According to the World Health Organization, global obesity rates have more than doubled since 1980. For the first time in history, being overweight is killing more people than being underweight. At least 2.8 million adults around the world die each year from being overweight or obese. And yet, obesity is preventable.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is known for his successful campaign against the use of processed foods in national schools in England – a campaign he’s working to spread around the world. On Saturday, May 19, The Jamie Oliver Foundation is organizing a global Food Revolution Day with events aimed at improving diets and cooking habits.
We reached Jamie Oliver in London ahead of the day of action.
What are you hoping to achieve this weekend?
Obesity and other diet-related illnesses aren’t going to disappear overnight, but small changes will help. Cook something from real food. Grow a vegetable. Teach a friend to cook. Learn a new recipe. Have people over for dinner. Get excited about food. Join the thousands of people on May 19 who are showing they care. And stay tuned: This is only the beginning. Check out www.foodrevolutionday.com for a list of things happening in your area.
What is the most creative event being held on the 19th that you have heard of at this point?
There are so many things happening that it’s truly humbling. I’ve heard about a bread-making course in Italy, a free organic food cookery lesson in Brazil, one of Hong Kong’s biggest chefs doing a free demo, and some amazing events in places like Dubai, Turkey, Malaysia, and Slovakia.
A lovely Canadian woman getting married in Portugal on Saturday is dedicating her entire wedding to the food revolution. In lieu of favors, she and her soon-to-be husband are making a donation to the Jamie Oliver Foundation, and all of the food they are serving will be local Portuguese dishes. They are even saying something in their vows about their commitment to food. It’s lovely and an honor for me.
And a great group in Toronto is doing a pass-along cooking lesson. You can check it out here.
One of the chief obstacles to your movement in North America is that bad food is really cheap. How do you encourage people to change their eating habits under these circumstances?
Cheap, processed food stops being cheap when you have to feed more than two people. I have spent time in some poor regions of the world, and I have noticed the people in those areas eating some incredible food. You know why? Because they know how to cook. Inexpensive beans or lentils, cheap cuts of meat, a little rice or pasta, and a few onions can make a great dish – and serve a lot of people very inexpensively. But none of that can happen if you don’t know what to do with the lentils or cheap cuts of meat. Once we teach people how to cook again, they will be able to make better choices. They will be able to duck and dive and find ways to economize. Fast-food drive-thru won’t look so appealing any more.
In Canada, students recently fought junk-food bans in schools, saying such bans were violating their right to choose what they eat. How do you respond to that kind of reaction?
Why should kids get to choose what they eat? They are children. They need education. Do they choose whether to learn math and history? Is that violating their rights – forcing them to go to school when they want to play video games all day? I don’t even know how to respond to such a ridiculous situation. Kids need to be given the best food possible to set them on a path for a healthy and successful life.
What practical advice can you offer other countries based on your experience with schoolchildren in the U.K.?
Take charge and keep at it. You’ve got to market better foods to kids. When we boycotted the flavored milk in Huntington, W.Va., all the younger kids in the school chose the plain milk. When asked why, they said it was because their teacher had told them to. It’s that simple with the younger ones. With the older ones, you have to be a bit more clever. Make it cool to choose healthier foods. Make it cool to learn to cook. Recruit a diverse group of influential kids to be your ambassadors, and market to them every day. Beat the big food companies at their own game.
Why is this personally so important to you?
Because our kids are the first generation not to live longer lives than their parents. And as a father, that is unacceptable to me. If making this kind of telly and hosting Food Revolution Day can help get things back on track, then I have an obligation to do it. As a chef and a parent, I care about food and our future too much not to.