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Peas Please: award for school veg scheme

A school dinners scheme ensuring children in Blackpool get enough fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet has been recognised for its good work. David Simper tells us why a change in attitudes is as important as a change in diet

A sudden and unexpected drop in income during my under graduate years led to a switch to a largely and then completely vegetarian diet in order to eke out the money available. That was the mid ’80s and I’m still making those recipes (often with my homegrown veg, pictured). Thus a life long interest in food and food politics was born. Food politics was a significant part of my final year studies and a life regret is I’ve never used this directly, but it has come up indirectly. For example, when working on a project in the housing department in Coventry, it became clear that an entire estate was living on Pot Noodles.

So diet and dietary quality is a subject dear to my heart and it’s good to see that Blackpool Catering Services is doing good work in schools. Watching the Jamie’s School Dinners programme a few years ago, showed just how difficult this can be. Not so long ago a council staff conference coincided with a schools breakfast club scheme (I think extra funding had been made available; it meant my son got two breakfasts). At our table I was informed that this would ‘teach parents they didn’t have to feed their kids’. On the estate I had worked on, parents would deprive themselves to buy their kids sweet treats, so I knew first hand that this was rubbish, but the whole table shouted me down. There is a problem here, of understanding and empathy.

If a child is hungry it needs to be fed, no matter what the circumstances – just an idea. People take food for granted, maybe until food banks appeared that is. Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, bearing in mind many of the adults around had gone through war-time rationing, the idea that people would be effectively left to starve would have been dismissed as a sick joke, but here we are, with senior politicians glad to see food banks. On the other hand, maybe 75% of Blackpool’s population is overweight or obese; the people my wife supports at the Mereside Church food bank are not. Food quality may affect weight as well as quantity. But it can be easier and cheaper to ram down a cheap burger than make a balanced meal and, crucially, hunger pains are staved off. White toast and budget marge – you’re probably really in trouble.

The Food Foundation notes that only one in four adults is eating enough veg to stay healthy. Nearly one in three five to ten year olds is not getting one vegetable portion a day. So much for the long-running ‘five a day’ thing. Thanks to Blackpool Catering Services a good number of children are getting fresh vegetable portions, who otherwise would not. Blackpool Catering Services is the proud winner of the Food Foundation’s Veg-O-Meter prize for achieving a 171% increase in the number of vegetable portions served, as well as dramatically boosting the quantity of vegetables served in children’s school holiday meals.This is such good news.

The prize is part of the Food Foundation’s Peas Please initiative which seeks to encourage fresh vegetable supply and consumption. On 18th May 2022, in the first live ceremony for two years, the Food Foundation’s executive director Anna Taylor presented the awards at a ceremony in Leeds. The foundation notes that the 2021 Peas Please progress report showed a serious deficit in vegetable consumption, with less than a quarter of adults eating enough vegetables a day, and almost a third of children eating less than the equivalent of one portion a day. Research has shown that such poor diets are linked to almost 18,000 premature deaths a year in the UK.

“We are thrilled to see Blackpool Council Catering services increase their vegetables procured by a whopping 171% in the past year,” Indu Gurung, Peas Please Project Manager, said. “They did this by implementing new menus that included more vegetables and by including more vegetables in the meals they provide during school holidays. We’re really impressed by their progress and feel that they have set an excellent standard that others may be able to follow.”

Councillor Gillian Campbell, Cabinet Member for Inclusion, Youth & Transience at Blackpool Council responded:

“As a team we are very proud to be awarded the Veg-O-Meter prize for the work we have done to improve nutrition across schools we cater for in Blackpool. School meals are so important now more than ever and we are dedicated to improving health and nutrition across our town through our school catering service.

Never was a truer word said, particularly as the country is now faced with the biggest cost of living crisis in living memory, with staples such as wheat and cooking oil threatened due to the assault on Ukraine. As a society, we need to make sure all are fed and fed a balanced, nutritious diet – otherwise the future is bleak in so many ways.

Blackpool Catering Services adds its weight to companies representing 92% of the retail food market who are now signed up to the Peas Please pledge to increase vegetable consumption. All Peas Please participants commit to the goal of a good diet for everyone with a target of three billion veg portions to be served or sold by 2023. Now in its fourth reporting year the initiative has over 100 pledgers. Since the Peas Please campaign launch in 2017 food industry supporters have delivered an additional 636 million portions of vegetables across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is clearly much needed. Our family diet growing up was meat based (generally cheap cuts I have to say) but we did always have at least peas with it. When we had grilled mushrooms on toast, Mum had run out of money.

Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor said: “We are delighted by the huge growth in industry support for the Peas Please project. More and more businesses are recognising they have a crucial role in tackling the poor nutrition crisis which is causing an epidemic of obesity and ill health. It has been a particular pleasure and a privilege to work with the forward-thinking organisations that have won this year’s prizes.”

Well that includes Blackpool Catering Services. Congratulations to all concerned and long may your efforts continue to be successful. This will sound like a cliche, but you can have my lentil stew recipe if you like: a batch can feed about six and it has a large variety of vegetables as well as green lentils. Serve with a green vegetable, preferably broccoli.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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