MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2012 CARSHALTON BOYS SPORTS COLLEGE
A visit to Carshalton Boys Sports College with Prince Charles & Jamie Oliver
As Vice-President of Garden Organic, one of the conveners, I was privileged on 26 November to welcome a group at Carshalton Boys Sports College, headed by Prince Charles with Jamie Oliver, for a roundtable workshop on the crucial question of food education in our schools. (See the text of my address at the bottom of this blog.)
I’m not easily impressed but I was astonished by the sheer set-up of this school. The head teacher, Mr. Simon Barber, almost single- handedly has managed to transform a low performance school into a model school within a few years. Not only good teaching practices are at the heart of this story, but also food and gardening education are at the very heart of their success.
They invested in a quality kitchen to produce their own food, and a professional chef runs it. He obeys and champions all the rules of sustainability, local values and good ethics. Now 85% of the 1200 pupils are eating in the restaurant.
The cost of the pupils’ food is now cheaper than their fast food competitors. Food and gardening are now part of the curriculum, so connecting students with where their food comes from, how to grow it, cook it and how to retain most of the nutrients; this results in better academic achievements, social behaviour (no sugary foods), understanding of environmental issues, while connecting food and farming and generally making for a far better atmosphere within the school.
And the food I tasted there was excellent. The experience of Carshalton makes it seem imperative that we nurture a good food culture in our schools.
There are other reasons why the government must take leadership to include food as part of the curriculum – this is the best long-term investment a government can make. It will also result in the growth of new producers, and culminate in less food being imported, avoiding pollution and the cost of cleaning up pollution.
Today’s poor diet is one of the greatest miseries and costs to the nation: to take the most obvious case, the recent Foresight report says that the scourge of obesity will cost £6.4bn a year by 2015, and that related conditions will bring it to £27bn. One of these alone, diabetes, cost £13.75bn in 2010; and another, cardiovascular disease (some but not all of which can be attributed to diet), according to the most recent NICE report cost £14.4bn to the NHS and its combined cost to the whole economy was £30bn in 2006.
The magnitude of the problem is clear, we can’t afford not to educate our children about their food and diet. But it is blindingly clear that better food (and better food education) means less cost to the government and the taxpayer in the long run, and such education would cost the government a fraction of the staggering costs to the NHS.
To end on a happier note, I want to pay tribute to HRH The Prince of Wales and Jamie Oliver for the lead they are giving, and the example they are setting for our schoolchildren. When you look at the problem of food education in schools in other countries (the US springs immediately to mind), we are very lucky indeed to enjoy the staunch commitment of such important national figures.
Here is the text of the address I made:
"As Vice President of Garden Organic, Honorary President of SRA, a concerned parent, a citizen, a chef who drives the values of Chefs Adopt a School, and also a part-time gardener, I would like to welcome you all, our distinguished guests and participants to this roundtable.
I am especially pleased to be here with the Food Growing in School Taskforce. It is one of the causes I believe in most deeply and we all know it is embedded in successful food education including growing and cooking food in a good food culture.
Nothing beats hands on experience and discovering the life-force and miracle of a small seed. It gives us a better understanding of seasonality and the cycles of the seasons; how food grows. It is not just a survival kit but will also empower our children to be aware of the importance of good food. It is the best gift we can give our children.
In Great Britain we have looked at food as a mere commodity which only values and virtues was cheapness and convenience. It was a grave mistake which cost the nation a great deal of misery... mostly the health of our children. Yet today, the government goes on to reduce the cash to Food Trusts, schools, academies and charities… despite the staggering cost to treat food related illnesses.
The cost of treating the many food related diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardio vascular problems is mounting to tens of billions of pounds. The cost of obesity would be £6.4bn a year, and by 2015 obesity related conditions will be around £27bn. Those combined costs are mind blowing when you know you could treat the problem for a fragment of that.
So, to me it seems so evident to spend money on good food education and of course good nutritional food for the children. If we teach young people to cook, grow and eat well the benefits would be immense, that is the reason why food education and growing must be part of the school curriculum.
Other benefits would include growing food, learning about the environment, having a better understanding of nutritional values of food, basic knowledge of science of food, connecting food with ones regions, history and ones soil – but most of all, understanding the miracle of life growing from that brown little seed. It would also help us to grow more of our food rather than depend on imports. And help us reconnect with our craft and lost knowledge and change our existing food culture of which the national health service would benefit greatly.
We must think long term instead of short term fixes. We must also work more together, food trusts, schools, businesses, academies (Chefs Adopt A School), gardeners – but the government must take some ownership and leadership to create a proper curriculum."
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