Friday, February 12, 2010

Jamie Oliver's War

'Tis the season of TED, that grand-daddy of social change fests, and yesterday, organizers formally awarded a young British chef and social entrepreneur their prestigious TED Prize, an honor conferred annually to someone with a big dream and the organizational management chops to pull it off, at least a bit.

This year, conferees chose to give the Prize's $100,000 cash award to Jamie Oliver, a 34-year-old host of the British TV hit, The Naked Chef. Oliver told TED-goers he will use the money to start a movement and social change enterprise to fight childhood obesity. It's a problem, he says, that will -- for the first time in history -- give today's children a shorter life span than their parents.

Oliver, the son of pub managers in Calvering, Essex, England, and a high-school dropout who parlayed his entrepreneurial skills into a best-selling cookbook and TV show in Britain, told conferees he wished for "a complete overhaul" of the American food system, saying processed food and industrialized agriculture are giving Americans poor choices, if any, of what to eat, decreasing their lives, and causing health-care costs to spin out of control. "This is a global catastrophe," he said in a passionate, 18-minute TED speech (see below) that has become the buzz and must-see of the conference this year.

"[Childhood obesity] is sweeping the world -- China, India, Britain, Japan, the United States--everywhere," he said. "And in America, obesity costs Americans $150 billion per year. In 10 years, it's set to double, and let's be honest, guys. You can't afford it."

Oliver called on conferees to help him raise awareness and start a global movement to stop the food industry from "taking advantage of people." Obesity, he says, doesn't just hurt those who are overweight, but also hurts their families and the communities around them. Further, the food industry -- from restaurants to agribusiness -- "needs to be stopped." Portion sizes are massive, he said, and food labeling "is a disgrace. The industry wants to self-police itself but how can people say something is low-fat when it's filled with sugar?"

"...My wish is to have a strong, sustainable movement to education every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity," Oliver told the TED gathering in Long Beach, Calif. "England is right behind you, America. We need a revolution."

Oliver says he will use his prize money to: establish a good-nutrition foundation with funding, office space and facilities; find partners to create a traveling food theater troupe to teach kids about better eating; produce teaching materials on healthy eating for use in public schools across the country; build a Web site and social media campaigns to build an international movement to fight global good giants for healthier food, and start an "honest labeling" campaign to better alert consumers of what is in the food they're buying.

And that's just for starters. Oliver, who begins a program for ABC-TV in March called Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, first caught the eye of TED conference organizers with his "Feed Me Better" campaign in the U.K. in 2005 to improve school lunches, during which Oliver presented a petition with more than 270,000 signatures to the prime minister's residence, calling for healthier diets for children and young adults. As a result, the British government also pledged to address the issue. Oliver's TV show will follow him to Huntington, W. Va., deemed the unhealthiest town in America for its high rates of food-related illnesses and deaths.

What do you think? Can one social entrepreneur create a global food revolution?

Here's Oliver's speech from TED:

(Photo, top, by Dave Sucsy for

-- Marcia Stepanek

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Blogger Unknown said...

I think his focus is important, his wish appropriately ambitious, and his approach unfortunately likely to keep him from succceding.

My post:

February 12, 2010 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Marcia Stepanek said...

Brian - thanks for your note and the link to your post. Has Jamie responded to you?

February 13, 2010 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

No response yet from Jamie Oliver or TED... but the proceedings are still going on, so I wasn't expecting anyone to be able to focus until stuff wraps up. I hope someone does reach out, and at least considers some of the challenges that aren't being addressed by the approach taken with the wish. I know I am not the only one who would like to see Jamie Oliver succeed, nor the only one who has some perspective to offer that might help change their direction a bit, for the better.

February 13, 2010 at 1:48 PM  

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