Are Los Angeles schools ready for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? Production has just begun on the second season of his ABC series, but at the moment Oliver is not allowed inside a single one of the city's public schools.
"I'm locked out," Oliver told reporters Wednesday at the opening of his L.A.-based cooking school Jamie's Kitchen. "I need to get into the school system, and I can't."
In its first season, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution followed the British chef's attempts to improve school lunch programs in Huntington, W. Va. He was met with heavy resistance, but eventually succeeded in getting fresh food into the town's schools.
But the pushback in Los Angeles doesn't seem to be letting up.
In November, the Los Angeles Unified School District told producers of Food Revolution that Oliver would not be welcome in its public school cafeterias. Oliver again on Tuesday tried to take his case directly to the Los Angeles school board, responsible for more than 650,000 of the city's kids, to no avail.
But his show will go on. For now, Oliver says he'll focus his healthy-eating efforts on individual families, supermarkets and fast-food purveyors. He'll head into the city's different communities via mobile kitchens or food trucks. He'll also work out of his Westwood-based Jamie's Kitchen, which will offer free cooking classes and demonstrations.
And, of course, he's still determined to get into the schools. Less than 24 hours after his second dismissal by the school board, Oliver was busily setting up a Thursday event calling L.A.-area parents into action. "You could call it 'stirring things up'," he said.
"Schools are a really big one for me. That one place is about half-responsible for how healthy a child is by the time they're 20," he said.
Oliver spoke to TVGuide.com about why be thinks the schools won't let him in — and how he plans to work around it:
TVGuide.com: You went to this week's public forum to meet with the school board. How did it go?
Jamie Oliver: Terrible. I waited around for four hours. They wouldn't put my question about why I wasn't being let in to schools on the agenda. So I had to queue up with some crazy people who were telling them that the world was coming to an end, and then I had three minutes to ask them why I couldn't come in and explain that my intentions were good. I wanted to tell them it's a real campaign, not a "TV series." But they said I had to speak to the head of food at the back of the room. Before I'd even gotten to him, literally, the head of the board vetoed me even talking to him. So, I didn't get anything. I've got nothing.
TVGuide.com: You look very tired and frustrated.
Oliver: For whatever reason, I feel like I've got the public's best interest at heart. I know they trust me to ask the right questions and have a good ol' snoop about — at the moment I can't do that. It's a big problem.
TVGuide.com: Do you feel like you're going to be able to make any headway?
Oliver: I'd like to think so. If we never get into L.A. schools — and I hope that doesn't happen — but if we don't, then so be it. I can tell you the journey trying to get in will still be fruitful. We will see and learn and be inspired and be upset and be passionate about everything on the way. I'm kind of in the hands of the public. I genuinely don't know what's going to happen.
TVGuide.com: Are you surprised by the resistance from the school board given your previous successes in both Huntington and the U.K.?
Oliver: I'm not like I'm a kid that's just walked up, cocky with a TV show. There's five or six projects I've done that have dramatically changed the way the British public eats. We got a billion dollars put in the system that never really existed. New money! I've been working in governments and schools for seven years now. I'd like to think I'd have a perspective and if I was running a big operation, I'd at least want to know what's going on.
I think the fear [on the part of LAUSD] is that we have cameras and we're going to screw them up... I just think they don't want me scratching around the details.
TVGuide.com: It seems the best advertisement for what you can do is the first season of Food Revolution, which was successful in Huntington. Maybe they just need to see it?
Oliver: They don't want me sniffing around. That's really clear. Otherwise, if you were them, why wouldn't you let me in?
TVGuide.com: Does that make you nervous about what you would find if you were allowed into the schools?
Oliver: I'd love to get in. That's what today's about. I want to get in, and I need the parents' support to get in. The board is seven people... I need four to allow me in. These parents have voted some of these people on the board in.
What I'm trying to achieve has got a good heart, and is a good fight. It's very easy to do my job because I know it's a good thing. How could it not be? Why shouldn't we interrogate or be able to find out about what goes on every day? It's 650,000 mouths — how much money is that? How much waste is that? What's the training like? What does the future look like? What does the next 30 years look like?
TVGuide.com: If you're not allowed in the schools, you have these food trucks, these mobile kitchens. Who's to say you can't park right outside the schools, right?
Oliver: Oh, you're my kind of girl! I'm a dyslexic boy anyway, so my approach is visual — it's always about smells, touch, taste, being next to it, getting your hands in it — regardless of being let in or not. I might walk up next to some schools. I might start feeding some kids off the record. I'll definitely mix up with students and parents, because I don't need their permission to do that. I was on Ryan Seacrest's radio show this morning and the switchboard was on fire. There are a lot of frustrated parents out there. Hopefully when you see the series, there will be this story of course, but there will also be intimate stories with families, demonstrations about where some of your food comes from that you would never have thought of. It won't change what you eat, but it will change how you buy it. That's the crux of it.
Get ready for your close-up, Los Angeles. Looks like Jamie's not going anywhere. On Thursday at noon, parents in the Los Angeles area are invited to speak to Oliver at Jamie's Kitchen (1038 Westwood Blvd. Los Angeles). Food Revolution is set to air this spring on ABC.