However you might feel about Jamie Oliver — most seem to love him or hate him — you can’t deny that the man has a following, and he knows how to mobilize it. Since he declared this Saturday, May 19, Food Revolution Day — calling on “an international community of foodies, chefs, parents, educators, companies, activists and celebrities to arm people with the knowledge and tools to make healthier food choices” — that community has responded in force. So far they’ve planned over 600 events in 58 countries to answer the celebrity chef and real-food champion’s call.
The events range from privately hosted dinner parties to school excursions to cooking and gardening workshops — anything that falls under the mantle of spreading the gospel of good food and healthy living. If you’re in Amsterdam, you can take a “Good Food Tour” of the city. Stuck in the Maldives? Attend an “outdoor fitness event.” Those in Singapore can tour the few farms that still exist in this land-scarce country. Volunteers in Lorain County, Ohio, will be planting gardens for low-income families. Multiple cities will host grocery store and farmers market tours. If you can’t find an event in your area, you can sign up to host one. The @FoodRev twitter feed includes replies like: “it’s not too late to get an event on the map. We’d love to see another event in Kuala Lumpur.”
Shane Valentine, whose Baby Cuisine Cookbook and “Pre-School Food Revolution” was featured on Oliver’s website, organized several events in the Bay Area connected to Food Revolution Day: a dinner party, a pasture-raised pig roast, discussions with parents at local preschools, and an assembly and garden cooking workshop with middle schoolers in Richmond, Calif. On Saturday, he’ll be taking part in a Google+ hangout with Oliver and three others at 8 p.m. EST, chatting about their work in the food revolution.
Valentine describes his mantra as “Why wait ’til first grade?” — meaning it’s never too early to get kids cooking and eating real food. He already works with parents and childcare providers to change attitudes and practices around feeding kids, so for him, Food Revolution Day is a chance to further his education mission. “It gives people like me an opportunity to start a dialogue for discussion and change,” he said. “It gave me the chance to approach this school in Richmond. They loved it.”
The Food Revolution website clearly identifies the prevalence of nutrition-related health problems as the reason for this day of action, and after HBO’s high-profile mini-series on obesity, The Weight of the Nation, aired this week, the timing for a celebrity-led crusade against unhealthy food couldn’t be better. One critic took issue with Weight of the Nation’s focus on behavior change and localized solutions over policy, and the same critique could be made of Food Revolution Day, for all its good intentions — can thousands of people teaching each other to garden and cook really make a dent in the obesity epidemic when Big Ag and fast food lobbyists still have so much control over policymakers? What if all the energy and excitement inspired by Jamie Oliver’s cause could be channeled into a political movement, instead of a lifestyle movement?
But Valentine doesn’t think the two are mutually exclusive. “The start of a grassroots movement is a dialogue between people on a personal level,” he said. For him, part of that dialogue is addressing the complaint that “real food is more expensive,” when “the question you need to be asking is, ‘Why is [other food] so cheap?’” And he has a point; if everyone participating in Food Revolution Day starts making the connection between cheap, unhealthy food and the politics that keep it that way, it would be a big step in the right direction.