For the last decade, the British-born “Naked Chef” has been advocating for better food education, particularly for schoolchildren. On his ABC show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” the chef entered schools in Huntington, W. Va., and Los Angeles to enact dietary change. He will take his crusade a step farther on May 19 by launching Food Revolution Day.
On May 22, Oliver will receive the Healthy Cup Award from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Q. In season 1 of “Food Revolution,” you drew resistance from the community of Huntington, W. Va. What did you take away from that experience?
A. We went there based on USDA statistics. It was statistically the most unhealthy place in the country. So of course the immediate sort of worry [from locals] was, “We don’t really like being under the spotlight.” And I don’t blame them and I suppose if it was our town, we wouldn’t like it either. But I think the reason I did the show and ABC did the show is it’s kind of gone too far now. We can’t just keep ignoring it.
Q. Did that steel your resolve toward the worldwide Food Revolution Day?
A. Yeah, I think so. We had season 2 in LA where we said, “Let’s get some real traction in schools, let’s go to the second biggest school district in the country, and let’s go to the part of America that’s probably geared up to make some radical change.” What a lot of people don’t realize is we do the TV shows — I’ve done about five or six different shows or campaigns or documentaries over the last 10 years — and after the show’s finished, we still have teams running those same campaigns, researching and sharing to this day. Pretty much everything we do is about facilitating local communities and people who were already doing it, but trying to do it in such a way that we are all sharing and focusing and empowering each other. And basically most of them, a lot of companies, and local governments were saying, “It’d be really nice to focus on one day.” Hence, Food Revolution Day.
Q. What do you expect from it?
A. If I’m really honest, God, I don’t know. We’re in over 360 cities across the world, so far in about 43 countries, and there’s multiple events happening. We’ve got so many different events from festivals, street markets, big conferences, things in schools, quite a lot of chefs around the world holding demonstrations. The point of Food Revolution is it’s ours, not mine. We want parents to have a dinner party and get involved and register. We want restaurants and food markets to get involved. If there’s an issue locally that’s trying to make some noise, they would use the day to make their point a little bit louder.
Q. Many poor food choices are simply made out of convenience. How do you see us changing course?
A. Humans are pretty adept at change. But every now and again you get a slap around the face because certain things haven’t caught up. The stuff that I seem to focus on, just because I can’t seem to get it out of my head, is when you walk into a school of 5-, 6-, 7-year-old kids, and you see bad health in self-esteem, weight, teeth, hyperactivity, and the use of Ritalin. It’s fair to say that every English and American child should at least grow up knowing where food comes from, how it affects their body, how to make 10 meals to save their life. That sounds dramatic but I’m talking about how can you give them a pile of ingredients that can be affordably bought and turn it quite perfectly with a little bit of fun into something bloody tasty and better than the [stuff] you get from a fast food place. To me, it’s about empowering people or communities and getting schools to educate people to give them choice. And that’s the big thing I see that we’re really, really suffering from in both our countries. If you don’t know what stuff is or where to get it or what to do with it, then you haven’t got choice. You just start buying into the vicious circle of junk, junk, junk. Then you become a statistic basically.
Interview was condensed and edited. Glenn Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.