Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

My pet hate is cranks who keep good food off the menu

One in four British kids under the age of 16 thinks that bacon comes from sheep. To be blunt, most young people seem to have no idea where food comes from and how to cook it.

It's just something they stuff in their mouths too frequently and the more sugary the better.

No wonder they're turning out to be a generation of indolent, blubbery fatties. And the Government seems powerless to do much about it. The Food Standards Agency has just admitted that a decade of spending millions promoting healthy eating has been a washout.

Our diet is virtually unchanged. In spite of all the catchy phrases, the trendy websites and colour-coded labelling, we eat too much processed food, not enough fruit and vegetables and twice as many sausages as white fish. Nearly two-thirds of us are overweight and diet-related illness will kill 70,000 of us this year.

If the Government’s campaigns fail to get the right messages across, what better place to teach children about food than school? Andrea Charman, a headmistress, thought so, and decided to set up a farm at her primary school. The children voted to rear a lamb and then send it to slaughter and raised money to buy piglets.

What Mrs Charman did not factor in, however, was the behaviour of bullies. Not playground bullies, but grown-ups who set up two Facebook groups campaigning to save Marcus the sheep — even though the school council (which included pupils), the staff and most parents had voted for the cull. One group was called Ban Andrea Charman From Teaching Anywhere. How this was allowed to flourish without police intervention, I don't know.

All together, the petitions attracted 2,500 signatures and various threats were made. Parents moaned to the media and the comedian Paul O'Grady, who lives near by, offered to give Marcus a sanctuary, in his menagerie of pigs, ducks and geese.

Sadly, the bullies won the day and last week Mrs Charman announced she was resigning. Michael Howard, her MP, called it “a sad day”.

Last year, I raised rare breed pigs, chickens and Dexter cattle for The F Word, in a smallholding.

Children from the local primary school visited, helped me make cheese with milk from the cows and, when the chickens were slaughtered, helped pluck them.

This is a farming area and they are used to the notion that animals end up being eaten. They understood that, as long as animals have a healthy life, it isn't a criminal act to slaughter them. Surely it's better to know where your food lived and what it ate than consume factory-reared stuff fed additives and forced to stand in a confined space.

We eat too much meat and most of it is produced in unacceptable conditions. Food Inc is a powerful documentary which has just opened, lifting the lid on America's food industry. It shows the use of intensive methods that result in horrible conditions for the animals.

As a nation, we sentimentalise animals: we give millions to the RSPCA, we fund donkey sanctuaries and dog homes. But we are happy to eat meat that probably had a miserable life.

We won't eat a better diet until we readjust our relationship |with food. At this rate it will take some time.

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