Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The packed-lunch police

How four British schools are waging war on home-produced forbidden food

Hmm, what's it to be? A lentil korma with brown rice and salad, then fruit and a yoghurt for afters, or a High School Musical bag stuffed with crisps and a couple of bars of chocolate? It sounds absurd but in some schools children sitting next to eat other could be eating such contrasting lunches.

While school dinners have come on nutritionally in leaps and bounds, and thanks to more money for ingredients and training for the dinner ladies, they taste a whole lot better too, there's nothing to stop pupils in many schools bringing in junk from home. A survey last year lifted the lid on lunchboxes to reveal the unappetising truth: what's inside them contains too much saturated fat and up to half the daily allowance of of salt. [Kids under 7 should have no more than 3g of salt a day.] Salads are scarce and only half the children brought in a portion of fruit and vegetables.

Children who aren't eating school dinners are losing out - that's about 60 per cent of primary school kids. And this is why, as part of the Government's attempt to tackle obesity, Alan Johnson, the Health Minister, has suggested that schools should check lunchbox contents.

The School Food Trust, the body set up by the Government to turn round school dinners, suggest drawing up a policy for packed lunches - a few basic rules to bring them in line with a healthier school environment - and make sticking to it part of a code that parents have to agree to. Others say it is impossible for schools to police what children bring in to eat. Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, says: "Many parents in this country will feel that it is their decision what they feed their children."

Joe Harvey, of the Health Education Trust, a charity involved in the Better School Food campaign, agrees. "You can't search kids for Kit Kats," he says. So what can schools do about it? "There has to be a process of education and consultation or they'll get the burgers-through-the-fence brigade. It should be part of a whole school food policy." He advises schools to build food rules into any contract the school makes with new parents; do everything possible to make sure children know what's going on in the school kitchen; and make the meal service as attractive as possible.

More here

Britain: The free market beats the tyrants -- as ever

The tyrants call it a "black market" but it is their arrogance and ignorance that is black

Students are operating a black-market trade in food banned in schools, including burgers and chocolate, in a backlash against healthier canteen menus such as those espoused by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Newly installed healthy menus in school canteens and the removal of junk food from vending machines have created a gap in the market that students have been quick to fill. Some of the most sophisticated operations are taking place at business and enterprise schools.

The move to healthier meals in schools was prompted by Oliver's crusade in 2005 against Turkey Twizzlers and other unhealthy foods. The following year the Government published a report setting definitive nutritional standards for school lunches. One young smuggling mastermind, when finally caught, said to his school's headmaster unapologetically: "But we were only doing what you taught us in business studies, Sir."

After a tip from a head teacher at a Dorset secondary who broke up a "seriously big smuggling operation" run by a schoolboy, The Times has uncovered several similar contraband schemes. The head, who did not want to identify his school, was convinced that the switch to a healthy menu and the policy of keeping pupils on the premises at lunchtime had created an opening for entrepreneurs. He became suspicious when he noticed two 14-year-old boys approaching the school weighed down with Lidl carrier bags. "The thin wiry creatures, in full uniform but with shortened ties, shirts hanging out, were walking a heavily laden bicycle. The bags were dripping off the bike's handlebars, crossbars and saddle like a scene from some desperate endeavour on foot and mule to reach a lost city in the Peruvian mountains," he said.

A teacher nicknamed Columbo tracked down the boys and their illicit cargo: 60 cans of fizzy drinks and piles of milk chocolate. "We discovered they were just the buyers. Someone else had funded the purchase, a player who in turn was funded by unknowns, who were taking the lion's share. "Getting to the core of the operation was like peeling an onion, there appeared to be no centre," the head added. He suspects that similar operations are happening to a greater or lesser extent in most schools.

Sure enough, when The Times appealed to head teachers for similar tales, the response was rapid and clear. "It has happened to us. Kids with motorbikes buying McDonald's burgers in bulk and flogging them in the playground. We are a business and enterprise school in Essex so I guess I should not be surprised," one said. "When challenged, the boy at the centre said he was just being enterprising."

Another, this time from Wales, said: "The `McDonald's run', where sixth-formers with cars take orders for the lower school who are locked in at lunchtimes is one of the best bits of student enterprise I have seen for a long time."

It is not just business studies teachers who have been giving children ideas; it is also the parents. Two mothers from Rotherham gained publicity for feeding burgers to their children through the school railings after the introduction of a healthy new menu.

Brian Lightman, president of the Association of School and College Leaders and head teacher at St Cyres School in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, said that the healthy eating initiative would only succeed if students were allowed a say. "Because these changes have been imposed without allowing time for them to gain a sense of ownership, schools are reporting cases of students finding innovative ways around the new regulations," he said. Of course, if today's teenager crisp smugglers really want a good excuse when caught, they might be well advised to point to Jamie Oliver himself. As an enterprising 11-year-old he used to lease school-lockers from fellow pupils, from where he would sell sweets he had bought at the cash-and-carry. Alternatively, students could also point to the teachers who regularly sneak out at lunch time for burgers and chips, now that they are no longer on the menu.


PESKY! Food dyes protect against cancer

The hated food dyes, no less! (Only in fish, so far, though)

Synthetic food dyes - long blamed for causing hyperactivity in children - may have a good side: some of them may protect against cancer. Gayle Orner at Oregon State University in Corvallis added the carcinogens dibenzopyrene (DBP) or aflatoxin to the feed of trout for one month, with or without the food dyes Red 40 - one of six recently linked to hyperactivity in children - or Blue 2.

Nine months later, trout that had been fed either of the dyes in combination with aflatoxin had 50 per cent fewer liver tumours, compared with those that had been exposed to aflatoxin alone. Trout that had been fed DBP in combination with Red 40 had a 50 per cent lower incidence of stomach cancer and a 40 per cent lower incidence of liver cancer.

"The public perception is that food dyes are bad, but some of them may have good points as well," says Orner, who presented her results at the American Association for Cancer Research in San Diego, California, last week.

While the amounts of dye eaten by the fish could be matched by eating a lot of sweets and soft drinks, Orner advises against this strategy. Instead, she says the next step is to understand the mechanism by which these food dyes exert their anti-cancer effect.


1 comment:

transfattyacid said...

The school dinner thing is really a product of the class system.

If those making the decisions sent there children to state schools then the funding for meals would improve and so would the uptake of healthy meals.

But as it is, those making the decisions, do not send their children to state schools and those in state schools are simply doing what those without a voice have always done - namely rebelling aaginst the dictats of the unelected.

Oh and it doesn't help that the government is in hock to the supermarkets, who have a vested interest in pushing cheap and nasty food - creating a situation in which children are mandated to eat 'healthy' food at school, but at home they eat the processed food pushed by the supermarkets to boost their profits.

But then joined up thinking ahs never been a speciality of this weak and vacilating Labour government.