Teaching Healthy Budget Eating Shouldn't Be An Invitation to Patronise.

It’s not often that the BBC manages to rile me with their style of reporting.  It is one of our national institutions and has become my go-to place to find an even-handed report after hearing snippets or rumours on social media channels.  However, after the last 24 hours, I have come to the conclusion that they have been taking lessons in the Daily Mail School of Journalism, i.e. create a blatantly biased article, wait for Twitter to explode with rage, experience high volumes of hits on website, get people talking.

It’s a theory I think a lot of people will back me up on.  But...

The choice of subject matters was those that I believed Auntie Beeb would have produced a more balanced approach due to the way in which our economy currently stands.  I’ll break it down for you.

To start with we had The Great British Budget Menu.  Firstly, putting “Great British” in front of a programme name appears to be the current trend with the BBC because of the success of Great British Bake Off.  MAKE IT STOP.  NOW!  (in the words of @MonkeyMin – I’m waiting for the Great British Countdown of the Greatest British, Great British shows)

Secondly, stop paying poncy chefs their inflated appearance fees to go and patronise people who are genuinely struggling with budgets and meal planning education.  Chef Richard Corrigan was told that a 10 year old boy had given up his bedroom so that he could stay over at the family home.  He immediately dissed the size of the room, commenting how small it was and he wondered how people could live in houses this size.  Chef James Martin, who was paired up with an older gentleman, went shopping with his budget spend and said to the supermarket butcher, “I’m after something for pensioners? What about chicken legs?” at which point I almost punched the screen.  Chef Angela Harnett’s ‘fix all’ appeared to be porridge and bananas for breakfast. 
All the chefs seemed shocked by the money available for food in these families and stared at their daily budget in shock in comparison to the knowledge they already had when it comes to the actual cost of food.  They then appeared to visit supermarkets galore, attempting to purchase components to cook a healthy meal for each family or participant.  The reason I’m aghast at this (I love that word – it’s so British...) is because no travel expenses or time constraints were taken into consideration.  In all seriousness, who has time to visit more than one supermarket every single day, looking for bargain and reduced foods?  How would James Martin’s pensioner manage that for a start, never mind the family who have parents that both work and have young children to collect from school, etc.   Of course I could go into the pros and cons of bulk shopping versus fresh ingredients and/or storing items in freezers but you have the rest of the post to read... 

The only good thing that has come out of this is that there is a ‘legacy’ of budget menu recipes available on the BBC website (via the link above) along with a store cupboard essentials list that can be bought for around £20. More on that in a minute though...

The We All Pay Your Benefits programme that followed reintroduced the pairing of Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford purely so that cats bum mouths, disapproving eyerolls and comments, a la The Apprentice, could be displayed.  Tax payers were paired with benefits claimants with the intention of discourse.  I have to be honest here, I didn’t watch the whole programme but caught snippets of it.  Standout viewpoints were that people on benefits shouldn’t have pets because they aren’t part of the budget, people on benefits shouldn’t have expensive gadgets (even if they were bought during less frugal times), you are lucky if you have other family members to help you out and that cheap, tinned food is BAD BAD BAD. 

The outcome of the show appeared to be a split decision; one tax payer suggested that benefit payments should be higher (but was not willing to pay more in taxes) and another suggested that benefit payments should be less (i.e. you cut the cloth you can afford, or words to that effect).  I missed the third conclusion so please feel free to add your comments and opinions because I know I missed a fair chunk of the programme.  But, as one social media commenter (@KingOfAnkh) said, “You may never know when you might need to depend on handouts yourself.  Even the best of us need help sometimes” and another (source unknown) had said something along the lines of “we are only ever one accident or illness away from needing benefits”.  I am in huge agreement that there are benefit cheats out there and people who know how to work the system to their advantage but let’s not tar everyone with the same brush, eh?

Finally, there was a report on BBC Breakfast this morning which detailed a government-commissioned review suggesting that packed lunches should be banned in school because they are less nutritious and more expensive than a school meal prepared on the premises. 

I know of many schools who have ‘healthy lunch box policies’ in place where 'C' words are banned (cake, crisps and chocolate).  School Dinner Ladies (or should I be more PC and call them ‘Lunch Time Supervisors’?) prowl the dinner hall, inspect the food provided by parents and decide whether or not it is fit for purpose. I even have it on good authority from an ex-dinner lady that many of the cooked school meals wouldn’t be considered healthy and that the portion size isn’t enough for a growing child (her personal opinion).  A few of my fellow bloggers - Pippa from A Mothers Ramblings, Caroline from Lunch Box World and Emily from A Mummy Too - put so much effort into creating interesting and practical articles about healthy lunch box contents that even just on that level makes this report laughable.  I wonder how much money went into creating the report?
But can you see the running theme through all of these articles, reports and programmes?  I believe that the lack of basic domestic education is to blame for our ‘unhealthy’ choices.  The day we took Domestic Science off the main curriculum in schools was the beginning of the end.  Whilst watching Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead on Channel 4 earlier in the week there was a little cartoon shown that explained how cavemen were hunter-gatherers and how our bodies adapted to the way in which we used and stored food.  All this was put into context when it showed that we may be eating more and live in a world where food is available but we aren’t moving around quite so much.  Couple this with basic skills in the kitchen and understanding the science of cooking from scratch, we have a pathway to healthy/healthier lifestyles and cheaper food bills.  Cooking and baking isn’t difficult but reading recipes and understanding what goes with what and how the quantities work is a SKILL that we all should have. 

I’ve recently received a set of books called The Hungry Student.  Charlotte Pike, the author, said she didn’t want a review of them and I’m not doing that but I will recommend them as a great starting point for anyone who is under-confident in the kitchen.  They are well-worded, have a store cupboard and equipment list and the recipes are easy to follow.  My 14 year old son moves into Year 10 in September and has chosen Catering as one of his GCSE options.  The chance to get a bit of practice in beforehand using these books has made him even more enthused about cooking in general.  I’m an old fashioned type of cook – I still have my mum’s Hamlyn cook book from the 1970s and very often refer to a Delia recipe or two when I’m stuck.  I have also honed my skills through trial and error.  I’m not fantastic but I’ve also not killed anyone (yet).

Processed food, tinned food and fast food is cheap and convenient but going back to basics is enjoyable and unpatronising but what should we do?  I applaud those who have the space and passion to grow their own food but that isn’t available for everyone.   There is a legacy out there and it’s in the learning process. 

We should educate ourselves first and foremost.  We have the internet at our fingertips and there are pages and pages of help out there. Buy that store cupboard essentials list and learn what to do with it.    We should also educate our children by getting them involved in the preparation of food and the science of cooking at an early age rather than rely on the odd lesson in high school.  In ye olde worlde of my high school years, domestic science classes were once a week and even that wasn't enough.  Now they are on a term-by-term rotation with other vocational subjects such as technical drawing and metalwork.  How are the next generation supposed to get enthused by that? 

And maybe, when the BBC or the Government is considering their next article, programme or report, they should ask real people with real solutions to get involved.