The Kids' Food Revolution….why it's here to stay

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is here to stay.

You might be forgiven for thinking that it had gone away, as his TV show lasted only 2 seasons. The LA Unified School District (second largest school in the USA, which feeds lunch and breakfast to nearly 700,000 students every day), even banned him from filming in the school he’d chosen. Ultimately, Jamie’s campaign did have an effect, but the LAUSD has had a bumpy ride with the new, award-winning healthier menus it is now serving (students are reportedly rejecting them).

Despite this, the Food Revolution has had one important consequence: it has put the problem of kids’ food at the forefront of public debate. And it’s a problem that’s not going away. Aside from the well-documented effects on weight, physical and mental health, and IQ, the foods we are feeding our children may actually be reducing their life expectancy. (And you don’t necessarily have to be obese or overweight to suffer some of the effects). The Center for Disease Control predicts that because of poor eating habits the current generation of North American children will live shorter lives than their parents: we may be training our kids to eat themselves into an early grave.

Why is this happening? It’s a complicated picture, but boils down to a series of pressures on families, on school food, and on supermarkets and the food system more generally. (See Jamie’s prize-winning TED talk for an inspiring explanation). These pressures are not easy to counter. But the Food Revolution won’t go away, because it’s not just an issue for individuals and families anymore. It’s an economic issue, given the costs to the health system, and reduced productivity due to chronic disease. And it’s an environmental issue, given that the way we produce food also may have both negative (e.g. pollution) and positive impacts (like carbon sequestration in soils). It’s also a social issue, given that poverty-related food insecurity is a serious and growing concern, while at the other end of the food commodity chain family farmers continue to be squeezed. In fact, many who join the food movement believe that food insecurity and unhealthy eating are two related expressions of a food system that does some things well (produce large volumes of relatively low-cost food well), but which desperately needs fixing in other respects. So the Food Revolution isn’t going away, for a simple reason: what kids eat is a collective economic, social, and environmental issue–as well as an individual and family matter.

The good news is that the North American food movement–which has been around for decades–had woken up to these issues long before Jamie arrived (although his TV show did give the issues more public profile). And it is gaining momentum. Michele Obama’s decision to focus on food through her Let’s Move campaign is evidence of this–although some have argued that the controversial change in the campaign’s tactics in late 2011, which saw less of a focus on ‘eating healthily’, is indicative of the lobbying power of the food and beverage industry.

But Obama’s is only one (albeit high-profile) campaign amongst many. Communities all across North America are coming together with bottom-up campaigns of their own. I’ve listed some below, although this list is necessarily partial, and immediately out of date, as the food movement is rapidly growing. (And if you have other examples you’d like to share, please let me know — I’d love to include them!).

In future posts I’ll discuss the aspirations and goals of the Kids’ Food Movement, and identify inspiring examples of how the Food Revolution has taken hold all across North America–in the process dealing with complex issues of race, class, poverty, and corporate power. (You should also check out this thoughtful article by Michael Pollan, on how the food movement is diverse and evolving). All food for thought as Food Revolution Day approaches on May 19th. In the meantime, enjoy the inspirational examples below!

School Lunch Reform

The Slow Food movement’s ‘Time for Lunch’ campaign is a great example of how school food is about more than just nutrition: it’s about changing routines and priority given to food in the classroom. Sign on to their petition or organize a local ‘Eat-In’.

Chef Ann Cooper (also known as the Renegade Lunch Lady) is a long-time campaigner for better school lunches.

FoodCorps trains young public service volunteers and sends them into schools in under-resourced communities with a three-part mandate: educating kids about nutrition; building and tending school gardens; bringing high-quality food into public school cafeterias. Youth teaching youth — with great outcomes for both. (Too bad I’m too old for this!)

School Gardens & Farm to School

Alice Waters was one of the first, with her Edible Schoolyard project. Imagine if every restaurant adopted a school!

The Farm to School network links local farms to schools, providing fresh food and food education that enriches both kids’ and farmers’ lives. They recently got a boost with the USDA’s new Farm to School program, which aims to encourage local and regional products in school lunch menus.

City Farmer does a great job of providing advice on urban gardens in Canada.

Food Policy Reform & Food System advocates

The powerhouse Center for Science in the Public Interest has spent over 40 years working on food issues, sponsors Food Day, provides amazing information resources, and engages in legal action on deceptive marketing and artificial ingredients.

Food and Water Watch campaigns for a healthier food system, including issues like food safety, factory farming, and Farm Bill reform.

Food Insecurity

An issue for millions of American families and children, being addressed by many groups including Feeding America.

And, last but not least, the Jamie Oliver Foundation Real Food Advocates team of kids’ food bloggers, of which I’m a proud member! A big shout-out to all of my blogging Food Revolution team-mates:

Brenda Thompson @ Meal Planning Magic
Kim Gerber @ Out of the Box Food
Natalie Perry @ Perry’s Plate
Thippi Fleckenstein @ Noodle On That
Amanda Wendt @ The Organic Trail
Amy Wilcox @ Mia Cucinas Cucina
Yvette Garfield @ Handstand Kids
Kelly Lester @ Easy Lunchboxes
Johanna Cook @ Momma Cuisine
Michelle Sybert @ Michelle’s Journal Corner (and Muffin Tin Mom!)
Jennifer Tyler Lee @ Crunch A Color
Laura Fuentes @ Momables
Katie Newell @ Health Nut Foodie
Nicole Cibellis @ A Family That Eats Together
Kelly Doscher @ The Food Minded Mama
Gwen Wilson @ Simply Healthy Family
Jamie Schler (honorary) @ Life’s A Feast
Bonnie Stoilkovich @ Zuma Organic
Shanna Ferrigno @ Ferrigno Fit
Bri DeRosa @ Red Round Or Green
Isabelle Vorhies @ Isabelle At Home

5 thoughts on “The Kids' Food Revolution….why it's here to stay

  1. Pingback: Sue Atkins

  2. Excellent post Karen! Thanks for helping spread the word about Food Revolution, what a great list 🙂 Have you heard about The Dinner Garden? They provide seeds, gardening supplies, gardening education, & recipes free of charge. Their mission is to end hunger in America through gardening. They’ve helped over 60,000. people and the program is doing so well, they are backed up with seed orders for a year! They have Michelle Obama looking into their organization, I think if she helps, the wait might not be as long.


  3. I am so happy that I found your website and I have been reading about The Food Revolution and your book here. Since I am from Germany and grew up there, I am very passionate about changing the way kids eat and the food that is available to feed your kids. I am looking to make changes in my community and hope to use the resources you have provided to make my voice heard! I blog about the lunches I make my kids every day and am hoping to change the way lunch is served in our town. What you are doing is wonderful and I hope it reaches a lot of people!


  4. Ive been reading some of your stuff on Zite, and wondered if you’ve come across the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation
    which is looking at ways of introducing gardening into Australian schools – and using it as a way to get kids eating better and moving more. Stephanie A is one of Australia’s best known chefs. I’ve got nothing to do with the program, except that I think it’s an excellent scheme. Heard someone on radio the other day saying that gardening was also helping troubled boys in particular – giving them an outlet for their (mis)directed energies, and a sense of achievement.
    Good luck


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