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Bettina Elias Siegel

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Will Ferrell Playing a School Food Reformer? Why I'm Worried

Posted: 08/07/2012 6:24 pm

The Huffington Post reported yesterday that the story of Jamie Oliver's fraught attempt to improve the school food in Los Angeles Union School District, documented on his Food Revolution show last summer, is going to be adapted into a feature-length movie.  Ryan Seacrest (producer of Food Revolution) will be a co-producer of the film, and the actors Will Ferrell and Sean William Scott are reportedly being considered to play the Jamie Oliver role.

The Hollywood Reporter sums up the movie's plot this way:

The story centers on a hot Los Angeles chef known for his popular gourmet food truck who gets into trouble and is sentenced to work at a school. The chef revamps the lunch program with a ragtag group of kids.

Now, I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, anything that brings widespread media attention to improving school food is a net good in my book.  But at the same time, no one wants to shell out $9 on a movie ticket to see Will Ferrell deal with the real complexities of school food reform.  We're unlikely to see him poring over dense regulations, struggling to meet an underfunded budget, lamenting the lack of a real school kitchen in which to cook and store food, dealing with a cafeteria too small to accommodate his students, competing with fast food outlets because of an open school campus, or, most importantly, battling an unyielding Congress for more school food funding.

Instead I think we can fairly anticipate a "feel-good" ending to this film that's unlikely to bear any relation to reality.  And that's fine for entertainment purposes  -- yikes, even don't want to see the real thing on screen -- but it's not fine if it leaves moviegoers with the impression that all it takes is "heart" and "pluck" (and, apparently, "a ragtag group of kids") to fix school food.

In fact, it was just that sort of nonsense that led me, normally an ally of Jamie Oliver, to strongly criticize Food Revolution last summer.  I was ticked off by Oliver's failure to tell viewers that the school he featured as a model for organic, scratch-cooked food actually receives significant outside funding, money which is not currently available to the vast majority of American schools.  In not sharing that relevant piece of information, by comparison every district not serving amazing school food looked poorly run -- or just plain uncaring.   And that unfair implication was only reinforced when Jamie asked a worker at this school about the stunning difference between its food and the usual processed junk we see in most districts.  Instead of mentioning the funding differential, she answered, "Well, it helps us to really enjoy our jobs."

In other words, if a school just has enough "heart" and "pluck," kids can eat organic lettuces and free-range chicken instead of canned peas and nuggets.

That notion does a real disservice to the thousands of school food directors in this country who are doing their best to serve decent school meals with the appallingly few resources they've been given.  And a film selling that false message will only compound their problems.

Still, though, when it comes to a movie about school food, who do you think is going to be first in line on opening night?  I'll save you a seat and a box of Junior Mints.

Hat tip to Dana Woldow of PEACHSF.org for tipping me off about the upcoming film.

 

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