Improving school food in the US will take decades, Jamie Oliver has predicted in an exclusive interview with TES – but he has vowed to continue campaigning for change.
“The [situation in the US] is so structurally compromised that it is going to take decades to break that down,” Oliver said.
“There are compromised government structures and laws that are in place only so companies can make money, not for public health. The way school lunches are over there, this is quite hard to fix. But it’s not a waste of time. It’s still inspiring to do.”
Oliver has also recorded an interview about his campaign to improve school dinners in the UK and the US, in which he insists that "really radical change" can happen in his lifetime.
The chef, who launched his mission to improve school dinners in England 10 years ago with the television programme Jamie’s School Dinners, says that England is now one of the countries leading the way on the issue of food in schools.
In England, the rules on what food can be served to children have been tightened, cooking is included on the curriculum and dinners are free for all five- to seven-year-olds.
Oliver's campaign spread to the US in 2009 when he began filming Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in West Virginia. The programme would later receive an Emmy for best reality TV series. The chef's profile was boosted further when he received the 2010 TED prize, a $100,000 award to help him realise his wish to educate every child about food and obesity.
But changing school dinners in the US proved tougher than expected, although Oliver had one notable success: after he lobbied the Los Angeles Unified School District, it voted in 2011 to remove flavoured milk from its menus.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned last year that one in five children in developed countries is overweight or obese; in 1980 the figure was one in 10.
But the OECD report adds that even though more than 30 per cent of children in the US are overweight, obesity rates for children in the country have virtually stabilised. There has also been a slight decline in the numbers of overweight children in England and Mexico.
Last year, Oliver teamed up with TES to mark his third annual Food Revolution Day with a Guinness World Record for the largest ever cookery lesson.
This year, he is calling on the governments of the world’s largest economies to tackle the issue. Oliver told TES: “All we’re trying to do is have a logical, relevant response to diet-related disease being the biggest killer on the planet.”
Earlier this month, the chef started a petition calling for practical food education in schools, which already has more than 700,000 signatures. He is planning to take the petition to the international G20 summit in the autumn.
The full interview with Jamie OIiver will appear in next week's TES. To read the story downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.
One in five 11-year-olds obese, study finds 27 Nov 2014