Food is Love (and so is home education).

 I love my children. That should be normal for a mum, although I know only too well that isn’t always the case.

I don’t love them in a sloppy sentimental way; frankly that’s useless love. I love them even when it’s hard going and that often means when they are standing facing the front door or sitting on the stairs. That is love because although it means I am making them do something they don’t like, that they will learn from it, the easy way. If I don’t teach them how to behave they will find out the hard way in the big world.

It’s the same with food. I love my children enough to make sure they eat properly.  So yes, we have those traditional conversations along the lines of “If you don’t eat your greens you won’t get pudding.”

We are on a tight budget (like most one income households in the UK) so food does eat the budget so to speak, but I still try and make sure the children are eating good food and not junk. Anyway I am beginning to think junk costs more.

I have mentioned that Iona is doing THIS COURSE WITH THE OPEN UNI on Human Nutrition. It’s all very technical and has got her wondering around the house talking about “free radicals” and the best places to find vitamin B12, but it has also got her thinking more about food and how we eat and share it.

She told me today to get watching These Vids on Youtube wherein Jamie Oliver a Chef from the UK heads off to Huntington West Virginia to try and start a food revolution, much like the one he started in schools here. Now, I have to admit I have never been much of a fan of Mr Oliver, but these four programmes have given me a new respect for the man. But even more so, these programmes have really shocked me and left me gutted for some of the families and children in the programme. And knowing that things are only a short few steps behind on the slope over here, it’s just scary.

Huntington was chosen for Jamie’s revolution because it came top in some Government figures for deaths due to obesity.  Now this is a sensitive thing to do. Going somewhere because the people are eating themselves to death and trying to change things needs to be handled with some sensitivity, but also with realism. To be fair I do think Jamie tried that approach. He certainly won over one family who  ate rubbish until he helped them find a better way.

But I was absolutely blown away by the schools. I can’t imagine that many parents choose to homeschool because state schools are pushing the most horrible junk down their children’s throats, but if there are parents doing so for that reason, well, they are right.

Now, I let my kids eat junk now and then. But the whole diet in these schools and the extended community was the kind of food we would eat once in a while and some of it is stuff I would never feed my children. 

Jamie asked a class of 6 yr olds (grade 1. year 2) about basic fruit and veg. Not one child recognised even a potato!

I did a quick impromtu lesson with my children. I sent the three younger ones off in search of a potato. carrot, tomato, banana, pear and something else can’t remember. The three of them, aged 7, 5 and 3, all managed to come back with the correct items with no help and then sat and watched some of the programme while eating the pear, banana and carrot.

Meanwhile on the screen they watched as children their age and older were allowed to throw away most of the their dinner, no questions asked. This was both the yukky stuff and the stuff Jamie introduced against massive opposition into the school. 

This school had 400 pupils so it’s about the same size as most of the primary schools over here. When I worked in such schools it was normal for adults, teachers, assistants and lunch time supervisors to be with the children while they ate to ensure the children were eating properly and help them with cutlery. In fact it was a bone of contention that even hit the press that too many children come to school without proper table manners and that the schools are having to teach this. Nevertheless the idea that a load of very young children should be left to eat food without proper adult attention was not even considered.

The school sfaff seemed surprised when Jamie said that children wouldn’t be allowed to throw food away like that back home. The waste was utterly shocking and then they have the nerve to complain about school food budgets! Not that I blamed the children. The school served breakfast; get this: Pizza, sugar packed flavoured milk with a cereal covered in sugar loaded flavoured milk. Can you imagine giving that to your children?

Things happen in these programme’s that begger belief. The conversation about children in the primary (elementary) school using cutlery was …I was astonished. They couldn’t understand why Jamie wanted the children to use a knife and fork!! The grumpy woman even demanded proof that children in UK primary schools do use knives and forks!  Of course they do!

Things did begin to change, when even the school Principle (who I didn’t rate) got involved in helping the children learn what to eat and how to eat. But the battle will be longer and harder because so many of those children have never been taught how to eat good food around a table where there are loving adult role models. The added problem that they never get to use cutlery properly just makes the whole thing harder than it need be.

How we feed our families is, I truly believe,  a sign of how we love them. Having enough care to cook good nutricous food so our children can grow,  learn and be as healthy as possible is what we are supposed to do.  Part of that is teaching the children how to cook.  Otherwise the bad habits set in and it effects generations. We need to say no to the children at times and that’s just the way it is.

The family Jamie went to work with were lovely, but they ate unbelievable rubbish. The mum was horrified when she realised what she was doing and I think she did want to change, but it is a tough battle to change the habits of a lifetime. The fact that their son just heading to be 13 was already obese and on the verge of diabetes shocked the family-hopefully enough to help them really make the change.  I did get the impression, though I can’t be sure, that the adults really had not realised how much rubbish was in the food they were all eating. Somehow they had gone through school and never come across anything about nutricion.

They are members of a church where the Pastor is so tired of members of his congreation dropping dead that he now preaches about eating properly. Good for him, but how sad.

Jamie got the parents from the elementary school and showed them in no uncertain terms what was being fed to their children and they all said they didn’t want that. It’s a good start. I think he might have made better headway if he had started with the parents in the first place- over riding the rights and duties of parents is never a good plan and schools already do far too much of that.

In the High School he went to he got a lot more support from the kitchen team. That must have made things easier. He also put together a team of young people from the school and taught them to cook, and is setting them up as food ambassadors. The children had their own very serious reasons for wanting to be part of this. One girl had lost her dad when she was 13 because his obesity killed him. She had recently lost an uncle the same way and another girl was morbidly obese herself and discovered she had about 7 years left to live. She is just  a teenage girl and food is killing her.

While Jamie is campaigning in schools first I think it’s the churches and parent groups that need the attention. If parents are encouraged to take back their role, rights and responsibilites they will see that their children need to eat well. Then the parents can demand the schools change the food and maybe even get some parents in the schools to help make sure the children know how to sit properly and eat properly.

From there parents can start to ensure their children grow up learning how to prepare and cook good food properly.

There is an unhealthy view that learning to cook isn’t acedemic enough and so doesn’t matter that much. Yet when we look at a mother feeding boxed pizza and fries to her children all the time so that they are already obese before they hit their teen years, we surely have to rethink that. If those children live long enough to have children of their own (and it’s a big if) then how will they break the cycle without education?

We need our children to know about food, to prepare it well and to eat it properly. It means saying no to children sometimes and making them eat green beans and broccoli. That is love.

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