The Founder of Food Revolution Day talks food and family
NCW: You created the first “Food Revolution Day” to encourage people all over the world to share information and resources and to highlight the world’s food issues. What did you learn on Food Revolution Day?
J.O.: Wow, good question. I think the biggest lesson for me was that people ALL OVER THE WORLD care about real food. We had events – all arranged by volunteers – n 62 countries and 663 cities around the world. These people were inspired to share their love of real food with their neighbor. I really believe the Food Revolution is happening, and if we continue to support people with good information and exciting ways to participate then I think we have a chance to make real change in the world.
NCW: The Ministry of Food started in the UK (known as Food Revolution in the US). Not that we’re not happy to have you here, but what prompted you to come to the US? Isn’t there a lot to do in the UK that needs your time and energy?
J.O.: There’s a lot to do everywhere that needs my time and energy. But I love America and always have. And let’s face it, America is ground zero of the obesity epidemic. If we can solve it here, we can solve it everywhere.
NCW: What are some of the unique challenges about changing food systems and habits in the US versus other countries.
J.O.: In the UK, what you would call the federal government, can legislate pretty quickly and everyone has to follow the new rules. That’s what happened after the Ministry of Food series aired. Here it’s not so simple. There are many, many layers. School Districts, Counties, States, and then finally the federal government. It’s very hard to get anything done with the government – which is why I’ve given up on them completely and only talk directly to the people. People have much more power to make change then they realize, and when informed, 95% of the time, they make very good decisions.
NCW: What is the most surprising thing you’ve seen on a school lunch menu anywhere?
J.O.: Sadly, nothing surprises me anymore. The over-processed and frankly disgusting items that are put on the lunch tray just depress me. IT doesn’t have to be this way. Many school lunch pioneers, Alice Waters, Ann Cooper, Kate Adamick, have showed America that it is possible, with a little training and creativity to put fresh food made from scratch on the plate, on budget.
NCW: You started focusing on kids and healthy eating long before you had children of your own. What made you choose this particular cause?
J.O.: Not really. When I started at the age of Fifteen, I was working with teens 16-21, I didn’t really look at school food until after Poppy was born. And I’ve continued on with both, ever since. Fifteen is 10 years old now.
NCW: Does anybody still call you the Naked Chef?
J.O.: Funnily enough, in America I am still known as much as the Naked Chef as I am Jamie Oliver. And I still have to tell people, “It’s not me – it’s the food. Stripped down bare to its essentials!”
NCW: What are your top 3 favorite US cities and a favorite restaurant in each?
J.O.: Too hard of a question, mostly because I don’t get to spend enough time in America, and when I am here, it’s mostly in Los Angeles and New York. But right now if you’re really pushing me for an answer, I’d say Spotted Pig in NYC, Gjelina in Venice, and Bar Jules in San Francisco. Both Spotted Pig and Bar Jules are run by friends so that makes them even more special for me.
NCW: As a busy parent, sometimes we can barely get dinner on the table much less make sure it is nutritionally balanced. Any tips?
J.O.: Sure, keep a cupboard full of easy things to knock out quick pasta dishes – canned beans, canned tuna, canned tomatoes – and a freezer full of frozen veggies ( peas and spinach are the best frozen offers) and fruits, and with an onion and a little garlic, you’ve got a nutritious and fast dinner, that’s bright in color and flavor. And won’t break the bank. Eggs are also great for dinner – a veggie adn goat cheese omelette? Brilliant. All you need is 5 minutes of planning, and 15 minutes to put it all together.
NCW: It can be daunting to change your family’s eating habits. If you can give the modern parent one piece of advice on where to start, what would it be?
J.O.: Walk the walk. Practice what you preach. Set a positive example. Don’t give in just because it’s easier and PLEASE, PLEASE, don’t make separate food for the kids and the parents. What kind of message is that? There’s no such thing as kid food and adult food. There’s just real, delicious food versus processed crap. And keep trying, because I promise you, eventually, your kids will eat it.
NCW: We’e heard that getting your children involved in cooking could lead them to eat healthier. How can I get my child to be interested in cooking?
J.O.: Just start. Involve them in the menu planning and shopping. Make it fun. If it’s a chore, for you, then it’s a chore for them. If you have fun in the grocery store and cooking (and even cleaning up dinner) then they will too. Growing stuff is a great way to get them excited too. A few basil seeds on a bright windowsill or a tomato plant, will excite kids about food.
NCW: Do your children ever ask for “fast food.” What do you say to them?
J.O.: Not really, because we never eat it. I am not opposed to fast food once in a while, as a very special treat, but we don’t really ever get to it.
NCW: What is your favorite snack to give your children…and yourself.
J.O.: We’re actually not that big on snacking at home as we try and have regular meals, but we love fruit, nuts, or a little bit cheese or a fruit smoothie is a great treat – made from frozen fruit and natural yogurt.