School Board Blocks Food Revolution

Jamie Oliver was making a point when he came to Huntington, WV.  Take the "sickest" city in America and turn it's citizens on to healthy eating habits.  Overhaul the school lunch program and create lots of happy, healthier citizens.

Well, the local community newspaper, "The Herald Dispatch," polled the Cabell County school board members about their thoughts on implementing the Food Revolution in all schools.   The article, published today wasn't that encouraging.  Lots of members hid behind budgets and spoke of gradual changes and working within USDA guidelines.  Here's a sample. Mary Alice Freeman:  "The board has a responsibility to stay within the food service budget and preparing non-processed food is definitely more expensive ... implementing the program in all of our schools will take time and additional resources." Susan Gillette:  "Changing our eating habits is difficult because of just that - it's a habit ... you can change the eating habits of the schools a little at a time.  Substitute fresh fruit for a dessert one year.  Change to fresh vegetables the next, etc." Kenneth Graybeal:  "Yes, we should (implement the Oliver program).  If students eat right, they will be healthier, but we must change slowly." And it goes on with all nine members of the school board ducking behind regulations and budgets.  It's an easy cop out.  They're all taking it. They have a community charged up to improve the school lunch program.  They have received community donations.  They have a media spotlight that they can use to their advantage.  They have trained staff in place that can help train more staff.  But nope, that's not enough. Right now, if the school board has anything to do with it, the Food Revolution is already dead.  Nothing much will change. So how much will it cost to have the Cabell County Schools running on the Jamie Oliver program?  West Virginia First Lady, Gayle Manchin who also has a seat on the State's School Board said, it would take an additional $66,000 next school year to make part-time cooks into full-time employees. Here's the thing, Cabell Huntington Hospital donated $80,000 to the Cabell County school lunch program.  "The biggest part of that is money to train every single school cook in Cabell County how to cook healthy meals from scratch, so they're not just opening a box of frozen chicken nuggets and warming them up," said Doug Sheils, a representative from the hospital in a recent interview. Does this mean they have $80,000 to train the staff but they don't have $66,000 to cover the additional employee costs?  Is that $80,000 a complete waste then? Where is that money going now? I found the school budget figures for the 2007-2008 school year after quite a bit of hunting.  The total budget for Cabell County is $140,801,000.  Broken down by category, $27,047,000 is for Operations, Food Service, Other.  The $66,000 represents one-quarter of one percent (.25%) of the Operations and Food Service budget. Is the school board of Cabell County really telling their families that they can't come up with one-quarter of one percent of their budget to improve school meals? Shame on them.  I hope some parents see this post and try to do something about it.  I hope there's some screaming and ranting and minds being changed. The school board is ready to let the momentum slide on their Food Revolution.  They are ready to go back to the "same old, same old."  Please don't let them. What are your thoughts?

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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20 Responses to School Board Blocks Food Revolution

  1. Ashley April 25, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    It’s disappointing yes but you can’t control everyone. Change yourself and if the change is positive enough it will catch on to the rest of us. You are talking about the most overweight city in the US! …try moving smaller hills before you attempt the biggest mountain. Just my thoughts, I’m sure all will disagree.c

  2. Carrie April 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    I’m a local mom. I am VERY glad you posted this info. I have gone to the School District’s website and sought out email addresses for the right people. I will not let my kids eat school lunch anymore, if they give up on Jamie’s Food Revolution. As I said in the last episode on Friday, They are undermining everything Jamie has worked so hard to change. My 1o yr old son came home from school Friday and said, “They made us eat chicken nuggets!” He’s angry about it! He knows how to eat healthful food and he WANTS to. So what if it’s a little more money? I want my kids healthy. They school board needs to find a way to make it happen. I believe it is their responsibility to continue to model healthful eating habits. Sometimes it’s the only meal a kid gets, so why not MAKE IT HEALTHY?! I could go on, but I know I’m just preaching to the choir. Thank you for this article. It has pointed me in the right direction to continue pushing for change.

  3. Kathleen April 25, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    I’m outraged that board member don’t believe that their first responsibility is to the health and well-being of the children. What planet do these people live on? I know I live in California and we are pretty out there with food, but it’s just amazing what people will do to maintain the culture of an area. Those children deserve better.

