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Jamie Oliver on Food Revolution Day in L.A., Pink Slime, and How LAUSD is Doing With School Food These Days

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I met Jamie Oliver on January 17, 2011 when I went to the Food Revolution taping in Westwood. At the time, I was the Policy Deputy for the office of Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte; going to the show and trying to help Jamie ended up costing me my job.

Then-Superintendent Ramon Cortines had drawn a line in the sand and Jamie was "persona non grata" at our schools. What? Exactly.

Like many I was dumbfounded at L.A. school administrators' resistance to Jamie.

After Jamie's time in L.A., LAUSD students continue to throw half of their food by volume away. Pizza is back on the menu. And over $70 million a year is left in Washington due to the abysmal participation rates when it comes to "free lunch." So when Food Revolution Day brought Jamie back to LA with his "Big Rig" on the UCLA Medical Center's campus, it was time to check in with him to see where he felt things stood in L.A.

LAist: Congrats on the 600 events around the globe for #foodrevolutionday (plus mine), but you chose to spend the day in L.A. Was it for the UCLA event or...?

Jamie Oliver: I wanted to be on the truck for Food Revolution Day. The Food Revolution started in Huntington [West Virginia] and moved to Los Angeles and, after Saturday, has taken off all over the world. Being in L.A. on the truck was very important to me. The truck is a symbol of all of the teaching we can do if we're properly funded. We've got a great curriculum and team in place and can easily expand if the right partners want to get involved. Food Revolution Day was about knowledge and awareness and enthusiasm. That's the definition of the "Big Rig Teaching Kitchen."

When you were in Los Angeles doing the show you had said, "this is the worst year of my professional career." Still feel that way? Look what you've gotten to (#FoodRevolutionDay)?

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L.A. was pretty rough. I hadn't ever experienced so many people simply not interested in change. They (the LAUSD) didn't even care if we had something good to offer, which has been a completely opposite experience to Food Revolution Day. Thousands of people, all volunteers, from all parts of the world got involved. If that doesn't send a message, I don't know what does.

600 events: Lovely job of leveraging the "celebrity." That doesn't happen often. Sure, everyone eats. But not everyone thinks of politics when holding their fork. Of the fancy folks of the world. Who has really surprised you with the depth of their commitment? Richard Branson? Bob Ross? Laurie David? The Yankees?

The Food Revolution has been an amazing thing. No one says no to helping. If there is a way to spread the word, or lend profile and support, then so far everyone we've asked has been willing to pitch in from Google, to the NHL to Warner Bros to the lovely individuals you have mentioned. There are so many more to name, I wouldn't know where to start. But for me, it's the non-celebrities who are the true heroes here. The people who simply volunteered to start a Food Revolution in their own communities all over the world.

Yes! There are amazing people on the ground doing amazing things around the globe to "get kids right with food?" Whose work inspires? Whose work could we be paying attention to? Who needs support and funding to create a big impact?

I think one of the things that Food Revolution Day has shown is that there are many, many people all over the world who are already doing fantastic work and I think we should be paying attention to all of them - hopefully Food Revolution Day has given them a sense that they’re part of a wider, global movement which can only get bigger and more powerful.

As a chef, you teach kids and their families how to engage with food. What would you like L.A.'s school kids to take away from the day?

Just give it a go guys. We had made some real progress and if you don't like the new menu, don't just refuse to eat it, make suggestions to your teachers and principal. Let them know that you will happily eat the healthier food if it tastes good. Make us some healthy food, from fresh ingredients, from scratch that tastes good. It's not too much to ask.

What am I not asking? Big food companies? Choices? Pink slime? LAUSD backsliding?

Oh man Mud, you're asking them all. Big food companies? How about truth in labeling for a start. NO more secret processes or ingredients.

Choices? I love choices. I choose fresh food made from scratch. Lots of salads, vegetables, and I really like to cook. But even more than cooking, I like to teach people how to cook and inspire them to make different choices. Armed with a little food knowledge and a few skills they always will.

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Pink slime? Happy to see it go. No need for it.

LAUSD backsliding? Disappointing. Truly. They are letting the kids down, and hurting their future prospects. IF Food Revolution (the L.A. series) didn't show that there are big problems and these kids are desperate for solutions, then nothing did. As educators and human beings, they should do better.

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