Lunchroom Talk: Doug Sheils Gives The Real Scoop On What's Been Happening in Huntington, W. Virginia, Since Jamie Oliver Left
When we reviewed the re-issue of Jamie's Food Revolution cookbook, we referenced one of several articles that described the Huntington, West Virginia public school food situation -- at least at Huntington's Kitchen, the Oliver-inspired community cooking school -- as largely bankrupt one year after the star's departure. Thank god we were wrong.
Cabell Huntington Hospital Sustainable Foods Chef Alden Cadwell With Huntington Elementary Kids
Doug Sheils, whom you may remember from several episodes of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," emailed to tell us that "In reality, Huntington's Kitchen is doing quite well."
As the Director of Marketing and PR for Cabell Huntington Hospital, Sheils is the guy Oliver pressured to kick in hospital funds to help shape up the school lunches of the city's approximately 12,500 kids. "Cabell Huntington Hospital has donated a total of $110,000 to Huntington's Kitchen to keep it operational for two years and to expand a local food system that connects local farmers and gardeners to the kitchen," Sheils continued in his email. Turn the page for our interview with Sheils, who tells us what's really been going on in Huntington since Oliver left.
Cabell Huntington Hospital After School Class At Huntington's Kitchen
Squid Ink: Sounds like we need to apologize for that stick-our-foot-in-it comment about Huntington's Kitchen being "out of broccoli money" hardly one year later.
Doug Sheils: Well, that's kind of how I got involved in this whole thing from the beginning. I contacted Jamie Oliver to make sure he set the story straight, too. Jamie eventually came around to understanding the correct situation here, that we're not the fattest city in the country. There are a lot of cities like us. Which isn't to say we don't have work to do, but that we aren't quite what the public sees. Much of that was what ABC wanted to project for television viewers.
SI: Good old reality TV. So we've heard a lot of media speculation about what's been going on, but give us your recap of the past year in Huntington since all of this started.
DS: It's been over a year, basically, since the show wrapped up. Jamie left here in November of 2009, and starting in December, or really January of 2010, that's when we as the county hospital committed $100,000 to change the school menus, all 26 schools in the county. We consulted with Sustainable Food Systems, got them to revamp the menus for us. The goal was to train cooks to prepare healthier meals, to get rid of processed food. Rather than just opening a cardboard box of chicken nuggets and warming it up, if you train the cooks to use fresh foods, it has a lasting, multi-year effect. We just wish we had more participation by the school systems.
SI: By participation you mean among the kids?
DS: Yes. That has gone well in some respects, not so well in others. We don't have as many kids actually buying meals as we'd like because some of the kids just don't like "good" food. We still also have issues with the USDA and the purchasing of commodity foods, and how they make that so cheap.
SI: But it's a start.
DS: Yes. When Jamie was here, we at that time committed $50,000 to Huntington's Kitchen [a community cooking school], and that money essentially pays for rent and utilities on this beautiful downtown storefront that has been turned into a wonderful kitchen. For the first year, US Foodservice paid for the food for our kitchen, something around $20,000. The follow up [in media] on them has been about them not picking up the second year. But I'm not really concerned with that at this point -- they fulfilled their commitment, there's nothing wrong with that. In October 2010, our hospital committed another $50,000 to run the kitchen for another year. Partly because of that, we were awarded $10,000 for the national Hospital Charitable Service Award, so we also donated that money back into the program, but in a new area called Fresh Market.
SI: Like a farmer's market sort of thing.