Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: Jamie Leaves a Nasty Aftertaste

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Food: Jamie Leaves a Nasty Aftertaste

Article excerpt

It is more than a year since Jamie Oliver launched his jihad against junk food, berating schools in his series Jamie's School Dinners for feeding kids "shit" and demanding that the government "do something". When Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, duly banned "bangers and burgers" in schools, Oliver became St Jamie of the School Dinner, with one columnist gushing about this "decent man's heroic battle against an uncaring, bureaucratic system".

A year on, are school canteens happier and healthier places? Hardly. Dinner ladies are threatening to strike; catering companies are worried about going bust; and parents are opting for unhealthier packed lunches. Thanks, Jamie.

"Overnight, we were expected to start seasoning meat and peeling hundreds of carrots--but that takes time and we're not being paid for it," says Cathy Stewart, a dinner lady in Hackney, London, and a rep for the Transport and General Workers' Union. "They want dinner ladies to become professional chefs. But they won't give us the resources we need. We have outdated equipment and we don't have enough staff."


Oliver may have had a feisty dinner lady as a sidekick in his Channel 4 series but little consideration was given to the impact overhauling the system would have on the rest of the people involved. On the "Jamie's School Dinners" website, a poll asks: "If the government put more money into school dinners, where should it go?" Seventy-six per cent answered "To subsidise better, fresh ingredients" but only 5 per cent responded "To dinner ladies' pay".

"They think it's just a matter of piling schools with chicken and veg, but what about the ladies who have to turn that into meals?" says Stewart. Dinner ladies are staying late to season meat for the next day and coming in early to peel veg and aren't being paid any extra money. …

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