Food & Drink: Nutrition Tuition Targets Children; Concern about the Nation's Bad Food Habits Has Prompted a Healthy Eating Group to Target Young People. Cue a Sophie Grigson Masterclass. Alison Jones Reports
Jones, Alison, The Birmingham Post (England)
There are some estates in Britain so deprived of fresh fruit and vegetables that children living there do not recognise a banana when they see it, let alone know how to eat it.
It is the type of ignorance last found during the war years when the battles raging abroad stopped exotic fruit getting to our shores.
But now the enemy is apathy and a lack of education about elementary nutrition.
The shocking fact that in an apparently affluent country where we visually consume a regular diet of food and drink programmes, there are youngsters who do not know how to peel a banana, was uncovered during a nationwide programme to stir up schoolchildren's interest in cooking.
Focus on Food is a five-year project dedicated to filling the knowledge gaps left by a lack of basic home economics tuition either at home or in the classroom.
Anita Cormac, one of its directors, said she was stunned by how poorly informed some young people were about what they ate.
'We have been to some areas where they don't know what ingredients are. The shops where they live don't stock any fresh food because there is no call for it in a diet that relies on convenience meals and takeaways.
'Though we may talk a lot about a nutrition and healthy eating, young people are not going to be able to practise this if they don't know how to prepare and make meals.'
In many secondary schools home economics classes have been replaced by design and technology. This looks at food related subjects, such as the design and manufacture of new products, but only 50 percent of curriculum time is devoted to practical work.
'We want to help children learn how to enjoy food, to appreciate good quality and know how to shop for it.'
Two thousand schools have already registered to join the campaign which has reached 180,000 pupils.
It is backed by the Royal Society of Arts, together with Waitrose supermarket, and has been supported by a number of famous chefs who have given their time free to help out.
Which is why Sophie Grigson found herself in the back of a pantechnicon in the carpark of Waitrose at Hall Green this week, teaching the finer points of stir frying and wrapping filo pastry into spring rolls to a group of 12 to 13-year-olds from Hall Green School.
'I got involved because I think it is so important that children learn about healthy cooking as young as possible,' she said.
'I find it absurd that on the one side we are being told that we have one of the worst diets and that we should eat better and yet it isn't taught in schools. I think this absolutely should become a Government priority.
'It is one of my hobbyhorses because it is not like the old days where children could pick up these skills at home. Often two parents are working and don't have time to teach them, or maybe they don't have the knowledge themselves.'
'When they are very young you can't do a lot of things but I think it is important to involve them to some small extent as early as you can, certainly from primary school age.
'After all food is essential. We all have to eat and the production and consumption of food is at the centre of most cultures.'
She believes some schools have been put off the idea of teaching cookery because it is an expensive subject requiring specialised equipment and they are worried about the risk of pupils cutting or burning themselves.
'I understand that but obviously learning how to avoid cutting yourself or dealing with it once it has happened are good lessons as well. Also in school you can be taught about food hygiene, which is crucial.'
Ironically Sophie was not given formal cookery lessons but learned from watching her mother, food writer Jane Grigson, preparing meals as she did her homework.
'Cooking as a career option used to be seen as something that you gave the stupid children to do, the ones that weren't likely to pass any other exams, which is terrible. …