Siobhan Benita

Lay off our lunchboxes

March 5, 2013

This week the Government’s official school food advisors and fast food restaurateurs John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby stated that the current school dinner system in this country is “economically bust”. I agree that adequate resource is not being invested in school food. I agreed with that when Jamie Oliver drew our attention to this issue with such passion several years ago. In their private sector wisdom, however, the Leon duo don’t see this as something that government should fix. Instead, they have suggested that the solution lies in banning packed lunches and forcing parents to buy school meals for their children instead.

Sounds like a lunch tax to me but putting aside my views on the business model, I have a fundamental problem with this fruitcake idea. I have never seen anything in my 14 years as a mum to make me believe that “the system” can feed my children better than I can. In most school canteens – even those that pride themselves on being healthy because they have removed vending machines and the daily chips option – mountains of white carbs, processed proteins and over-cooked vegetables are still passed off as a balanced menu. Salad bars (a new addition to some schools) are stuffed with mayonnaise drooled pasta, tuna mayonnaise and mayonnaise laden coleslaw. The few good bits simply get swamped by the crap (not unlike the government’s education policy actually but that’s a different blog altogether… )

Some schools do already “police” their students’ packed lunches. Sounds reasonable in theory but, in practice, why would a teacher with no specialist training in child nutrition have a better understanding than me of what is healthy and what is not? In one school that I know of a heated debate ensued when a young teacher chastised a child for having cake in their lunchbox. The child’s parents argued that her organic, gluten- free, high-fibre , fruit muffins (I exaggerate only slightly, I know several “extreme baking “mums) were far healthier than many foodstuffs which were permitted in the school, like yoghurts filled with sugar, sweeteners and artificial flavourings. I can’t remember who won that particular argument but when it comes to what goes in my children’s packed lunches these are the sort of judgements I want to make myself. I don’t expect, or want, teachers to make them for me.

Then of course there’s the newest elephant in the room - or should I say ruddy great horse. To be fair to Vincent and Dimbleby, they could not have foreseen that in the same week they put forward an idea that all parents should be forced to buy school lunches, meat products up and down the country would be being withdrawn from supermarket shelves faster than you can say “I fancy a nut roast”. It does rather taint their message though. Dodgy meat isn't only in our supermarkets, it has also been found in the burgers and Bolognese sauces that are served to children in our schools. Why on Mary Berry’s good earth would I want to pay for my children to eat that kind of product?

There are some things that I trust the State to do - even under this coalition –but feeding my children is not - and will never be - one of them.

 

Does the prank phone call tragedy show how those involved need to take their jobs more seriously?

December 11, 2012

By Giselle Green

@GiselleG7

I happened to meet a hospital consultant over the weekend who has worked with and knew Jacintha Saldanha. He was deeply distressed by what had happened. I expressed surprise that an incident for which she remained anonymous, wasn’t blamed or rebuked and which even Prince Charles later joked about, could possibly have led to her suicide. He explained to me how seriously Jacintha took her nursing duties, how crucial patient confidentiality is to nurses like her, ...


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London’s Young Talent to be recognised at the O2

December 9, 2012

When people ask me what I enjoyed most about running for Mayor of London earlier this year my answer is always the same. It was meeting so many amazing Londoners who are doing brilliant work in their communities all across the capital. Nowhere was that more true than when I met Gary Trowsdale and the dedicated team of people he works with to support, highlight and award young talent across London.

Gary, who is the Managing Director of the Damilola Taylor Trust, founded the Spirit of London A...


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Is the press dancing Bollywood-style with Boris?

December 2, 2012

By Giselle Green

@GiselleG7

Boris' Bollywood Blitz could hardly have produced more glowing images than if he'd been doing a photo shoot for Hello magazine. Over the past week we've been bombarded with pictures of the London Mayor drinking with the England cricket team and basking in their reflected glory, bending it like Beckham while playing Slumdog Boris in a 23-a-side football match, and rubbing shoulders with India's leading film star, who embarrassingly had to tell Boris who she was. I...


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Parliament – we can do better than this.

October 24, 2012

Stories that increase the public’s contempt for politicians continue to hit the headlines. Over the past week we've had revelations about MPs renting their homes to each other or travelling first class at taxpayers’ expense. The Chief Whip finally resigned following his foul-mouthed outburst at a police officer a month earlier. It’s hard to see how much lower respect for our public leaders can fall but there’s certainly no reprieve in the decline at the moment.

As someone who ran as ...


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Civil service reform – a step backwards for women?

October 24, 2012

Good organisations adapt to the changing circumstances they operate in. That’s true of the UK Civil Service where I worked between 1996 and 2011. During my time in government, I can’t remember a single year where I wasn’t affected by one change programme or another.

So, when Francis Maude published the Civil Service Reform Plan in June of this year, there wasn’t actually that much in it that I found new or controversial. I accept the argument for a smaller and more efficient service ...


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