Saturday, March 27, 2010
Talkin' Bout A Revolution...Jamie Oliver is much louder than a whisper!
So I just finished watching the premiere episode of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution". It is a new show on ABC that chronicles the journey of English chef Jamie Oliver as he tries to change the eating habits of residents in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington was recently crowned the most unhealthy city in America.
It is obvious that Jamie has good intentions. He has left his family for several months to work on this project. He is especially concerned about the quality of food being served in the Huntington schools. However, my reaction to the first episode was "No, no, no! Stop what you're doing and talk to these people first!"
The most important part of any public health intervention is getting to know the community you are working with. The worst thing you can do is come in as an "outsider" and start barking orders. Some questions you should ask before getting started are: How does this community operate? Who makes the decisions? What are some of the barriers to serving fresh food in schools? What are the USDA guidelines? (which Jamie knows nothing about) Who are the individuals you want/need to get on board with your idea? How do the parents feel about their children's eating habits? How can you get their buy-in? What would be a realistic timeline for assessment/buy-in before trying to implement change?
Jamie went about this all backwards (which may very well have been to increase drama for a TV show, but it is still a great example of "what not to do"). His first day in town he was told he was viewed as an "outsider" by the trusted radio host...and still proceeded to go into the elementary school and lecture the chefs on how disgusting the food is (after only observing them for one day). And he's surprised he's getting push back on his efforts?! The only small victory he has is creating a partnership with "Pastor Steve" at the local Baptist church. Steve is a trusted leader in the community and knows the families and their challenges very well.
Too bad Jamie did not look to better models of this kind of community effort. Shape Up Somerville (Somerville, MA) began as a community based research study at Tufts University targeting 1st through 3rd graders in the Somerville Public Schools. Today there is Coordinator working on active and healthy living programs supported by the Health Department and a Taskforce that is a collaboration of over 11 initiatives and 25 stakeholders involved in working on various interventions across the city. Program components include a focus on the school lunch program, local restaurants, walk ability and safe routes to school, etc. (I'll give a shout out here to one of my public health heroes- Julia Bloom- who helped Tufts bring this model to more rural communities across the country!)
Shape Up Somerville represents a strong program that began with a strong base. The original program engaged key stakeholders and did not try to change the community without first finding out how it worked. The community and parent outreach were an obvious key to success...where that aspect is basically forgotten in the "Food Revolution". Jamie just seems like one man on a mission to change. At the end of the episode Jamie is visibly upset and says "they don't know why I'm here". Yeah- that's because you're an outsider lecturing them on how they should raise their kids!
I'll probably watch the second episode where he actually starts to engage the community...how about you?