Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The committee hard at work

Here is most of the committee for Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools. We had a good meeting last night and we are very excited about finally getting to grips with some of the key problems in our secondary schools. It has been a long time coming but we are expecting to start making some real progress.

We are not taking our eye of the ball in the primary schools though. We had a detailed discussion about the new menus in primary school and we are conducting a line by line analysis of the new recipes.

We are hoping to do a survey of our membership soon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Before and after shots

Jeanetter Orrey, who is an incredibly wise dinner lady once told me the best way to assess school food is to look at the rubbish bins. In fact the first visit I did with her to a school she marched straight over to the bins. I think even she would have been impressed with todays waste.It never fails to impress me how popular roast dinner days are with the kids.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Marketing to children

Some of you may have heard Dr Yach on the today programme this morning defending Pepsi's record on responible marketing. Lianna from the Children's Food Campaign spotted the finger puppet page on Pepsi's own website which contradicted company claims that they don't deliberately market to children.

Dr Yachs was speaking at a debate entitled "What role should the corporate sector play in tackling the global obesity pandemic" I was able to take the puppets along to join in the discussion.

Dr Yach expressed disappointment that they were on the website and has instructed the Director of Corporate affairs for pepsico to take action.

Watch this space!

Junk Food Generation

I have just come across Consumer International. They have got together with the International Obesity Taskforce to produce a model code on the marketing of unhealthy food and drink to children.
It is worth having a look at their website.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What would you put in the labour party manifesto about school dinners?

The labour party has invited lots of charities to an event to discuss how it is planning to have a 'conversation' with lots of small groups and individual campaigners about what should be in the next manifesto. Clearly it has well established policy channels which it is not planning to overturn but Ed Miliband is keen to engage different voices that are not often heard. Therefore he has set up labourspace - a free platform for those who want to flag up ideas using the power of the internet.

Is it worth Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools using this space to ask for "free school meals for those in poverty?" to be included in the manifesto? Maybe we should push a campaign that says "kitchens in every school" I know we have bigger problems to worry about but I am itching to see a manifesto pledge that would abolish prison trays from every school in the land.

How about every child to visit a farm and be inolved in growing projects as part of their food education?

Properly resourced cooking lessons for all secondary school students?

Restricting junk food advertising until after the 9.00pm watershed to protect children from being pestered by the food industry is another obvious ask

I know that the wonderful USA school cook Ann Coopers message to Barrack is basically ' yes you have big problems of war and economic meltdown to worry about so we know we aren't your number one priority BUT what you can do is take school food away from dept of agriculture and give it to education where we can fight to get improvements needed'. I recommend you read her blog as she is more eloquent than that - but you get the picture.

I don't believe we should just talk to the labour party about this. Previous entries here will show how I have also spent time with Tim Laughton and Zac Goldsmith from the conservative party. We need to be talking to every party about how they have it within their gift to guarantee decent, good quality school food for all our children. We need to make sure that food is on the agenda for every politician. We can't rely on them to do it for us but we can make sure that they understand that we need radical change if we are going to overcome the dire health problems facing our citizens and the planet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Todays lunch

Today was a popular day with veggie stirfry and noodles or chicken pie. After school I dashed up to central London for a School Food Trust workshop for board members. It was very thought provoking and raised lots of questions. The dilemma we were contemplating was - with finite resources who should the Trust prioritise working with? Answers on a post card please! It was a really good warm up to get us in the mood for tomorrows board meeting.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Prospect of free school meals for primary school children in Islington

It looks like councillors in Islington have got to decide whether to spend public money on free school meals for all primary school children or on councillor allowances and the council PR budget. See report in Islington Tribune

Thats a no brainer for me!

The council leader, who is against the free school meal plan, has argued that we shouldn't pay for meals for "rich peoples kids" and I know that will strike a chord with some. But lets think about it for a minute- we pay child benefit to rich people not because we want to increase their wealth but because actually a universal benefit system has very low admin costs and is the most effective way to get the money where it is needed.

