Hey, Jamie Oliver! Leave those school bake sales alone

October 23, 2017

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The latest missive from the Jamie Oliver Foundation this week is vilifying schools that have cake and bake sales to raise funds as creating 'social and physical environments that contradict children's food education.'

For several years now, the celebrity chef has had food education and tackling childhood obesity in his sights and while I applaud a lot of his efforts - getting better quality food in school meals is one example - I'm afraid I don't agree with him about his latest crusade.

Cake and bake sales have been a staple of school life for a long time. They are not a new phenomenom and I have fond childhood memories of buying a lovely piece of cake and enjoying its sweetness during a hazy Sunday afternoon at the school fete after a day of running around and enjoying the rides.

They are a great way of schools raising the funds they need to purchase things that many would argue the government should be funding (but that's a whole other article!) I don't see a carrot stick sale doing the same thing somehow.

Cake sales have been used as a way of raising funds for schools, WI groups, Scouts, Brownies and Guides and other organisations for decades.

Childhood obesity, however, is a relatively newer phenomenom. Don't get me wrong, there have always been kids teased for being 'fat' (I was one of them), but this focus on the 'epidemic' of childhood obesity is quite recent.

I feel the foundation's focus on cake sales in schools is misplaced. It is merely attacking schools, which already suffer from criticisms from all quarters, for trying to tackle underfunding the best way they know how. Perhaps the JOF's focus should be on the chronic underfunding of schools that make cake sales necessary in the first place.

My concern about the work of JOF, and its most recent statements, is that it is contributing to the constant moralising of food - those who eat it and those who provide it - that we have been seeing for some time now alongside the demonisation of single nutrients. Given that we keep being told that obesity rates are on the increase, this is not an approach that seems to be doing what JOF intends for it to do.

All we are getting instead is the message that 'cake is bad' and you are an irresponsible person/school/institution if you allow it to be served or you are a bad person/can't be trusted to make your own food decisions, if you eat it. And at end of that path is disordered eating.

I am not a nutrition expert nor do I attempt to give nutrition information on my blog. There are plenty of other, better (and actually qualified) sources for that.

But I do listen to and read books and reports from experts in the field of intuitive eating and body positivity who are evidence-based (such as Laura Thomas PhD, the dietitians from Fight the Fads) who are keen for the demonisation of ingredients and the people who serve them and eat them to cease. Jamie Oliver, you are not helping.

Cake and bake sales only contradict children's food education if that education connects morals and food (cake/chocolate/biscuits = bad; carrots/salad = good).

This moralising creates feelings of shame and guilt for children who enjoy certain foods and if we continue down that path, we will raise another generation of conflicted adults, paranoid about what they eat and who are completely out of touch with the nutritional needs of their own bodies.

If we teach children that they can eat cake as part of a balanced diet alongside a whole host of other foods then having a cake sale at school does not contradict the healthy eating message.

Are we really going to deny children fond memories of a warm summer's day with a cupcake or celebrating a fellow pupil's birthday at school with a slice of Victoria sponge? Or are we going to show a bit of common sense? Seriously Mr Oliver. Enough with the moralising and the shame tactics.

diet, FoodIssues, obesity, rant


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