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Jeremy Brier: Lock kids in the canteen and make them eat broccoli

Jeremy Brier, a Barrister and former World Debating Champion, agrees with Jamie Oliver that school kids need to be coerced into eating school lunches.

Chicken Cottage, the deep-fried-chicken take-away where both words in the name are so off the mark it must be ironic is so crammed at lunchtimes that the chickens must feel like they’re back at the abattoir. Children flock out from class onto the High Street, salivating in anticipation of the steaming boxes of fatty breadcrumbs to come. “It’s terrible!” cry the Chattering Classes across the road in the organic juice café munching on alfalfa sprouts. “These children are so uneducated! We must teach them how to cook! Let’s make them understand all about broccoli and Sharon fruits and polenta! Let’s get that Jamie Oliver chap to do another series! This can’t go on!” etc. ad nauseam. 

This rather misses the point. Children don’t go to Chicken Cottage out of ignorance; they go to Chicken Cottage because it’s delicious. Absolutely delicious: flavoursome, juicy, crunchy, filling; perfect for the unsophisticated youthful palette (and mine) that craves salty satisfaction. I had the best education that mummy could buy and I stuffed myself with Pot Noodles every break-time (chicken and mushroom, if you’re interested); not because I didn’t know my hamachi from my humumus but because nothing fresh, healthy, organic or nutritious can possibly come close to the artificial delights in a mass-produced carton of dried chemicals. You can cook all the greens you like in the School Dining Hall and you can teach kids all you want about aubergines; but it’s a truth universally acknowledged that as long as Chicken Cottage exists down the road, there will be a queue there at lunchtime full of salivating, uniformed youngsters, each with highly deficient nutritional balances.   

So what can we do? Simple. Start treating children like children: rather than give them the ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’ that is only sensibly given to legally responsible adults. That’s why Jamie Oliver is spot-on in saying that schools – like those in Denbighshire – should ban their pupils from leaving the school grounds during the school day. Why do they need to go out anyway? It’s not as though they’ve got anything to do other than commit minor acts of anti-social behaviour. And if there is an urgent need for pupils to do a spot of shopping in the delightful Denbighshire environs, or explore the no doubt myriad local sites of natural beauty, then there’s plenty of time for them to do so after the ridiculously early 3.30pm bell. But there’s no point having schools (rightly) spend vast a lot of money in transforming their menus to try and improve the health, brainpower and behaviour of their pupils, if they tolerate the kids evacuating at lunchtime to go and dine on Slush Puppy and Irn Bru bars (although I do still love the latter). 

I know we Conservatives love freedom; but we also recognise that some times young people could benefit from a guiding hand of authority (particularly in the form of charmingly bossy dinner ladies with implausibly 1950s names). And not only will keeping children within the school gates benefit their health, it may also enhance a school’s community life. Rather than having a dispersed student body during lunchtimes, keeping the school together allows for better attended lunchtime activities: sports, drama, arts, annoying-politically-correct-charity-groups etc. Again, while children will tend to prefer to idle around local parks when given ‘freedom’, keeping them on school property may have the added bonus of cajoling them into joining the hockey practice or jogging around a not-yet-sold-off playing field rather than lounging around becoming obese.   

The problem is not that children don’t know about the hockey team or about the benefits of courgettes, it’s that they do; they know perfectly well that a Whopper tastes far better than a Roasted Vegetable Foccaccia and that watching Sky is a lot more fun than physical exercise. That’s why, as long as pupils are allowed to go off-site, it’s irrelevant what you serve up in the canteen, offer as lunchtime hobbies, or teach in home economics classes. But pen the poor little blighters into the Dining Hall with no escape route and then the healthy menus start to work - it’s that or starvation! And then they can be force-fed whatever their masters want, just like a Chicken Cottage chicken.


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