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No one is too poor or too posh to be unable to cook

PUBLISHED: 13:44 06 March 2017 | UPDATED: 13:52 06 March 2017

If we made more effort to teach our children how to cook proper healthy food then society would benefit, says Sharon Griffiths. Picture: Archant

If we made more effort to teach our children how to cook proper healthy food then society would benefit, says Sharon Griffiths. Picture: Archant

Archant

In my brief career as a court reporter – surprisingly boring but at least you had a decent lunch hour – one thing stood out. That was how unhealthy so many of the criminals looked.

There were, of course, plenty of rosy-cheeked, glossy ne’er-do-wells, but a surprisingly disproportionate number, especially the youngsters, looked pretty ropey – spotty, pasty, flabby, lank hair, grey skin. It wasn’t just because of the drink and/or drugs. It took a whole lifestyle to produce such an unappealing appearance.

An elderly probation officer, who’d seen it all over the years, once told me wearily “If only their mothers had fed them properly, half of them wouldn’t be here.”

He wasn’t using feeding as a metaphor for proper care and upbringing either, he meant it literally.

We are what we eat. And what an awful lot of people eat is rubbish. It must have an effect, mustn’t it?

As good food is the first and best medicine it seems mad that hospital food is so often so awful.

When visiting people in hospital now I no longer take flowers but some of those little tubs of peeled chopped fruit – much more appetising. Or little snack pots of cheese or prawns as emergency rations every day.

A report last week said that healthy food was actually cheaper than unhealthy snacking. Well, yes, if you know what you’re doing. But healthy food generally needs cooking and a bit of effort. I’ve known families buy ready-made sandwiches for their children’s tea everyday – not particularly healthy and ridiculously expensive.

Most of these mothers weren’t being deliberately lazy or feckless, they just knew no better. Unless you’ve grown up watching your parents cook, how do you know what to do? What do you buy? What do you do with it? Random experimentation is all very well but can risk money you don’t have.

No one is too poor or too posh to be unable to cook. Even Prince William and his Eton classmates were taught to cook at school. It’s a basic essential life skill.

One of the best things that children’s centres ever did, and some prisons have done, is to introduce very simple cookery lessons. Not to make elaborate, decorated cakes, but straightforward nutritious food. Too many children live on takeaways and fizzy pop and it shows.

For the government to tell us to cut down on sugar and eat 10 portions of fruit and veg a day is all very well but a whole wodge of people, possibly the people who need to hear it most, won’t get that message at all.

Good food makes a real difference.

There have been experiments in young offenders’ institutions, here and abroad, where young men have been fed an especially healthy diet, plus extra vitamins and supplements. The results were dramatic. Violent incidents plummeted. Young men were less aggressive, more amenable. They probably weren’t as spotty either.

Children who don’t eat properly can’t concentrate properly. So, already losers, they fall even further behind and their chances of catching up with their well-fed, well-parented peers are zilch. Disenchanted with school they are less likely to get jobs and prosper, even if they manage to keep out of trouble.

Breakfast clubs and school dinners help. Some schools have brilliant schemes where small children actually grow some of their own food in school gardens and then cook it. Making a meal becomes a sort of magic. Abracadabra! It works.

We need to do much more to try and break the cycle and give the children at the bottom of the heap a better chance. Cookery lessons, the younger the better, could help even up the balance.

Decent food needn’t be expensive and is the basis of everything. It won’t change society overnight, but it seems a pretty good place to start.

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