Jamie Oliver just soared to the top of my celebrity chef chart. Last month he was honored as winner of the 2010 TED Prize, awarded each year to an exceptional individual with a wish to change the world. His wish? To teach every child about food.
At the Ted Talk, Jamie stressed the need for food education in this country to set an example for the rest of the world in conquering the obesity epidemic. Two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight or obese. Our main causes of death are related to diet and make up ten percent of health care costs today. In ten years, costs are expected to double to 20 percent- a staggering 300 billion dollars a year just on diet-related diseases. And it's all preventable.
Jamie humbly introduced himself as not a doctor, but a chef. He shared experiences from his visit to West Virginia, home of our country's largest percentage of obesity. During a school visit, children could not recognize basic vegetables, including cauliflower and tomatoes. Most schools actually promote fast food by limiting cutlery and serving quick, hand-held meals loaded with sugar and fat additives, which lead to addiction. (Anyone with a sweet tooth, I know you know.)
I never realized the severity of the situation until I moved to New York. I spent most of last year teaching cooking and nutrition to kids in the south Bronx, most of whom rely on school for their main meal each day.
You don't have to be a teacher in New York to see the destruction of unbalanced diets a million times a day. Watching teenage mothers feed their children Cheetos and candy on the subway makes me feel helpless because I can't say anything. Two-year-olds who eat McDonald's have no idea how much harm the parent is inflicting.
Adding insult to injury is the misguided idea that fast food is affordable. Excuse me? A $5 minimum for each meal per person, which are designed to make you hungry again in an hour or two? So it's expensive in the long AND the short run? It's enough to make my blood boil.
What resonated with me about Jamie's presentation was his statement that children having poor nutrition is a form of child abuse. I could not agree more, and I love him for having the guts to say it. Children are growing up to be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Food diets are something you are taught- they become a habit. Kids don't have a choice what they are served, so when adults are being irresponsible on their behalf, what will that lead to for them?
Adults should know better, but they are also entitled to make poor choices, whether it's once in a while or, God forbid, every day. We can't expect children to know any differently, unless we teach them.
The truth is, though limited, kids do have a choice. I will never forget one of the third-grade girls tell me she didn't want to drink cow's milk because of all the hormones added to make the cow produce more milk. I applauded her for making an informed decision and we talked about other ways her body can get calcium and why it's important for bone growth.
If you have twenty minutes, I urge you to watch Jamie Oliver's presentation here. If time is crunched, at least skip ahead to 9:30, when he starts really getting to the meat of the issue and offers reasonable solutions to our nation's most damaging epidemic.