It’s TED Week, when the granddaddy of social change fests meets again in California to air the latest, best and brightest ideas to help the world. This year, organizers formally awarded a young British social entrepreneur — a chef —  their prestigious TED Prize, an honor conferred annually to someone with a dream and the organizational chops to change the world, at least a bit of it.

Meeting in Long Beach, conferees gave the $100,000 prize to Jamie Oliver, a 34-year-old British chef, who told TED-goers Wednesday he will use the money to start a movement [and a social change organization] devoted to fighting childhood obesity. It’s a problem, he says, that will — for the first time in history —  give today’s children a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Oliver, the son of pub owners in Calvering, Essex, England, and a high school dropout who parlayed his entrepreneurial skills into a best-selling cookbook and TV show in Britain, said last night that he wished “for a complete overhaul” of the American food system, saying processed food and industrialized agriculture are giving Americans poor choices of what to eat, decreasing life spans and causing health care costs to surge out of control. “This is a global catastrophe,” he said. “It is sweeping the world —  China, India, everywhere. And in America, obesity costs Americans $150 billion per year. In 10 years, it’s set to double, and let’s be honest, guys. You can’t afford it.”

In a highly-engaging, hit speech that has been the buzz of the conference this year, Oliver said obesity doesn’t just hurt the people who are overweight, but the families and social communities around them. And the food industry, he says —  from restaurants to agribusiness —  “needs to be stopped.” Portion sizes are massive, he says, and food labeling “is a disgrace,” he said. “The industry wants to self-police themselves but how can somebody say it’s low fat when it’s filled with sugar?”

“My wish is to have a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity,” Oliver told conferees in this speech. “…England is right behind you, America. We need a revolution.”

Oliver, named to the prize weeks ago but giving his first official speeches and interviews as a prizewinner this week, says he will use his winnings to:

  • Establish a good-nutrition foundation with funding, office space and facilities;
  • Find partners to create a traveling food theater troupe to teach kids about better eating;
  • Sign up education experts, graphic designers and writers to help him produce teaching materials that kids will use to help them eat healthier;
  • Hire Web designers to create a Web site and social media campaigns to build an international movement to fight global food giants for healthier food;
  • Invite corporate partners to invest in food preparation education for their customers and to help champion his movement, and
  • Start an “honest food labeling” program

Oliver, who begins a program for ABC television in March called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, first caught the eye of TED conference organizers with his “Feed Me Better” campaign in the U.K. in 2005 to improve school lunches, during which he presented a petition with more than 270,000 signatures to the prime minister’s residence calling for healthier diets for children and young adults. As a result, the British government also pledged to address the issue.

Oliver’s new TV show will follow Oliver as he visits Huntington, W. Va, as of December deemed the “unhealthiest town” in America for its high rate of food-related illnesses and deaths per capita. The show, created in reality-show style, will set out to chronicle Oliver’s efforts to educate the local population and create a movement to turn things around.

What do you think? Can one social entrepreneur build a social movement big enough to change the way a nation, much less a global population, eats? 
Let us hear from you.

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