The Food Revolution: Victorious, or Crushed?

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TV is one thing, but Jamie Oliver's school intervention is over in real life and has already been evaluated by researchers at West Virginia University.

They asked seven questions of 109 fourth- and fifth-grade students, 35 teachers, six cooks, and the county food service director. Here are the results:

1. Are the new menu items acceptable to the students? Not much. 77 percent said they hated the food (but 66 percent said they tried new foods).

2. Do the new menus impact lunch participation? Yes, badly. Participation decreased by 9 percent.

3. Does removal of flavored milk impact milk consumption? Yes, milk consumption decreased by 25 percent.

4. How do teachers perceive the new menus? Not too differently than they perceived the old ones, but they thought the new ones were more nutritious.

5. Do the new menus impact the workload for food service staff? Yes, they didn't like it that they had to work harder and longer, and they preferred their own food.

6. Do the new menus impact meal costs? Yes, labor and ingredient costs were higher.

7. Do the new menus meet the federal and state nutrition guidelines? Yes and no. Fat and saturated fat were higher than USDA targets, sodium and fiber met guidelines, and vitamins and minerals exceeded targets.

So what to make of this? Remember, this is reality TV, not a real school intervention. Real ones start at the beginning of a semester, not in the middle, and are about food, not entertainment. They also do not leave it up to the kids to decide what to eat. Since when do kids get to decide what's best for them to eat? Isn't that an adult responsibility?

I think it's telling that the first question asked is whether kids like the food. This assumes that liking food is independent of external influences like peer pressure and food marketing.

I'm more interested in knowing what happens in schools in that town after the TV crews are long gone. If the programs are any indication, I think real changes will take place in the minds, hearts, and stomachs of participants and viewers. Whether researchers can figure out how to capture those changes is another matter.

Addendum: Here's the Associated Press story on the evaluation, which quotes me.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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