I am positive that the UN world food programme would be happy to recieve the dinner money from the parents in Islington that can afford to pay to invest in developing world school meal schemes.

Giving all children a free school meal would have major benefits:

  • It would be a financial help to those working families not entitiled to free school meals who are really feeling the pinch
  • It would create employment and training opportunities for local people
  • The economy of scale would mean caterers had greater purchasing power leading to better quality ingredients for the kids
  • It could introduce children to a wider range of fruit and veg
  • The whole school community enjoying a pleasant lunch together is a bonding process. I suppose that is why private schools insist on it

If we want children and families to radically change their eating habits it is not unreasonable for the state to lead by example by providing decent tasty lunches in civilised surroundings. And yes, that will cost money but it's a better investment than PR. It is now established that the poor diet our children currently eat is storing up huge problems, both medical and financial. Investing in free school meals is a brilliant way to help our children change their eating habits. I can't wait for the day when I don't have to witness children as young as 5 eating nothing but crisps and biscuits for lunch on a daily basis.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sorting out secondary school meals

Merton Parents for Better Food in School secretary Paula Sutcliff, Headteacher Alison Gerald and local authority staff Tom Proctor and Murray Davies met today with Roehampton University researcher Ali O Shea to discuss the report they had commissioned on lunchtime capacity and provison in Merton Secondary Schools.

Roehampton have produced an excellent piece of research which will form the basis of our school meal improvement action plan.I am really pleased that we persuaded Merton Council to commission this research.It is going to be fantastically useful.

The artwork at the school was wonderful. I could n't resist taking a few pics to show some of the beautiful work the girls of Richards Lodge have produced.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Risk to our childrens health!

I spent this afternoon in a "creativity lab" in the department formerly known as DTI ,(I think it is now called BERR)

The event I was attending was a focus group aimed at gathering information about the public's approach to risk. I think there is a pretty large risk to children's health if they continue to be bombarded with junk food advertising and poor quality "kids food".

Here is Lynne Berry who is cordinating the Risk and Regulation Committe. They are preparing a report for the prime ministers office

Monday, January 12, 2009

The really good school dinner

What a good idea. The School Food Trust has teamed up with the UN world food programme to highlight the importance of the school meal. For one week at the end of January they are asking families to pay 10 p more for their school dinner.This extra money will then go to covering school food in the developing world. Click here to find out more and then pester your school to take part!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Have you signed yet?

We need to ban the advertising of junk foods before the 9.00pm watershed. Click here to follow the links to the British Heart Foundation petition. Their excellent campaign Food4thought highlights the inadequacies of current legislation.

Please sign up now and urge all your pals to do likewise!

Have a look at this blog by Tim Hayward on the Guardian. It sums up the arguments pretty conclusively.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Is there anyone there?

Christmas chaos has meant that I have got out of the habit of blogging. Sorry if you have been looking!

My exciting news is that I have just started work for Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. A generous grant from the British Heart Foundation has allowed them to employ me and Christine Haigh as joint children food campaign project officers.

This is a fantastic opportunity to join up my work on school food with the wider issues of children's food.

Christine and I are really keen to explore the possibilities of building a network of parents and carers who are keen to campaign alongside us for the changes we need to ensure our children have the chance to enjoy good food, opportunities to learn how to cook and grow and protection from junk food advertising and aggressive marketing campaigns.

Richard Watts who previously cordinated the campaign has been promoted to Campaigns Director.

The Children's Food Campaign has been in the press recently about curriculum packs. Lianna Hulbert has done a fantastic job co authoring a report " Through the back door" which shows how some food companies are able to disguise their marketing messages as lesson plans. Lianna has identified how some of these curriculum packs contain misleading or incorrect information. The editorial in the Independent is spot on

I will still be teaching at a primary school one day a week so I will be able to eat my regular school dinner.