Testing the food revolution


In the Huffington Post last week, IATP’s Mark Muller addressed both fans and critics of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution pointing out that Oliver’s efforts – dismissed as failure by some, despite his fervor and earnestness – are not in vain, but simply incomplete. Steps like encouraging students to make healthy choices and providing nutritious menu items are necessary but must be understood in a larger context and will not succeed in isolation.

As Muller writes, “Our food choices combine availability, taste, cost, time availability, and attitudes and perceptions of our friends, family and community. Choices are also impacted by larger drivers such as food and agricultural policies and the marketing campaigns of the food industry.”

Muller’s argument centers on keeping policymakers open to adaptation while addressing the complexities of the food system in relation to student culture, school budgets and the mammoth food industry. This strategy, put simply, is the process of trying, observing and then being open to change when trying again — also known as adaptive management.

So while the word “revolution” may sound uncompromising, drastic and once-and-for-all (and maybe even exciting), Muller argues that the long view will be more valuable. “Practitioners of adaptive management need to start with a dose of humility,” he writes. “Rather than creating a multiyear plan and sticking with it, we have far more success if we test assumptions, adapt approaches based on the successes and failures, and learn from what is tried.”

In considering the Child Nutrition Act, up for reauthorization this year, Muller argues that “imposing unachievable standards and inadequate funds on school districts” will not work. Rather, we can learn by “freeing school district food service personnel to unleash their creativity at the local level, essentially providing us with hundreds of school meal test labs.”

So on with the revolution! But on, too, with the conversations, humility, experiments and creativity. Read Mark Muller’s piece here and join the conversation.