  4. Lisa Johnson April 25, 2010 at 10:05 pm #

    Carrie, thanks so much for the comments. I’m so glad I reached a Mom in Huntington! Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you. Happy to.

    Ashley, I do believe that setting a good example and letting that ripple out into your local community is an excellent thing to do. However, Huntington was given a unique opportunity with celebrity, politics and donations all behind a drastic change. For the School Board to be blocking the initiative is appalling. The community is on board here, it’s only 9 people who aren’t.


  5. Trece April 26, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    I have lived in West Virginia, and I’ve lived in New York. The location doesn’t really matter. Parents can make lunch for their kids wherever they are. And they can’t make them eat it. Sad but true.
    If Carrie feels that strongly, she should make a lunch from home for her kids to take to school. If they will eat it, they will be modeling change to their peers.
    The school board will be slow to change; Wext Virginians are notoriously stuck in their ways. And you know what? It’s THEIR business!!!
    Jamie Oliver may have a burden to fix things, but it is basically none of HIS business.
    A person needs to be convinced of the value of a change before they will undertake it. When food is involved, how many of us succeed when we try to make wholesale changes overnight? I mean – look at dieting to try to lose weight. Small changes made incrementally are the only ones that seem to stick.

    And let’s not forget that Food Revolution was made for TV. That means the driving force was not altruistic, but entertainment.
    ‘Nuff said.

  6. Jenn @Fitness for the Fitness-averse April 26, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    I have to wonder WHY it was so easy for those 9 school board members to so easily go into hiding behind budget and regulation… that is mighty interesting considering they’ve got a very unique opportunity here that the community is supporting.

    Ashely – I agree – there is personal accountability that has to happen, and certainly this is not going to be an easy change. But these folks are open to resources that most communities won’t even come close to – and these 9 people are going to just squander that?!? Makes absolutely no sense to me.

    Lisa – thank you for shedding light on this and continuing to get this message out there.

  7. PilatesGirl_BB April 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Clearly the parents, kids, and residents in Huntington are looking for change. It’s really sad that the school board doesn’t seem to recognize/care enough about this. Change doesn’t have to be slow or painful. In the long run, it will result in healthier, happier, more focused kids.

  8. clizbiz April 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Wow. I’m disheartened to hear that people sitting on school boards have only money in mind when it comes to a healthful diet. Sounds like the problem in West Virginia (and other regions as well) isn’t going to get solved overnight.

    When O-WHEN is this country going to grasp the idea of preventative health care? It costs less money!

  9. Mark B. April 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    While I applaud everything Jamie Oliver did for the people of Huntington the real proof is whether the revolution continues when the general is gone. As we saw in the last episode once the cameras and Jamie left town things began to slide. That is human nature. The real question is whether when the cameras return in a year whether anything has significantly changed. I hope so but I’m sort of cynical in believing that without Brooks & Dunn and TV cameras and celebrities to get people to pony up $80K on screen and look like angels the day-to-day reality will leave Huntington very nearly the same as it was before Jamie appeared.
    One last caveat is as much as this is good advice and a critical conversation for this country to have; Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was reality TV with all of the issues that go with that. At the end of the show the main rule was it had to be entertaining or otherwise the cameras move on to the next target.

  10. Lisa Johnson April 26, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Mark, I’ve watched all the episodes and I do feel that Jamie Oliver is heartfelt in his desire to help people fight obesity. But yes, at the end of the day it’s entertainment, hence a guy dressed in a big pea costume being chased by kids :-)

    ClizBiz, I was afraid this was going to happen, but I thought the board would pay better lip service than it did. I thought they’d try to just let it slide, but they’re actually ducking already and hoping the local constituents don’t figure it out.

    Beth, it is sad that the population has been convinced, but apparently not the school board!

    Jenn, for 9 individuals to stand in the way of what appears to be a heavily community supported program is appalling. There are ways to find the money both within the budget and outside of the budget. They need to figure it out.

