MINISTRY OF FOOD
This manifesto explains a really effective way to empower the public to make short and long term changes. I believe it will radically improve the health prospects and social welfare of the British public, regardless of age and class.
In simple terms, the things this country needs are:
– Cooking skills to be taught to primary children at school
– Cooking skills to be taught to adults
– Food centres to open all over the country with professionally trained cookery teachers to support both
– Incentives for employers to teach cooking skills at work
I’m asking the government to help make this happen. This is why.
When I set out to re-establish the Ministry of Food, I wanted to dig into some issues which have been nagging at me since School Dinners. I wanted to find out more about how people eat at home and why our diet is helping to turn us into one of the most obese countries in the world.
I also wanted to see if I could find a way to tackle the problem by getting people cooking again, to give them the tools to help themselves by learning some basic food skills, to feel confident in the kitchen and enjoy eating their own meals.
Diet and health are massive social issues. Obesity already costs the NHS more than smoking: £4.2 billion vs £2.7 billion. Over 9,000 people already die prematurely each year due to health conditions caused by being overweight; cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes are the most common. This will be the first generation in which children are predicted to die before their parents.
One of the insights from the government’s recent research into obesity is that “lack of knowledge, confidence and skills is the main barrier which stops parents cooking from scratch”. But the new obesity strategy contains nothing specific to address the problem, ie teaching people to cook.
/> Cooking skills used to be passed down through the generations but now that chain has been broken. With more women out at work and no compulsory cooking lessons at school, two generations have not been taught the basics.
In making the Ministry series, we set out to help people tackle the obvious problems of lack of money and time. But we found we had to start with the more fundamental issues of a lack of cooking ability and lack of food knowledge.
In Rotherham, we set up Pass It On to keep cooking skills alive. We found that, armed with a little bit of knowledge and confidence, people very quickly started to change the way they were eating.
On my Ministry of Food website, we have provided what I think are some of the basic recipes, videos and kitchen advice to help get people on the first rung of the ladder and Passing It On. The idea is to mobilise anyone who can cook to teach their friends, family, and work – mates how to make a few simple, affordable meals from scratch.
If a better diet is one of the keys to sorting out our health and obesity problems, then the government urgently needs to be putting cooking right at the top of its agenda.
The wartime Ministry of Food was a great model. It bombarded the population with help and advice, to make sure people knew how to feed themselves properly. We need to get loads of professional cookery teachers trained up to do the same again, to work right through the community. They need to reach the people who don’t cook, don’t watch cookery programmes, don’t buy cook books, don’t know about food.