Feeding the next generation right.

So the big news is out. Jamie Oliver wins the 2010 TED Prize. Each winner receives $100,000 and, more importantly, the granting of “One Wish to Change the World”. Through TED’s extensive network of sponsors, conference attendees and online community, the prize winners have doors to powerful collaborative opportunities swing wide open. (Read more about Jamie’s win here)

Jamie has spent years trying to revolutionize the way we eat and live by getting us off unhealthy eating habits and getting us to cook again. Even with 12 tv series that’s been aired in 130 countries and 10 cookbooks in 29 languages, Jamie is set to create even bigger change. As far as I can remember, I was a big fan of his campaign School Dinners. His mission was to ban junk food in schools and get kids eating fresh, tasty and nutritious food.

“What we eat affects everything: our mood, behaviour, health, growth, even our ability to concentrate. A lunchtime school meal should provide a growing child with one third of their daily nutritional intake.”

I remember watching an episode where he cooked a tray of food and placed it next to a tray of deep fried chicken nuggets and fries in the dining hall. The kids, who came through the buffet line were so unused to seeing fresh, healthy options, mainly chose to go with the unhealthy stuff they’d been so used to putting in their mouths. They just didn’t know any better. It was a sad realization of how we’ve been conditioned, and why the level of obesity in children has doubled over the last decade. In fact, it’s estimated that the number of obese people in the world will rise to 2.3 billion within the next 5 years!

What’s the situation with schools in Singapore? Looking back, I remember that deep fried chicken nuggets and hot dogs formed a big part of my diet in primary school. Ice cream and fizzy, sugar-laden drinks were easily available too. Things were a little different in Secondary school. There was no ice cream in my first two years there. Frozen yogurt made its way in later on though. I also believe we didn’t have any options to buy coke or any other carbonated drinks. Although I’m not so sure my daily dose of Pokka green tea was a much better choice.

Photo by Kevin Krejci

All this leads me to wonder… what are they feeding students now? Think about it. If they typically have two meals a day, five days a week in that dining hall, that’s a big part of their diets. The system works a little differently back home, where instead of paying for a fixed meal plan for the semester and then getting food from a buffet line, students still have the power in their hands to choose what food to buy from a variety of 8 – 10 different stalls. This means that stall holders are motivated to sell the products that have the highest demand. So apart from getting the authorities to crack down on what can be sold, an alternative way to get healthier choices on the menus is to educate the kids so they start to demand better food.

Health education from books isn’t cutting it anymore. Take them out to visit farms and gardens. Teach them through hands-on practice ways to do urban farming. Get experts to come into class to give real life examples of what they can do. So much can be done!

What was your experience with food in school like?

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