Letter to Ministers Jamie’s Ministry of Food
Originally the Ministry of Food was set up for our country at a critical stage during the war, to ensure the population did not go hungry and could eat healthily on scarce rations. Sixty years later, we are again at risk of malnutrition but of a different sort, because we no longer have the knowledge of how to cook and use ingredients. It’s not just in Rotherham and the North, it cuts across the whole country.
If nothing is done, obesity and diet-related health problems will have devastating consequences for the national health service. Obesity already costs the NHS more than smoking (£4.2 bn vs £2.7 bn). Experts now say the problem is escalating so quickly that in ten year’s time, 75% of people will be overweight or obese. Meanwhile, the government is working on predictions 40 years away.
The new obesity strategy covers both diet and exercise but it contains no plans to help people to improve food and cooking skills and stop them becoming obese. Babies and toddlers are especially at risk because many young mothers don’t know how to cook, nor do they have any basic knowledge of nutrition. Only £372 million of additional money has been made available.
This manifesto lays out how easily the problem can start to be solved. The Ministry of Food pilot in Rotherham has already shown there is a huge appetite from people to learn about basic cooking and the huge need to understand about a balanced diet.
Jamie’s Ministry website has been set up to support non-cooks all over the country, and help people to pass on their cooking
Skills, something which has been lost over the years with each generation.
The Food Centre in Rotherham is a walk-in shop offering cookery lessons and food advice. We set this up jointly with the local council, who have enthusiastically supported the project and confirmed they will continue to provide funding. Other towns
in the region are already planning to set up additional centres from existing local budgets.
From this pilot, there is no doubt that more centres are desperately needed around the country as a tangible way to engage the public. I am prepared to help by setting up a new team to provide the basic cooking programme and training for home ec teachers to run them.
The education department is putting cooking on the curriculum for 11 – 14 year olds, but it is not enough and children need to be learning proper cooking skills in primary schools as well.
Two generations of adults have already left education without learning to cook at school or at home. Our research has shown that they cannot access a basic cooking course because very few exist and no funding is available.
My team is now talking to a leading education body to develop a course. It will teach the essential skills necessary to prepare delicious, simple and economical meals. We plan to seek accreditation for life skills training, so the course is eligible for funding through the LSC. This could be used for schools as well as adult education and possibly places of work. We are looking for it to be ready to test later this year and launch in early 2009.
We believe helping the nation to cook more meals at home will rapidly improve our obesity prospects. The manifesto
Attached outlines in more detail why the government urgently needs to put cooking skills at the top of its health agenda and what funding is needed.
Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food.