Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Jamie Supersizes My School Dinners

Yesterday I saw Super Size Me, and today I watched the second episode of Jamie’s School Dinners. Both have a common theme – the problem with junk foods and the companies behind them.


Super Size Me was good – better than I expected, actually. I don’t frequent McDonalds – probably once a year at most – and even then, I’ve never had a Big Mac, instead preferring a McProcessed Chicken Sandwich or whatever it’s called (Compare this to a guy featured in the film who typically eats 3 Big Macs a day and has eaten over 15000 in his life time). While the food tastes good, I usually find it kills whatever appetite I have – so, if I was to have lunch at Maccy D’s I’d not want to eat dinner. I’d be hungry but wouldn’t want to eat, if you see what I mean. Usually by breakfast the following morning my appetite has returned though.
So I have a lot of respect for Morgan Spurlock for forcing himself to have 3 meals a day, all from McDonalds. On the face of it, a guy going to McDonalds every day doesn’t sound that interesting, but thankfully the film is peppered with interviews from medical experts and industry representitives, and there are regular checkups on Morgan’s ever decreasing health. Thankfully, we learn at the end that Morgan does indeed regain his level of health and fitness, but only after the best part of year.
Some may think that Morgan was an idiot, that putting himself through what he did was stupid and a pointless publicity stunt. But the reality is that some people do what Morgan does every day throughout their lives – not just for 31 days. If everyone suffers as bad as Morgan does in a month, think what a year, two years, a decade or even several decades of eating fast food does to you. No wonder the problem of obesity and obesity-related diseases is becoming greater.
Jamie’s School Dinners is arguably more scary. Whereas Morgan’s actions were self-inflicted, here we find that children are being fed this kind of food at school, with almost no healthy alternatives being made available. And then when Jamie does make them available alongside pizza, chips, potato feet and alien faces, the kids turn their noses up at them. The end of the second episode sees a protest by some pupils who feel they are being made to eat food they don’t like – food that actually has some nutricious value and that can form part of a balanced diet.
Part of the problem is that school meals are no longer prepared in the school – instead the ‘cooks’ essentially become ‘reheaters’ of processed food that arrives frozen from companies which will have a contract with the school or education authority. Often these contracts are given to the company that can deliver the cheapest food, not necessarily the healthiest.
The other part is that kids simply don’t want healthy food. Junk food is spiked with all sorts of additives and flavourings that kids like. Many have been brought up on junk food – ‘real’ food is alien to them and they’re scared to try it.
The second episode brings home one major point about the importance of proper diet for children when Jamie asks the mother of several young schoolchildren to cut out all sweets and junk food from their diet and instead eat healthy food for a week. During that week, their behaviour changes – instead of throwing tantrums and being generally obnoxious, they’re quieter and more well behaved. Until one evening when they’re served spaghetti hoops and their behaviour turns downhill again. Could it be that the unhealthy food served in schools is actually hindering childrens’ development? Jamie certainly seems to think so.
Worst of all is that for some children their meal at lunchtime at school will be their only meal of the day. Unless that meal is healthy and nutricious, they aren’t getting nutrients from anywhere. One dietician said that she had seen cases where children may only defecate once every 6 weeks, because their diet is so poor. You might expect that in the third world, except this isn’t the third world, this is in one of the world’s richest and most developed countries.
Up until I left primary school in 1995 I had school meals, and while they arguably weren’t great they were a lot better than what is on offer here. At least they had some food value and were cooked on the premises.
Food is vital to our survival but the wrong kind of food can work against us. With society increasingly moving away from the idea of cooking your own meals with fresh ingredients and instead relying on fast foods and ready-meals it’s not going to be long before we have a major health problem on our hands.

2 Comments

  1. I avoided school dinners and preferred to take a packed lunch (much healthier), since the food the school i attended served was horrid.

  2. My school’s meals were pretty good, much better than the food being offered in the schools Jamie visits, well we had fast food, but there were plenty of healthy options available.
    But it’s very difficult to compare and perfectly demonstrates the rich/poor divide. My school was in a reletively affluent area and we (the pupils) paid for our own meals. In fact the canteen at uni was no better than at secondary school. haha.
    Mind you, this was about 11 years ago so i dunno what my old school is like now.