Sunday, October 09, 2005


British school dinners are a scandal. And no, I'm not talking about the composition of a turkey twizzler, or the tiny amount of money spent on each meal, or the frequency with which chips appear on the menu, or any of the other nuggets of information that have been listed in mind-boggling detail by the government and the media. I am talking about the scandal of a government that thinks it should turn education into one long lecture about healthy living, and assumes the authority to dictate how parents should feed their children.

The publication of the final report of the School Meals Review Panel (SMRP), set up in May 2005 by the government following a TV series by Islington's favourite semi-literate entrepreneur Jamie Oliver, should come as no surprise. The panel, chaired by Suzi Leather (who also chairs the authority responsible for regulating fertility treatment), has concluded that school dinners are every bit as bad as Jamie said, and that Something Must Be Done to sort it out.

To that end, its 59-page document demands that unhealthy vending machines be banned, along with salt-cellars on tables, and foods made from 'meat slurry'; that deep-fried foods should only be served twice a week; and that children spend more lesson times learning how to cook and visiting local farms to find out 'where some of their food is produced'. There's more, of course - the panel has even seen fit to provide an age-appropriate weekly menu, fitting for a government that is rapidly moving from politics into catering management. But the devil is not in the detail of this document. It is in the assumption underpinning it: that parents cannot be trusted when it comes to feeding their children.

For many parents, the government's sudden declaration of war on school dinners must have seemed like a welcome release. The government has spent a good few years scaring us about our children becoming caught up in the epidemic of childhood obesity that is apparently sweeping the nation. We have been issued with a rule book demanding that our families eat 'five a day' of carefully measured portions of fruit and vegetables, witnessed calls to ban advertising of so-called 'junk food' to help us stop from caving in to children pestering us to put the wrong things in our shopping trolley, and been the focus of mad-cap traffic-light schemes to 'help' those of us who don't know that crisps are high in fat to avoid them.

In the government's ill-advised war on unhealthy living, parents have been treated both as idiot victims of the food industry and careless child abusers who put our own convenience before our children's health. So when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver turned the spotlight on to school dinners, the one aspect of our children's diets for which we surely can't be blamed, we could scramble back on to the moral high ground, at least for a short while. How dare they make us feel guilty for serving fish fingers again when they're giving our children those twizzlers! It's not our fault the kids are podgy - look at what they're having to eat in school! No wonder young Jamie became too popular for his own good - he got a nation of parents out of the firing line, and put politicians and local authorities there instead.

But just as Jamie's crusade was obsessed with school dinners because of his conviction that the canteen was the only place that kids could expect some decent food, the government's School Meals Review Panel situates improvement in school dinners firmly within a context of making every member of society behave in a healthier fashion. 'What children receive at home will always be more important than what they eat at school', states the report early on. 'But the school is crucial for modelling healthier choices and schools are a vital setting.'

In other words, get the kids out of that feckless home environment where they are allowed to eat and drink anything they like, and into an institution where they can have their choices 'constructively controlled'. 'We concluded that it is by constructively controlling choice that we will widen children's food experiences', stated the panel - or as the Department for Education and Skills' (DfES) press release more succinctly put it, 'controlling children's choices to ensure that they cannot opt out of healthy food'.

This is the politics of behaviour. It has nothing to do with nutrition: as Rob Lyons has argued elsewhere on spiked, the wild assertions made by officials about the problem of child obesity and the nutritional characteristics of 'junk food' are based on very dubious science. Nor is this reform of school dinners about a humane desire to make eating at school that little bit more pleasant. It is about pushing children to think about food in a particular way, bringing about a 'healthier food culture, in which young people and adults enjoy the experience of eating healthy, nutritious food together'.

Unless anybody thinks that this business of 'controlled choice' will be limited to the canteen, the School Meals Review Panel is keen to stress that its standards should be 'applied to other food outlets within the school and reflected in school policies for food brought into school' - through 'consideration of the impact of packed lunches' and a 'review' of 'the nature of breaktime snacks brought from home'. So those naughty parents will no longer be able to 'opt out of healthy food' by squirreling a packet of crisps in their child's lunchbox. And to avoid the (obvious) consequence of banning food that children like - that they go and buy food elsewhere - schools may simply stop them from leaving the premises at lunchtime.

More here


Leftist romanticism about the primitive and the non-judgmentalism of multiculturalism are mutually contradictory but that has not stopped them from reinforcing one-another in the drive to have Australian blacks return to something like tribal living on remote areas of land specially set aside from them -- usually former "missions" or cattle stations (ranches). The result of such unrealistic thinking is described below

More than 200,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have become integrated into mainstream Australian life, but during the past six months the media have exposed the extreme deprivation of another 200,000 living on welfare in remote communities, fringe settlements and urban ghettos.

Following Noel Pearson's courageous calls to end welfare dependence, increasing numbers of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in remote Australia are now demanding equal economic opportunities.

Shocking Third World conditions clearly do not stem from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ethnicity, but are the result of the set of separatist federal, state and territory policies. These separatist policies have condemned many Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to living in isolated, uneconomic communities that deny them private land ownership and other private property rights, notably in housing, that destroy their health and that fail to provide decent education.

The ensuing welfare dependence destroys families and communities - as it does elsewhere in Australia and throughout the world. But other Australians on welfare are not isolated in apartheid-like settlements. The absence of policing and law in remote communities permits high levels of child abuse and domestic violence. Alcoholism and other substance abuse are rampant.

Small elites of "big men" monopolise the layers of separate governance created for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. They have strong vested interests against reform. The politicians who have created the remote living museums are supported by academics, state, territory and federal public servants who run the system and the non-indigenous administrators, teachers, accountants, lawyers and other consultants. They all make their living out of these conditions. Sorcery and payback thrive. The ultimate results are murders and suicides.

The commonwealth Government has taken a first step towards reforming the separate governance structures by dismantling the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. It has introduced shared responsibility agreements to mitigate communal welfare. But individual pensions cannot be reformed until girls stop being married off while they are still children and, together with boys, get a decent education so that they can get jobs. Children are almost half of the population of the remote settlements and their proportion is growing.

The West Australian, Queensland and Northern Territory education departments have demonstrably failed a generation of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who have poorer English literacy and numeracy than their parents. The emphasis on the vernacular with postmodern failure to teach phonetics and arithmetic has resulted in gobbledygook; children are so bored they drop out of school. Remote communities need independent schools with mainstream curriculums and good teachers if the educational disasters of the past 30 years are to be corrected. At the secondary level all youngsters should be in integrated schools and the brightest should be in first-class boarding schools. The dumbing down of post-secondary education in remote areas could then cease so that they can get skilled and professional jobs.

Communal land ownership has failed. Large flows of royalties and other land rents have been stolen and wasted, leaving even well-located communities in the vicinities of tourist resorts and mines in dire poverty. Productive land development has been negligible. Whereas most Australian families have benefited from rising land values, native title legislation has denied such gains to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders....

More here


I am putting up a few posts on Tongue-Tied this the weekend that have some amusing bits in them

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