Recipe for success

Can a 25-year campaign launched in February be the key to encouraging bi-partisan action in food education, not just through governments, but the private sector too?

Compulsory cooking in schools, nutritional advice, free food to new mothers, food enthusiasts in schools, free breakfasts and supermarket cooking lessons. These are the ambitious aims of a major new campaign launched in February by founder of Ella’s Kitchen, Paul Lindley, which spell out a 25-year vision for the future of nutritional wisdom.

“This is a multi-faceted problem which can only be tackled with a series of long-term solutions that are equally mutli-faceted in their approaches,” says Paul. “We do not claim to offer a silver bullet solution.”

The Averting a Recipe for Disaster campaign points to problems of education, not just in schools, but to a lack of knowledge and skills from parents to be able to improve their own eating habits. 93% of parents surveyed for the campaign manifesto said their knowledge of how to cook influences the extent to which their children eat healthily, so it’s easy to see how contact with food skills in both the home and in schools can leave a child blissfully unaware.

The manifesto is bulging with stats. The current annual cost to the NHS on diet-related illnesses is £6bn, it says. Between 2009 and 2010 there was a 33% increase in children who include no fruit or vegetables in their diet, and in the same period there was a 25% decrease in fruit and vegetable purchases by the UK’s poorest households. The statistics strongly suggest affordability is an issue, and as such, Paul’s team has been working with organisations that provide free services to children, for example, free breakfasts in school, to demonstrate the economic viability of such practices.

“Our recommendation is focused on the provision of free breakfasts for school children, which we see as a feasible long-term option, rather than free meals in general,” says Paul. “Research shows that there are currently thousands of children going to school hungry and this has a major impact on the productivity and even behaviour of school children.

“Let’s put this in perspective – the Government is currently having to spend nearly £6bn a year on diet-related illness so whilst there are huge economic pressures on the country, the potential disaster that failing to address these issues around malnutrition cannot be ignored,” he adds.

Being time- and cash-poor is a sober reality for millions of families these days, which “provides a greater need for the Government to support families where they can,” says Paul. “The Healthy Start Scheme in the UK is used to great effect already with 2.6m vouchers being issued to families across the country to help buy basic food for their children. The extension of this scheme would be a welcome change for low-income families in this country. Learning from the WIC Program in the US, which is partially funded by private retailers, is an obvious way to fund this without relying on public money.” Private funding such as this would give free schemes more longevity, and remove the burden from the public purse — if of course, longevity is required.

The focus of Averting a Recipe for Disaster doesn’t stop at schools. It suggests free supermarket and restaurant cooking workshops for parents and their children. In addition, the campaign also wants 1% of TV advertising airtime to be dedicated to nutritional eating in support of its next media campaign, Change for Life. “This will rely heavily on the collaboration and support of major retailers, food brands and restaurants,” says Paul. “We are keen to work with nutritionists and dieticians to develop a series of ‘lessons’ on healthy cooking, taking into account budgeting and meal planning, which will aim to take retailers as a package which they can take up in their own stores. Our immediate action is to engage major retailers in a series of meetings that we are beginning to put into place now.”

The campaign’s petition, aiming for 1,000 signatures, will be used as a declaration of public support, “showing how the issue resonates with the general public to give the campaign worthwhile backing when we speak to political bodies and key stakeholders.” And despite the campaign’s early days, it has already received positive responses from MPs, local government and policy makers, which Paul says the team will pursue over the next few months. And in the immediate term, Paul says they’re is looking to “bring together interested parties from both Government and other industries to discuss initial actions in more detail next month.” 

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