Lies, damned lies, and food standards

Why most schools don’t follow the nutritional guidelines

You probably heard about the recent School Food Trust report in which 9 out of 10 academies were said to be selling ‘junk’ food to students, in direct contravention of the government’s nutritional guidelines for schools. You may even have been shocked. I actually wasn’t.

Why? I’ll tell you in a minute. First, here’s a rough survey of my own. I estimate that 90% of the maintained secondary schools that we visit to tender are also in breach of the guidelines as they stand.

The academies in the School Food Trust survey are not bound by the rules, so they have no problem providing honest answers. Do you sell items forbidden by the school food guidelines? Yes we do, they answer.

Conversely, local authority schools are bound by the rules. So why are so many of these educational establishments still not following the guidelines? I guess it’s the same as the aforementioned academies – because it’s profitable and they can get away with it.

If you introduce mandatory standards and you don’t police them, you are just paying lip service – and you surely can’t expect the new rules to be followed to the letter, or even at all (unless there’s an inspection coming up). In this respect, Jamie Oliver is right to be frustrated.

On the other hand, we can always do well to look at the big picture. As far as good nutrition in UK secondary schools is concerned, things really have changed. There’s no doubt in my mind that things are a heck of lot healthier now than were 5 years ago. But the progress that’s been made is in very real danger of going into reverse.

I certainly don’t want to come across all ‘holier than thou’ here, but our clients can be secure in the knowledge that we couldn’t ever buck the guidelines – it goes against the very essence of what our company stands for. For us, and for companies like us, the guidelines are not so vital because we will always operate well within them.

But sadly, companies like ours are not the norm, hence the need for proper policing.

Under the current government, the number of academies has almost doubled, and that figure looks set to rise. Thus, more and more schools will be free to follow their own food agendas and the guidelines will be in danger of becoming an irrelevance.

In this respect I am delighted that The Food Revolution Network (http://www.foodrevolution.org) is starting to have an impact. This promises to become a grass-roots movement to positively influence more enlightened legislation.

But – and this is such an important point – movements like this one will always miss a trick if they ignore the work and the example of those who continue to show the way forward. Which is why we are now working so hard at building positive connections with others in our industry. We need to be taken notice of, and for the sake of all the progress that’s been made, we’ll keep working to make sure it happens.

Till next time,

Steve

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