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How TV Superchef Jamie Oliver's 'Food Revolution' Flunked Out

After two months, kids hated the new meals, milk consumption plummeted, and many students dropped out of the school lunch program altogether.

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Even more troubling, according to Dr. Harris, some teachers who participated in the survey commented "that students were not getting enough to eat." In numerous scenes in the "Food Revolution" kids who kept trying to eat Jamie's meals are shown spitting out food or dumping nearly full lunch trays into the bin.

Goff called the declines "staggering." He expressed concern because "improved test scores, decreased tardies, fewer behavioral problems and improved classroom participation ... are all byproducts of increased participation in the school meal program."

A document from the West Virginia Department of Education indicates Jamie's escapades put Cabell County's entire lunch program at risk. It stated: "Noncompliance with meal pattern and nutrient standard requirements may result in a recovery of federal funds." In plain English, the county could lose a large amount of funding because of the failure to meet the standards.

While Jamie did raise $80,000 to pay for trainers to teach cooks in all of Cabell County's 28 schools to produce the new menus, a document from the county outlined many other expenses that have not been detailed on the show. Meal preparation required more cooks to the tune of $66,000 a year; each school needed new equipment ranging from $20 containers to $2,945 commercial-grade food processors; the county was paying more for fresher items, such as cooked chicken at an additional 10 cents a serving; schools that rolled over to the new program were unable to use "donated food" from the USDA, valued at $522,974.68 last year, with officials bluntly noting, "The program cannot afford to lose this amount"; and the county was losing purchasing power because it was having difficulty getting the fresh ingredients through the buying cooperative it shares with eight other counties.

In a perverse way, Jamie Oliver has highlighted many of the shortcomings of the U.S. food system. But it was like taking a wrecking ball to a termite-infested house to show the rot inside at the cost of smashing the structure. That he failed to meet the nutritional guidelines, went way over budget and put the school district at risk of losing federal funding is bad enough. The fact that so many children stopped drinking milk, dropped out of the program and appeared to be eating less food, strongly suggests they were worse off under his program. As Cabell County has sidelined his menu it's more evidence that the "Food Revolution" collapsed at the barricades.

That said, school food could be improved tremendously. But it's a comment on how bad the broader food system and culture is when studies show kids who participate in the school lunch program are eating healthier food than they would otherwise. One teacher who blogs about school lunches points out that "Lunchables" -- a package of highly processed crackers, meat and cheese and candy -- have become "standard fare in many lunchboxes across the country."

Who knows how many kids in Cabell County who dropped out of the lunch program after being turned off by Jamie's food turned to junk food like Lunchables or even worse options, such as the kids in my high school who would make a meal out of French fries, fruit pies and ice cream.

Some will try to find the silver lining by saying at least Jamie is raising the flawed school food program as a national concern. This is true, but he's so far done it in a way that gives little understanding of the complexity of the issue. By the time Jamie Oliver has moved on to his million-dollar next project, if he hasn't already, the teachers, students, parents, farmers, administrators and community activists fighting for a completely new school food system will still be on the ground, doing the hard work. Perhaps Jamie should have focused on how they have been struggling for years on a grassroots Food Revolution, rather than hogging the limelight.

 
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