You may know him as the Naked Chef, but Jamie Oliver is quickly becoming a heavy contender in a global food fight. Armed with a celebrity name and a lifetime of experience in nutrition, Oliver hopes to take on the American food system by educating the public about processed foods and inspiring food activism. The chef and long-time health advocate doesn’t just cook great meals, he’s also fueling a cultural movement towards food awareness—and he’s using a social media campaign to spice things up.
“In the next eighteen minutes, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.” So begins Jamie Oliver’s award-wining TED talk, which he delivered in February of 2010 to a gaping and shell-shocked audience. Parents gasped as they learned the truth of American healthcare and the ingredients going into their children’s food in public schools. Oliver announced soon later that he’ll be investing all $100,000 of his TED prize money into kick-starting a food-awareness movement in North America. “I’m not a doctor” he says, “I’m a chef. I don’t have expensive equipment or medicine. I use information [and] education.”
After starring in more than six TV series, penning more than a dozen books, launching more than four food activism initiatives, and delivering talks across the U.S. and the U.K., Jamie Oliver is engaging with social media to further his cause to bring food awareness to the world.
Oliver had joined with the Social Media Leadership Forum, an organization that collaborates with corporations and enterprises to find effective ways of using social media. Through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Oliver inspires parents, educators, and food activists to get involved in his war on the American food system. The social entrepreneur has 1,096,184 followers on Twitter, and 604, 661 ‘likes’ on Facebook. His Facebook page beckons visitors to sign his Food Revolution petition, a digital document that has already garnered more than 642, 531 supporters in the United States alone.
Monisha Saldanha, a former ebay employee and Head of Online at Jamie Oliver, says social media is helping Oliver realize his dream of educating children about food and raising awareness about North American eating habits. Saldanha says that social media is the means by which people can connect to Jamie and learn about his aims for the food revolution. “We’re going to integrate Facebook across the website, so people can interact and use Facebook as a platform […] to engage” Saldanha says in an interview. She highlights the potency of Facebook as a tool for social change, as the social networking site has the potential to reach 500 million people.
Saldanha explains that to most people, social media means Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes YouTube, but she expands the definition of social media to include the people creating online content and stirring conversations for webspaces like jamieoliver.com. Saldanha attributes the success of the website to the community it’s fostered online; people don’t just visit Olvier’s page once, she says, they come back, allowing a more intimate engagement with the chef activist and his enterprize. The returning visitors are passionate about Jamie’s cause and want to do more than just ‘like’ his page.
“The thing about things like Facebook is that you get the numbers of people, but you don’t have to be very committed” says Saldanha. “We all know how easy it is to ‘like’ something, or how easy it is on Twitter to start following someone, and that doesn’t mean you care very much […] Whereas on Jamie’s website, you’ve registered and you’re choosing to have your conversations there.”
With the social media campaign showing positive results, this may just be what Oliver needs. The chef says he’s tired but remains committed to making positive change. On the first season of Food Revolution, Oliver visited Huntington, West Virginia, a city known as one of the unhealthiest in America. His second season was scheduled to be filmed in Los Angeles, which is home to some of the healthiest people, but is also a city of great poverty and unequal distribution of wealth. “In L.A., you’ve got some of the healthiest and fit people in the world and some of the most wonderful food in the world, but you’ve also got some of the most incredible poverty – and food deserts, where people without cars have to spend two or three hours on a round trip in order to get fresh food” Oliver told The Globe and Mail. According to the Huffington Post, Oliver’s campaign got off to a rocky start when Los Angeles school district banned Oliver’s cameras from going inside school kitchens. “I think we swam into a minefield,” Oliver told The Associated Press. “I’m really disappointed that I couldn’t get in there at all. I’m disappointed that as public servants, they feel they have the right to not be transparent.”
If Oliver can reach people through his social media campaign, he can greatly improve the scope and trajectory of his activism. Oliver appeared as a guest on The Colbert Report last week to talk about his dream for North America nutrition, and he asked parents to engage via Twitter.
“You only have to affect 2 percent of the population to make radical change,” Oliver reminds us in his TED talk. “If one person teaches three people how to cook something, and they teach three of their mates, that only has to repeat itself twenty-five times and that’s the whole population of America. Romantic? Yes, but most importantly, it’s about getting everybody to realize that every one of your individual efforts makes a difference. We’ve got to put back what’s been lost.”