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'Food Revolution,' L.A. Schools Spar Over Lunches

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'Food Revolution,' L.A. Schools Spar Over Lunches


'Food Revolution,' L.A. Schools Spar Over Lunches

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and the Los Angeles public schools started a food fight this week. The second season of the ABC reality show "Food Revolution" features Oliver badmouthing L.A.'s school lunches.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports the school district is now fighting back with some new cuisine.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Jamie Oliver was first praised in his native England for helping revamp school lunch menus, and last year on TV, he crusaded in Huntington, West Virginia. Now, his Emmy-winning reality show is targeting the second-largest school district in the country: Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Food Revolution")

Unidentified Man #1: A city that feeds over half a million processed meals to school children every day.

Mr. JAMIE OLIVER (Chef): Is this your school lunch? Do you know what meat is? Does anyone know what that is? Why can't we put better food on the plates for those kids?

DEL BARCO: Episode One shows L.A. public school officials barring Oliver's cameras.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Food Revolution")

Unidentified Man #2: You will not be in our schools.

Mr. OLIVER: I just received a call that all permits have been revoked for our show. They will not let me into any school, which means it's war.

DEL BARCO: So at his own test kitchen, the British crusader invites a group of L.A. students and parents to bring in food from their school cafeterias.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Food Revolution")

That's stewed fruit in sugar syrup, good old chocolate milk's back. And what's that, a waffle? What else have we got here?

Unidentified Child #1: Breakfast donut, frosting.

Mr. OLIVER: Right, oh, pizza and fries.

DEL BARCO: Then Oliver demonstrates how much sugar is added to the flavored milk in L.A. schools every week by filling up a school bus with 57 tons of white sand.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Food Revolution")

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah, I'm trying to make it dramatic because I want people to care.

DEL BARCO: The morning after "Food Revolution" aired, L.A.'s school executive chef David Binkle fired back.

Mr. DAVID BINKLE (Executive Chef, Los Angeles Unified School District): The food that we serve is healthy and nutritious and very good quality.

DEL BARCO: Binkle told reporters his menus have less sodium and fat than federal requirements. But 75 percent of the milk L.A. students drink is chocolate- and strawberry-flavored. Still, Dennis Barrett, who heads the district's food services, said Oliver's show was misleading.

Mr. DENNIS BARRETT (Food Services, Los Angeles Unified School District): We don't serve pop and candy bars at schools. We're not allowed to serve a lot of the things that were shown.

DEL BARCO: L.A. officials originally turned down Oliver's requests to film in schools in an attempt to avoid the kind of conflict and drama depicted on reality TV. Spokesman Robert Alaniz says last fall, the district was burned by the show "School Pride," which did a campus makeover.

Mr. ROBERT ALANIZ (Spokesman, Los Angeles Unified School District): What we ended up was with a bill of $106,000, taxpayer money, for work they did, shoddy work they did.

DEL BARCO: After the episode aired, news reporters were allowed to tour the district's central kitchen facility. Here, 122 million meals a year are packaged for L.A. students. The challenge is to create healthy meals that cost no more than 77 cents each.

And every week here, school children like Alexis Galardo and Myre Bombardo taste-test upcoming school lunches:

Unidentified Child #2: I like the tostada the best.

Unidentified Child #3: Yeah. The chocolate cup is not very healthy, I don't think.

Unidentified Child #3: Yeah, but it's yummy.

DEL BARCO: At nearby Bravo Magnet High School, the lunch crowd was less enthusiastic about the new meatloaf patties on the menu.

Mr. MARK ANTHONY TORRES (Student): That's pretty nasty. I wouldn't even feed that to my dog.

DEL BARCO: Fourteen-year-old Mark Anthony Torres says he'd rather eat chips and candy than the greasy cafeteria food. But he's all for organic foods and a salad bar.

Mr. TORRES: Yeah, I do agree, there should be a food revolution. Even though they say the food's healthy here, I know it's not. This is microwave food.

DEL BARCO: L.A. district officials touted their newest offerings, such as sushi rolls, chicken tandoori, and pad Thai. Spokesman Alaniz says the menu changes are not in response to the reality show's pressure. Still, he says Chef Oliver has an open invitation.

Mr. ALANIZ: Jamie, come, help us put together a healthier, tastier menu, but leave your cameras behind.

DEL BARCO: One upcoming "Food Revolution" episode shows Jamie Oliver briefly getting into one L.A. public school before getting kicked out.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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