An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver

April 12, 2010

by Mark Bishop, HSC deputy director

Jamie:

While you don't know me, I already feel like I know you pretty well, thanks to your cookbook, television shows and activism. I'd like to take a moment and thank you for the great work you've done and applaud what I hope to be a change of course in the health of our country.  

On March 21 when your Food Revolution broadcast for the first time, you not only mesmerized your audience, but you became the public face of the school food reform movement. You did what no one else could: you opened the eyes of millions of parents, community leaders, school board members and more, and you educated them about the power and challenges and possibilities of school food.

After watching, I felt it was time to take the next step and join the revolution you discuss. So I did. And to do that I visited your web site and (electronically) signed my name to the following:

I support Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. America's kids need better food at school and better health prospects. We need to keep cooking skills alive.

Nice. I believe in that! What next? After signing on, I received this message:

Thank You! You are now part of the American Food Revolution!

I must admit that I felt a bit let down.

Your show is getting people mad, making people cry (my wife shed a few tears during last Friday's show) and motivating people for action. I think you are priming people to want to do more — now it's time to give them a meaningful way to act.

I'd like to offer some unsolicited advice: You need to reach out to your audience of revolutionaries and ask them to take some concrete next steps. People are listening to you and want your guidance on substantive actions they can take for school food reform. Please — take the opportunity to encourage real action that will change our country's school food policies. For example, it could make a real difference if you urged people to: 

1) Contact Congress. The federal government is debating the Child Nutrition Act now. We need the thousands (and eventually millions, I'm sure) of Jamie Oliver viewers to contact their legislators and tell them that we need more money for better school food. And the currently proposed six cents per meal just isn't enough of an increase.

2) Contact your state representatives and tell them how important school food is. Most states provide supplemental funding for the lunch and breakfast programs. In some states this is being cut. Let leaders know that school food is important and we need support at the state level too!

3) Get involved in your school. Schools that receive federal lunch money (most schools) are required to have a School Wellness Policy that includes a committee with parents. Get on that committee. If you don't have one, start one. Let your school know that this is a priority for you. While we need money and reform from the federal level, real change happens school by school as well. Get your school to set a goal as part of the HealthierUS Challenge.

4) Reach out to your school stakeholders. Contact local chefs, your principal, local businesses, your friends and fellow parents and get them involved. Get them to join your committee and expand your network of people helping improve lunches in your school.

Jamie, I'm part of the revolution now. But to make sure this revolution makes real change, we now need to mobilize your supporters.

You've created an incredible opportunity for action. Let's not let it slip away.

Your fellow school food revolutionary, 

Mark Bishop

P.S. I'm sure there are many more concrete things people can do to change the future of school food. What else would you add to the list?