Wednesday, March 23

Skule dinners, healthy eating and £9.4 Billion

I see that Saint Tone of Sedgefield has leaped onto the bandwagon and is desperately scrabbling for votes among those concerned about their kids’ health.

After Jamie Olivers’ School dinners program he has “seen the light” and now wants to have a “Children’s Manifesto” which will enshrine into law (and be heavily slathered with political correctness, government interference and intrusion into family life, no doubt) the types and quality of food fed to children in schools.

Well, whoop de doo! However did the human race survive until now without the kindly and guiding hand of Saint Tone adjudicating on this matter?

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the sum of 37p to be spent on the ingredients for a school lunch is ludicrously inadequate. You generally get what you pay for and anyone with enough sense to come in out of the rain would have to ask themselves what standard of food you would get for that sum.

HOWEVER, there are several questions which spring to mind. In no particular order, and as they occur to me, they would be along these lines :-

1) Why has this suddenly become a hot topic? Saint Tone has presided (and I use the word preside here very carefully) over this situation for the last 8 years. There have been reports that I have seen in newspapers, on the local TV news and discussion programmes, on websites and elsewhere which raised concerns regarding the nutritional value of the food served in school dining rooms and canteens. Hardly a timescale which needs an instant response to save all the children from a horrible fate.

2) Where did the figure of £9.4 billion arise (and for those of you who aren’t mathematically inclined that is a million x million multiplied by 9.3 or £9,400,000,000,000.)? That’s a LOT of cash to upgrade meals when Jamie demonstrated that it COULD be done for the sum of 37p a meal. Is this more labour spin where they are including every last £1 to be spent on education, school buildings, books, pencils etc. over the next 10 or so years? I will certainly accept that the Dinner ladies will need some retraining and that the school kitchens will need upgrading and re-equipped to allow food to be cooked from basic ingredients but £9,400,000,000,000?

Presumably this concept has been tacked onto the sum announced in the budget for school rebuilding – so it seems spectacular but it looks as if it will be deducted from the amount earmarked for school rebuilding/refurbishment. In other words, it will be grudgingly allocated and will have to be fought for.

3) The manifesto was published less than a week after the last programme in the series and a day after Saint Tone announced this in the Sunday newspaper the Observer. Now call me a cynic and whack me over the head with a wet haddock but do you REALLY think a fully formulated and well thought out manifesto could be produced in that timescale? Even if we allow that the very first programme triggered concerns, then the timescale is still very short to even formulate a policy solely on school meals. But wait! There’s more! The manifesto contains the usual rag bag of suggestions, ideas and unrelated legislation including diet, legislation to protect children from paedophiles targeting children via the internet etc.

Good news though. A “new independent School Food Trust, to be set up by the government shortly” will draw on the work done by Jamie. In other words, MORE bureaucrats will eat into the cash available and will generate lots of paperwork to be completed to demonstrate the targets are being met. Which will bleed more cash away from the front end and be spent on beureaucracy and form filling. I can see any cash allocated to this idea leaking away like water into sand. So very little will eventually arrive on the plates of the kids.

To put the final nail into the coffin, the children's manifesto, it to be unveiled by election co-ordinator Alan Milburn, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly and Children's Minister Margaret Hodge. Use the acid test – would you buy a used car from those three? I thought not. So would you trust them with your kids future? Answers on the back of a postcard to the usual address …

So is the manifesto a half cocked response? A spur of the moment decision? A leap onto the bandwagon to be seen to be doing “something” and no real thought or genuine commitment to the idea? The answer, I suspect is a resounding YES! To all three. My admiration for Jamie Oliver has increased in leaps and bounds when he stated he would “scrutinise the detail”. Wise man. He doesn’t trust the politicians either.

4) One amusing item from the report was that Mothers didn’t trust the food produced by Jamie and were fetching hamburgers into school for their little darlings, and twice as many children were bringing in packed lunches since Jamie’s campaign started. Well! Who would have thought it! The mothers don’t want their kids to eat healthy food. More worryingly, the head teacher examined the lunchboxes and (here I will cut and paste from the report)

“she was 'shocked and appalled' at some of the contents. 'Last week, there was a child with three bars of chocolate and two packets of crisps in its lunchbox. We are now finding that the children who tend to cause problems in the afternoons seem to be the ones who are bringing in packed lunches.' She is writing to parents with instructions on foods not to include, although she said it would be a 'radical idea' for some to adapt to providing a sandwich, fruit and non-fizzy drink. 'We can work on children in schools to understand the importance of healthy eating but if we're not getting to the parents as well, it will continue to be a struggle.'”

Again, I’m in two minds about the reaction. OK I agree that the stuff the kids are eating is not what I’d choose to eat myself but to have the State dictate to parents how to bring up their kids and what to feed them? What are they going to do? Have a lunchbox audit at the school gates? Destroy the food the kids bring if it doesn’t conform to an arbitrary standard? Send the kids home with instructions not to bring such food again? But everything is OK – the Government spokesman says “far from fearing a 'nanny state', families want the government to intervene to protect children's health and safety”. So that’s OK then. The population of Britain has in essence said that it can no longer make rational decisions about how to raise kids and it wants the Government to tell them how to do so.

An alternative view is that by forcing parents to conform to the State diktat on food, Saint Tone is shooting himself through the foot. He is saying “Your kids cannot eat the food they want. We’ll force them to eat the food we say is good for them”. How’s that for an election winning strategy?

Take a look at this link for a fuller discussion on the announcement :-

Just to balance up the discussion, I was at my girlfriends house last night. She’s a chocoholic and we sat and watched TV (the usual garbage except for a programme on Otzi the Ice man and various post mortem interpretations on how he died and his life immediately before his death). She munched her way through about a half pound of chocolate. Organic Black and Greens, but still a LOT of chocolate for one sitting.

I wonder when the Government will reintroduce ration cards so that this unhealthy eating habit can be controlled and regulated (for her own good) and she will be forced to eat what is good for her.

Easter will be interesting. The chocolate factories are working overtime.


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