  11. Mark B. April 26, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    I wonder how heavily supported this really was by the community.
    Reality TV is all about editing.
    You have already pointed out that Jamie’s bet with DJ Rod was not 1,000 people in a week as portrayed on the show but 1,000 people in a month in reality.
    Think about the final Boot Camp how many parents were really there? Look in the background when Jamie is talking off to the side. They are in a church parking lot and it is not anywhere near being full. The real proof is if there were thousands of people there there would’ve been a shot from a helicopter showing lots and lots of people. Not once during the show did you ever see a crowd shot like that.
    The truth is that this wasn’t the same groundswell they saw in England when he did it.
    This time it really was a modest success and if the change in the schools can be made to stick it can lead to real change because it will happen generationally. This is the lasting good that can come of this.
    The school board is being stubborn because they don’t believe that now the cameras are gone anyone will really be paying attention. The proof will be what the school menu looks like on the first day of school next fall. I hope it succeeeds but just like “The Biggest Loser” I fear Huntington will return to its roots oh so easily once the circus has left town.

  12. Lisa Johnson April 26, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    Excellent points Mark, I’m afraid you might be right … I hope not. L–

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  14. Lisa Johnson May 7, 2010 at 9:56 am #

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  15. [email protected] May 11, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    This is America’s problem and would be better served with an American icon, although I totally love Jamie Oliver and I agree 100% with his food viewpoint. But, look at our food network channel. Overweight cooks making big big food and always looking like they are salivating over their last meal is what makes general entertainment here. When Julia Child taught cooking, she taught REAL cooking and it was meant to be eaten with a certain amount of restraint and appreciation. You cannot appreciate good food if your stomach doesn’t have a chance to get empty. The tons of sugary, fatty desserts we see on FCN ruin the appetite and palate. Our problem in America is way way bigger than school lunches. School lunch is just a mere reflection of our food culture in general, and that’s where the revolution needs to happen.

    It never made sense to me to start in the schools and force school cooks to accept the change when they don’t believe in it and the parents of the children don’t either.

    Michelle Obama is making it her business to target childhood obesity. She will probably fail, because child obesity is a mere result of an obese culture and this culture is affected by money and greed from the food industry and the government obliging the lobbyists. Children are 99% influenced by their parents, not by Jamie Oliver type chefs, or school cafeterias. Also, people with overeating issues do not like someone else controlling their children. Teach the parent and watch it trickle down.

    The appetite for green beans begin in toddler hood, not school age.

    I am a giant proponent of real, whole, healthy food and exercise and I live this way and I feed two twin boys this way. But, they would not learn this value system from a school or the government.

    The food revolution begins in the home with revisiting the joy of sitting at a real table and the reintroduction of the joy of the process of cooking, not the end result. Until our culture sees the value of shelling fresh beans together, as part of the fun of eating, there is little hope. But, our culture values spending its time outside the kitchen.

  16. Lisa Johnson May 11, 2010 at 3:36 pm #


    Thanks so much for your comments. I hope you’re wrong about Michelle Obama’s efforts. I’d like to think that if an important enough person gets behind an issue with a good deal of money behind her that she’ll have some impact and we can turn the boat around so to speak.

    I also agree with you that the Food Revolution begins in the home and pretty much as soon as your baby is on solids … got get those veggies in there and it would be great if they were organic ones to boot. Who needs to put chemicals in a baby unnecessarily?

    Thanks again for your input, it’s greatly appreciated :-)


  17. garth May 1, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    first off THE CITIZEN of West Virginia are paying for the school lunches with TAXES. you can not tell me they could not make adjustment to fund this food revolution. I live in jefferson County. i see all the money that flows to charleston. To hide behind the Beauracy that these twits have created and then attempt to enlarge it just shows how hard we must push back and take your schools back to the PUBLIC domain. Lets slash the school board down to one person and let the people of the state vote by referumend as to how we want are schools administered.

  18. Lisa Johnson May 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Garth, it did seem like such a small budget change that could have easily been funded and in fact WAS funded by private sources. L–

  19. one good guy August 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2011

  20. Lisa Johnson August 16, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    I have thought about it … it’s really tough to track down the information via internet. I’ve noticed they’re a bit more clever about what they post. Sigh. Because having our kids eat well is apparently a dirty secret, pizza and chicken nuggets for all! ;-)

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