As school food consulting chefs, we were hired to help Jamie Oliver develop meals that were:
1. Cost effective;
2. Adhered to USDA Guidelines and
3. Where kid friendly
I can honestly state that we have achieved these goals in Huntington, WV. This is based on:
1. Actually helping to order the food. The costs for the food purchased for the meals served during filming has nothing to do with the meals being served in 25 other schools for the 95 days since those 5 days of filming. We are serving food that does not cost more and still use some government donated foods — they’re just not processed foods now.
2. Actually entering the nutritional data into the school system’s nutritional data bases and reviewing the acceptable data with the food service director.
3. Actually stand in the cafeterias with the kids and asked for their feedback, saw what they ate and didn’t eat and made adjustments accordingly.
I can’t remember seeing the author of the alternet blog in any of these kitchens or cafeterias in Huntington, nor working with the cooks and Food Service Director. We have. I am actually there.
Yes, the milk consumption went down when we stopped serving milk with sugars added. So unfortunately, the district decided to continue serving sweetened milk.
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin “lunch lady” complains to the Huffington Post that the show didn’t do much to address the efforts she and her colleagues are already making to work with farmers and senators. But the Atlantic has a more positive take on the “food revolution.” Doug Sheils, the director of marketing and public relations at a Huntington hospital, initially griped that the whole to-do about Huntington being “America's fattest and unhealthiest city” was based on incorrect data — but he eventually came to support the mission, and his hospital has donated $80,000 to the cause.
As support mounted, the town began to make Oliver's project its own. The kitchen Oliver built downtown has since been renamed "Huntington's Kitchen," with local charity Ebenezer Medical Outreach in charge of teaching residents how to cook healthy meals there. Patrick O'Neal, the principal of the elementary school featured in the show, has lost 15 pounds and adopted Jamie's Base Sauce — which offers a hefty serving of vegetables — into his family's dinner regimen.
"If he hadn't come and shined the spotlight on this we would've just continued doing what we were doing," said Yvonne Jones, executive director of the medical outreach group now running Huntington's Kitchen. She said Oliver's presence "helped people to see themselves" and brought together community members who were already working on improving the town's health.
So far, 225,665 people have signed the petition Oliver plans to take to Michelle Obama. Tonight’s episode: “Jamie makes a bet that he can teach 1,000 people to cook in one week.”
'Food Revolution': When Jamie Met Huntington [Food/Atlantic]
Jamie Oliver: Stirring Up a Food Fight [HuffPo]
How TV Superchef Jamie Oliver's 'Food Revolution' Flunked Out [AlterNet]