Monday, 18 June 2012

The Value of Food

Poor Martha Payne. What started off as a school project blog to record what she was offered for school dinners each day has grown arms and legs, sprinted off down the road and become an overnight internet phenomenon. The blog was brought to a wider audience when on Friday, in a spectaculat display of total incompetence, Argyll and Bute Council decided to ban Martha from taking more photos. This behaviour is not surprising to anyone who has had the misfortune to deal with Councils in any respect, but what it has definitely done is get everyone talking about school dinners again.

When you look through Martha's blog, one of the most interesting aspects is looking at the school meals from around the world which have been uploaded onto the site by readers. Every single one looks more appetising and has more nutritional value than the rubbish we are happy to feed British kids. If other countries can give their children a healthy, tasty meal at lunchtime, why can't we?

Now, there's not doubt that Jamie Oliver cares deeply about his kids and truly wants to change the way school dinners are served in the UK. In Scotland, Martha's campaign is being supported by Nick Nairn, who is known for his passion for locally sourced ingredients and great food for people of all ages. The problem isn't Nick, Jamie, Martha or even the Council, it's the attitude of us Brits to food in general.

Despite the amount of cooking programmes on television, the UK is the most obese nation in Europe. We may know how to rustle up fresh pasta with tomato sauce, but we are shunnung it in favour of the chippie or kebab shop. Home economics in schools has all but disappeared, with children instead being taught "food technology" and learning packaging design rather than how to balance protein and carbohydrates or how to make a pan of soup. We have a whole section of society who can't cook, won't cook, and who thinks cooking is something alien.

How did we get into this state? How are we so different from our near European cousins like the French, Italian or Spanish where food is such an important part of their culture and an essential component of family life. Italians all sit together round the table and share a bowl of pasta, whereas a survey in 2010 showed 26% of British kids eat their evening meal on their own in their bedroom, and that just 20% always eat sitting around a table. Shocking.

I truly applaud what Martha, Nick, Jamie and the rest of them are trying to do and would love to see school dinners higher up the political agenda. But until we as a nation start to think of food as important family time and something which is worth making an effort for, nothing is going to change.

1 comment:

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