Some seven years ago, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver traveled to Huntington, West Virginia, on a mission: To save the residents of the so-called “fattest and unhealthiest” U.S. city from themselves.
As Oliver’s ABC reality show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” told the story, the residents of Huntington were slowly being killed by the fatty, fried foods dominating the menus of their city’s school cafeterias. And as the cameras rolled, he was going to put a stop to it.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Students were unhappy with the changes Oliver made to their schools’ cafeteria offerings — which didn’t even meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition standards — and meal participation began to drop. Rhonda McCoy, the county’s schools food-service director, was left to pick up the pieces.
In the piece, titled “Revenge of the Lunch Lady,” food writer Jane Black, who has been closely following Huntington’s school lunch trouble since 2010, describes how McCoy, depicted as a villain by Oliver’s TV cameras, has succeeded in improving the meals in her county’s school cafeterias — an effort that actually began before Oliver even set foot in Huntington.
HuffPost recently spoke with Black about McCoy’s success in West Virginia and what that success says about the challenges — and opportunities — facing school cafeterias nationwide.
I know that you have reported on Jamie Oliver and school lunches in Huntington before. What inspired you to jump back into the fray at this particular time?
I’ve been watching [the people in Huntington] for years and years and staying in touch with them, and had been so impressed with what they had achieved. It seemed like a story that really needed to be told.
I think there are great concerns right now that the Republicans who control both houses of Congress could take an ax to the [school lunch] programs. On the other hand, I’m also hearing that they have a lot of other things on their list, so it’s a question of if and when they will get to it.