It has been a very foody morning. First a big leftovers breakfast reading Nigel Slater’s enthusiastic descriptions of Christmas lunch preparation from last Sunday’s Observer. Then slumping in a chair, loaded with bubble and squeak, to watch a bit of Jamie Oliver.
It was a rerun of Jamie’s tour of Italy, showing his visit to a Puglian school where he witnessed the quality of food served to Italian youngsters. Even in this poor part of the country, expenditure per head on school lunches was almost three times what it is in the UK. By law all the food had to be organic and there wasn’t an ounce of processed meat any where near the place. Kids were offered one choice only and were expected to eat it.
It was a stark contrast to the situation in the UK. The standards laid out in the Italian schools may be driven as much by a national love of food as a desire to give their kids the best possible start, but the benefits remain. I haven’t looked for any empirical evidence of advantages to learning from eating so well, but there must be enormous advantages for long term health.
Given our ageing population in the UK, and the prevailing health problems in society, there must be a strong argument for implementing a similar health food programme in schools. Jamie’s UK campaign at least increased the spend per head (in theory) but parent power has seen the choices in schools maintained at an unfortunately high number and of a low standard.
In my humble opinion, there is a good argument for telling people what is good for them. If they don’t like it? Time for some tough love.
But the problem isn’t restricted to schools. The standard of food/cooking/eating in this country is generally low. There is a definite two-tier system in place, with the haves increasingly turning towards expensive organic produce and the have-nots sticking with ‘cheaper’ processed food.
Of course the produce is only part of the issue — processed food bypasses the need to cook properly with fresh ingredients. This almost inevitably produces healthier, more nutritious, lower-fat food but is perceived as requiring time. People believe that their busy lifestyles rule out cooking from fresh and even if they wanted to the skills required just aren’t as common as they ought to be.
This all sits at odds with the massive boom in the cooking/eating industries in the UK. But the cult of the cookbook and the celebrity chef are largely the preserve of the organically-fuelled middle classes.
If the next generation of kids is not to be totally obese and dependent on supplements for nutrients, we need a radical solution. I’d like to propose a couple:
Firstly, we should turn the whole of the UK over to organic farming. Yields would fall, production output would decrease, but the price of organic products would fall. We would have to become net importers of more of our produce in the short term but I would hope that as farmers relearned thousand-year old practices we could bring levels up to near self sufficiency again — at least for the basics.
Secondly we need a massive programme of education for future generations, not just light-weight ‘home economics’ that teaches kids to bake a cake. A core part of the curriculum should be life skills, the teaching of which is absent from too many homes. If we are to jump-start good practices it needs to be state funded and state-mandated. No-one should leave school without a basic understanding of the food cycle, and how to cook food from the basic ingredients.
These are two ideas described in very simplistic terms. I could describe them further, and probably will in a future post. There is certainly a theme here that I will pick up upon again — self-sufficiency for both people and countries. And I don’t mean in a freaky, gun-toting, mid-west survivalist kind of way.
Suffice to say this is a blog about the future and technology. I don’t believe all the technology in the world can make the future pleasant, or even survivable, if we are a race of obese creatures incapable of feeding ourselves without the assistance of corporations to process our food.