Q: Was it a pleasant surprise to find that the company U.S. Foods was willing to cooperate with you and that they did have good food available?
A: Definitely. As far as I was concerned, U.S. Foods was the company giving the schools all of the crap food, so I went there fully prepared for a confrontation. But the boss there was very clever and said: "Look, we are a distributor. We serve anything, and we are no different than a supermarket." He then showed me all their fresh food. If remember correctly, he even said, "We don't want to serve the schools the crap." That was a big statement because all of a sudden I realized that they weren't the bad guys. All they were doing was running an incredibly slick distribution network around the whole of the States and just responding to what their customers, the schools, are asking for.
This then made my argument and my mission very, very simple. I just had to find a way to get the schools to stop ordering the crap food and tell their distributors they didn't want the chicken nuggets, they just wanted the chicken. But bizarrely, it costs less to get processed chicken than it does to get the raw chicken! The child nutrition bill that is going through Congress at the moment is one of the most important pieces of legislation and has the potential to radically improve the whole system in schools for the first time in nearly 20 years. What's very interesting is what they are trying to do—come up with new standards that protect the kids without pissing off so many people that they don't manage to get the bill through Congress. The question is whether they will be able to get enough money to really push the changes through before its too late for today's generation of kids. Without the money, there won't be enough to spend on better ingredients and on training up the girls in the kitchen to handle the raw food without people getting worried about a lawsuit on hygiene grounds.
So what I want is really simple: I want the chicken but I don't want anyone to process it. But what happens then is that the processing industry will lobby against the bill and say they are being put out of work. My view on that is also simple: Process something else, or clean up the recipes and take the additives out. Governments want to change, but they are scared. For too many years now, people in strategic or trusted positions in the food industry who influence the things we eat on a daily basis all have big mouths and big pockets. And the further you dig, the more you start to realize that the government really is just a pawn in this game, trying to appease everyone. But my strategy is totally different. I like the idea of revving things up. I just want parents to get passionate and inspire everyone to make better choices. In the UK, when we banned crap from vending machines in schools, everyone went crazy. But then, within six months, the really bad stuff was replaced with better food, so the results were worth it. When you look at a town like Huntington, it's clear to see that so many of the food choices available are the wrong ones. People already have to work quite hard to make fairly good choices, so the last thing they need is an industry and government that make it even harder.
Learn more about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Most Popular Today