St Jamie of Nutrition, that seasoned spinach-botherer, is back on our screens again, trying through sheer money to convince children to eat something other than burgers. And not before time, one might think, as the nation gets fatter and slides down a flume of its own cooking fat into morbid unhealthiness. At the same time, a group of mothers in South Yorkshire have started their own not-for-profit business delivering kebabs to their deprived children. Like prison wives, they are passing the contraband literally through the bars to the caged offspring within, filling a demand – and stomachs – and declining to line their own pockets as they line their fat kids’ fat arteries.
It’s almost beyond satire. Julie Critchlow and Sam Walker have declared all-out attack on “disgusting, overpriced, low-fat rubbish.” Hurrah! Hard, one feels, not to give in to a wry smile. It’s pure market economics on both sides. There is a demand for programmes that indulge parents’ craving for self-flagellation and schadenfreude – not to mention allowing them to deride the spotty masses with their ketchup and lard. And so Jamie gets on the box. The fact that he decided that mothers who feed their kids crisps and fizzy drinks are ‘arseholes’ and ‘tossers’ might – you would think – be a touch counterproductive. You don’t slag off your customer base after all. But then they’re not going for those parents, they’re pitching at (and bitching with) the middle-class catchment campers who want to have a good sneer. ‘Course, they can’t do it themselves, that would be snobbery, but here is the mockney young master, ready with a cheeky grin and his bad-but-not-too-bad language which gives housewives a thrill they haven’t had since the milk round stopped. And the indomitable Critchlow and Walker are likewise creatures of capitalism; they’re taking 60 orders a day and rising, so they must be doing something right. They’ll have to get an accountant at this rate. It gets better; if you’ve been on the ball, you’ll have spotted that the school is a specialist sports college.
It’s good to see someone sticking it to the health lobby. It is peculiarly British and rather Yorkshire. You can almost hear the words ‘foreign muck’ echoing behind the mothers’ condemnation of the new school menu. And then there’s that blitz spirit – they may be bombarding us with spinach and kale but we’ll stop at nothing to get a good cup of tea and a bacon sarnie.
However, there is also, hovering down there, the merest whiff of the nasty. Nasty that we know children are getting iller by the day and a lot of it’s down to diet. You don’t have to watch those bloody awful voyeuristic programmes to see that most little darlings are huge lard-ridden gutbuckets of coronary flab, waddling down the high street masticating neat oil. Just look out of the window; it can’t be healthy. But equally horrible that schools have gone all nutri-facist on snacks and meals. Many have banned chocolate biscuits (which remain my foremost memory of school breaktimes), and pupils who bring them in are shouted at, and occasionally punished, for liking chocolate. Who’s the arsehole now?
It’s true that school food is a national, if not international, joke. The British attitude to mass catering always has been. It’s unfair to accuse us these days of not being able to cook; most of the best chefs in the world are now from the UK (and yes that does piss off the French, and yes it should, because they deserve it. Not out of boring rosbif racism, although that’s quite fun, but because they sat on their complacent arses and forgot how to make food, whilst we went over there and learnt.) But we can only do it given pretty magnanimous leeway on price and ingredients. En masse, not a snowball’s. Add the fact that those same kids now buying kebabs through bars were probably brought up on processed pap and you have a dilemma. They have a taste for shite, so the choice is a) serve healthy stuff they find disgusting (not their fault, at 72p per pupil it is disgusting) or b) serve something they’ll eat. Or lose money and close the kitchen.
So here’s a radical solution. Let the parents provide the meals. Then, those who care will make sure that their darling ones get a proper nutritionally-balanced meal. And those who don’t can dole out turdburgers with asbestos cheese. And okay, that might be unfair, and yes, some of them might develop raging ADHD and reflux gullets, but what do you think they’re getting in the evening? Perhaps it’s time for some more responsibility to be taken.
But in the meantime, power to the corporate arm of Critchlow-Walker. Anyone who uses ‘disgusting’ and ‘low-fat’ in the same sentence is probably okay.