A British TV chef won his crusade against Turkey Twizzlers on Wednesday, knocking on Prime Minister Tony Blair’s door with a petition demanding healthier school meals. However, the government had announced 220 million pounds in new funding for school lunches earlier in the day.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver made school meals an unlikely issue in the country’s coming election with a television series in which he tried to feed children on the government’s budget.
Britain has the developed world’s fastest growing rate of Obesity and experts blame cheap, low-quality school meals for an epidemic of fat kids.
Blair, who is expected to go to the country on May 5, has now raised the amount Britain spends on feeding pupils from barely 40 pence (75 U.S. cents) per meal to 50 pence for younger children and 60 for teens.
Memorably, the star of the hit cooking show “The Naked Chef” appeared visibly shocked in the series when confronted by such modern-day school staples as the “Turkey Twizzler,” a curlicue of poultry he labelled “processed junk.”
The prime minister has been accused of being more interested in votes than in school nutritional standards.
Oliver showed up at Blair’s Downing Street office on Wednesday, carrying a cardboard box with his “Feed Me Better” petition signed by 271,000 people.
Blair beat him to the post, sending Education Secretary Ruth Kelly out in the early morning to announce 220 million pounds in new funding for lunches. Blair and Kelly then treated Oliver to a televised breakfast of fresh bread, fruit, juice and coffee.
“It’s certainly very positive,” the mop-haired Oliver told reporters afterwards. “Twenty years too late, but we’re talking about the right sort of money. Unfortunately it’s taken a documentary, and the hearts and emotions of the kids and families that we’ve filmed to touch the nation really. It’s a bit of a shame that it took that.”
Blair’s political opponents were scathing.
“After 8 years in office, 10 education bills and a 5-year education plan last year which did not even mention the issue, it is breathtakingly cynical for Tony Blair suddenly to claim that he is passionate about the quality of school meals just because a celebrity has made a TV programme about it,” said Conservative Party education spokesman Tim Collins.
Kelly said the new money would be part of a bigger programme to improve children’s nutrition.
“It’s far more than just banning what’s bad. This is about promoting what’s good. It’s about promoting healthy ingredients, about freshly prepared ingredients, about getting children to want to eat what’s good,” she told the BBC.
Revision date: June 14, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.