Want to improve school lunches? Better have a thick skin.
It's one thing to talk about fixing what's wrong with school lunches in America. I've done it myself and found it painless.
But try being the guy who actually goes into schools and attempts to improve their lunch programs. From what I can tell, that kind of sticking your neck out invites critics to chop off your head.
Two men are currently making news for their efforts to improve school nutrition. Chef Jamie Oliver has launched an effort to improve food habits in Huntington, West Virginia, America's fattest town (as designated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), starting in its elementary-school kitchen. Closer to home, New York chef Jeff Mills has been tapped to revamp the District of Columbia's school lunch program.
Oliver's efforts to replicate the success of his campaign to overhaul school "dinners" in his native Great Britain are documented in the ABC series "Jamie's Food Revolution." The first episode aired Sunday night and met with some snarkiness and cynicism.
Mills, an outsider with no school-lunch experience, is in the initial stages of evaluating D.C.'s program. Already some are muttering that he may not be the right man for the job.
Both men have taken on enormous, and, it would appear, largely thankless tasks. (Who knows? Maybe they'll get thanked after their work is done.) They're battling entrenched habits and tastes, indifference or ignorance among many parents, bureaucratic barriers, budget restrictions and, perhaps most daunting, the sometimes baffling regulations by which the USDA dictates what a school meal must contain. (Those standards may soon be revamped, if legislation approved yesterday by the Senate Agriculture Committee becomes law.)
I'll admit to having a soft spot for Oliver. For all his show-biz bravado, he seems like a sincere fellow to me. I don't know anything more about Mills than what I've read in the paper. (He doesn't have much of a Google trail.) But I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt; he had a successful restaurant career for a while before accepting this challenge, one he appears to take seriously.
There will be noses out of joint all along the path toward more nutritious school meals. But I think we should support those who are willing to get their hands dirty. We've got plenty of cheerleaders. Let's root for the folks who are trying to move the ball.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
March 25, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity , School Nutrition
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