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If you grow it, they will eat it!

Originally published 2nd October 2014

Growing healthy children

The 'five-a-day' campaign is a government initiative run through the supermarkets to remind parents of the importance of getting their little cherubs to adopt a healthy diet. This article in the Independent points out that a lot of food that is labelled in the 'five-a-day' category doesn't resemble an actual fruit or vegetable. It talks about how the invisible hand of the market cannot be left responsible for healthy children; the profit motive means there will be more concern about shiny packaging to promote sales than with the nature and quality of ingredients. In the extract below, the author lists food items which are classified as contributing to the 'five-a-day' but which are likely fatten and damage the health of our children.

" I have in my mind a lunchbox, one that promises its owner five portions of fruit and vegetables, or in other words the Recommended Daily Allowance. The menu goes like this. To start, one pack of Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles; for the main, a tin of Heinz spaghetti hoops, washed down by a Robinson’s My-5 Fruit Shoot. Desert would be a Nākd Cocoa Delight bar. And the coup de grace - for any gourmand yet to plump their stomach - a snack bag of Yu! Jus Fruit Mango pieces. Of course, not one of these lunchables is exactly a fruit, or precisely a vegetable. But each has allied itself by a label to the Government’s ‘five-a-day’ campaign, which advises UK citizens to eat 400g of greens as they chew their way from breakfast to dinner."

Public health campaigns and private business

Asking questions about the ethics and consequences of these relationships is essential, particularly now that Tesco have just launched a national campaign to be the main educator of our children as to where their food comes from. Whilst at the same time 29% of Scottish children are said to be obese or over-weight. Are we heading in a healthy direction with this? The Fife Diet is horrified, and launched their own campaign to reject it, and other major Scottish food organisations, such as Nourish Scotland, and even a few journalists, have picked up on this issue.Why, when we are increasingly concerned about childhood obesity, should this dangerous mixture be tolerated? With the economy aggressively trying to reestablish itself after the 2008 financial crash, are profits prioritised way above the health of our children? There surely must be a rebalancing of the relationship between the economy and health..

"Today a shudder was felt on the developing fault-line between public health campaigns and the private companies that make feeding us their business. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the body behind the “five a day” project - the UK Government’s relaxed approach to regulation of the fast-food industry is contributing to a steep rise in obesity rates. Study author Professor Roberto de Vogli told the i that it was “pure illusion” to think that big corporations will safeguard public health voluntarily – a principle that is, unfortunately, slap bang central to the ‘Responsibility Deal’ signed in 2011 between the Coalition and 150 private makers and sellers of food."

They will eat it if you grow it

Last year I gave a talk to a cross-section of the public at an event organised by Zac Gratton, a sustainability student, as part of his course work. Someone from the audience asked me a simple question: "Can you get your children to eat the food you grow?" My mind sprang back to the summer months in our yard. I could visualize my son picking out spring onions, giving them a little wash and munching away. My youngsters happily picked and ate these, and fresh herbs, such as chives and parsley. So I could answer her very confidently: 'Yes, if you grow it at home or locally they will eat it!' My experiences have taught me that if you grow food around your home, your children will eat it as fresh as it comes. If you invest some time in the garden growing your own food, no matter how little, your children will soon be crunching on raw carrots and munching on cybies. They will happily dig up tatties and turn them into potato salad, with just a tiny bit of help from you.Such a connection with food is key to promoting healthy eating.

Small is beautiful

A crucial point that must be emphasised is that it isn't the food per se that will encourage the children to eat it, it is having healthy enthusiastic adults educate and inspire them,because they care about food. This is why small is beautiful - it is the connections between people, communities and food that matter, it is the personal relationships that are key to having children eat healthy food.

Big business cannot do this

It is essential that policy-makers in the area of children's food education take seriously the roles and responsibilities of vested interest groups, and consider the ethics involved. It is worth reminding ourselves of the democratic principle quoted below:

Scotland’s people are its greatest asset, and best placed to make decisions about their future... Our belief in local self- determination, through a strong Scottish Parliament, strong local authorities and strong communities, is the key principle which underpins the proposals in this consultation document. At its heart, community empowerment is about communities taking their own decisions about their futures”.

Big business does not have the personal touch needed to achieve our goals. Our communities do, and this is why you need to let community food projects like ours and the many more springing up all over Scotland take a lead role in the education within schools. They can make a huge difference to the lives of our children, to the quality of education they receive, because having parents involved in the growing of food, is the personal touch needed to turn the corner from these dreadful statistics we are receiving today.


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