A dream of quality, without equality
June 3, 2010
No-one would want to deny a party newly in power its right to a little idealism, even whilst they themselves paint a picture of austerity. With this in mind, new Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has been drawing attention to his proposal for all food purchased by the public sector to be locally sourced, healthy and organic. The rationale is that the public sector’s £2billion food budget could be used for the government to set an example and provide a real boost to the producers of such food. Not lost on the MP for Richmond Park is the potential for success in applying this policy to school meals. A stimulus to local economies and farming, less pollution caused by less air miles, kids eating their greens and understanding better where their food comes from; I can’t think of a reason for opposing this as such. But how many British schoolchildren will actually benefit from such enlightened thinking?
It’s worth pointing out that during the recent election campaign, the GMB union called on the Labour Party to adopt a policy of providing free school meals to all primary school children. A last ditch attempt at egalitarianism to save a dying administration it may have been, but the union’s campaign highlights an important fact: many children in this country often do not get a proper nutritious meal during the course of a day and some may go for days without eating anything substantial at all. An unbelievable but true fact all of us need to wake up to, especially as we are living in the fifth richest country in the world. However wherever you look across the country there are Tories and Lib Dems that are against this idea because of the financial cost.
Mr Goldsmith has apparently said that he’ll resign his seat if his proposal isn’t taken up which is a noble stance in light of the seeming lack of principle displayed by some MPs in the last parliament. However it is clear that for this policy to mean anything it surely has to reach all children. It’s not necessarily true that such food will make school meals more expensive to produce if it is locally sourced and organic – there are plenty of books and TV chefs that will vouch for that. But what’s the point of school canteens offering such meals if the kids can’t afford them, anymore than they could afford processed burger and chips? Even putting aside the issue of fairness and equality, for this green revolution to really work it surely has actually reach and influence as many people as possible.
By providing free locally sourced, healthy meals to all children it could help influence and educate a whole generation as to the benefits of eating green (in both senses of the word) for generations to come. But this will require some proper public investment. It’s time for the government to join up the dots: quality of food and equality of opportunity for our children are not mutually exclusive ideals; for one to work you have to enable the other. If Mr Goldsmith grasps this reality, amends his campaign and wins, then that would at least be something worth keeping his seat for.