VEGA News Item

Will School Meals Campaigns Survive The Cuts? - 14/07/2010

And What About Care for the Lone Crumblies?

1.  Jamie Oliver is urging ministers to put more money into school meals as official figures show growing numbers of pupils are eating the healthy dinners his campaign inspired. The benefits to children’s health should promote more government investment, Jamie Oliver says. Short term financial pressures should not threaten the provision of nutritious school food, he adds. These messages should inform other institutional catering, much of which goes on visitors and staff in, say, hospitals.  In-patients diets need special care and enterprise to make them interesting, varied, and tasty. The populations in some areas need attention to accommodate their traditions and heritage, while these subjects and their history taught in schools nowadays owe little to 1066 and all that but more to the traditions of middle-Eastern and oriental custom  and practice and the inevitable blending of the various “tribes”.

2.  In a recent pronouncement Jamie Oliver was pleased to quote data from the government’s School Food Trust showing that the number of pupils in England eating a hot lunch at school had risen by 300,000 in the past year – an increase for the 3rd consecutive year. The figures contradicted assertions only a week before by Andrew Lansley, the new health secretary, that take-up had fallen since the quality of school meals was radically overhauled after the Jamie’s School Dinners series in 2005 had revealed that many children were being fed chips and Turkey Twizzlers. These sentiments persist in the cold-climate for hot foods prepared by cooks on the cooker every kitchen is expected to have. Our Portfolio of Eating Plans proves that fuel-saving salads can provide the basis of satisfying meals.

3.  “Some people in government might look at the figures and think that it’s now time to take the foot off the gas because it’s a success story. That would be completely wrong,” says Jamie Oliver. “Now is the time to move up a gear. This is the time for education and health departments to invest in those schools who still have problems with lack of training for dinner or suffer from having a dining area that’s too small or uninviting. He asked ministers not to let the progress made in pupils’ eating habits to be lost.” “Investment now saves lives and the NHS billions in the future. We’re on the right track with school meals. We can’t allow anything to slow this down,” he says.

4.  The Department of Education was ready with its rejoinder: it refused to promise to extend the £80 million-a-year subsidy, the school lunch grant, which it gives local councils to help them provide the healthy school meals Labour introduced. It is guaranteed until the end of March 2011. “All future spending decisions for after 2011 will be part of the spending review in the autumn and we can’t pre-empt the decisions or content,” a spokeswoman says. Ministers want school in food to remain healthy and will set out decisions in due course.

5.  In England school meals are backed by legal standards requiring them to include a certain amount of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and restricting the amount of fat, salt, sugar, and saturated fat in their composition. A DOH spokeswoman said that, contrary to media reports, the health secretary had applauded Oliver’s campaign when he addressed the British Medical Association’s annual conference. Andrew Lansley criticized Labour government restrictions on the campaign.

6.  Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat and families minister, adds; “We welcome the increase in the number of children getting a healthy meal in schools. We want to ensure school meals continue to be healthy and will set out the next steps for school food policy in due course.” The children’s Food Campaign is concerned that widespread cost-cutting in Whitehall could risk future funding, making it difficult for councils to produce healthy meals at affordable prices. The National Obesity Forum spokesman, Ian Fry, says that Lansley should stop denigrating Oliver’s campaign.

7.  Teachers and parents have heavy responsibilities in advising children over their food and health, treating the young consumers in a collection or as individuals each needing sympathetic and patient counsel. However, much depends on the enterprise shown by manufacturers and retailers, aswell as the examples set by all parties. Dissolute carousing and behavior in the Bullingdon Club undermine the authority of Ministers. We can recall Kenneth Clarke, as a Health Minister, introducing the first results and warnings on medical evidence of the risks of smoking and of his tepid-endorsements of Edwina Currie’s condemnation of salmonellosis in the poultry industry.

8.  The goody-goodies in retailing are sometimes found wanting too. VEGA was one of a party of applied biologists invited by Waitrose to the retailer’s Leckford Estate, the output of which was almost exclusively reserved for the firm’s stores. Some work attracted our representative’s eye and enquiry. He was told that a south facing slope was being prepared to grow grapes, but not as fresh fruit for the table, but to make an English wine under the Waitrose banner. Wouldn’t it be better to grow tomatos, say, for children eating these fruits, cooked or fresh, as part of their entitlements to locally-grown fresh foods, rather than mimicking food-producers in some more favored climes and conditions for fermentation to produce wines? The answer was dealt with little hesitation: the hedonistas won against the poor parents seeking cheap fruit and veg to buy with their vouchers something pleasurable, fresh, local, and nutritious for their offspring’s 5-a-day.




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