DT comment – School Lunches and Jamie Oliver

would knight Jamie Oliver for his services towards improved nutrition in school food.

School liver was an early lesson in life
Boris speaks from personal experience when he backs compulsory school dinners:

if that means nothing but liver, on some days, so be it. It would certainly mean less obesity

He advocates:

pies, and brown stew, and very well-cooked cabbage, and apple charlottes, and mashed potatoes with proper lumps in

See Naked Chef’s site here

[Wifey will approve – pioneer in spotting the value of the campaign early on]

In the course of a chequered educational career I briefly attended a primary school in Camden, and succeeded in making myself popular with the dinner ladies by having the elementary courtesy to eat everything.

“Ooh,” they would say, when they saw me in the queue, “you can give this one extra. He eats everything,” and they would dig deep into their vats of gloop, and give me double dollops of lumpy mashed potato, and superboiled carrots, and cabbage and kale and other indescribable English vegetables that covered the plate like a swampy old mackintosh.

I remember the yellow fat on the boiled ham, and a perfectly cooked cockroach, big and black and delicately seethed in its own juices, discovered at the bottom of a meat pie, with – such was the artistry of the chefs – only one leg missing. I loved it all. My infant heart would leap at the sound of the lunch bell, and every day I would fall on that school dinner like a ravening wolf.

Did I say every day? Well, the truth is that there was one menu that I found a bit of a trial. There was one distinctive pre-prandial smell, which, when it wafted through the school, used to make me whimper with dread. It was liver. When I say liver, I don’t mean the kind of liver you get in restaurants these days, pink and tender and derived exclusively from contented calves, and swaddled in bacon and onions. I don’t know what manner of cows supplied the livers to state schools in London in the early 1970s, but they must have been very old and suffering from advanced alcoholism. These livers had the texture (and something of the aroma) of an old Green Flash gym shoe. They were knobbly with cysts and evidence of bovine cirrhosis, which no doubt explained the mortality of the cow. And they were green.

Literally green. No doubt readers will tell me that green is the perfect colour for liver, evidence that the cow has been grazing free, and so forth. But nothing in my earlier childhood had prepared me for eating a part of an animal that was green, and I am afraid that I would sit there and fool with my food, and it may be that a tear of frustration ran down my cheek. I had eaten the two veg. I had drunk the radio-active gravy.

But still the pangs of hunger gnawed me. I had a hard afternoon ahead, gluing bits of spaghetti on paper; around me, my chums were guzzling their liver with frank enjoyment. So what did I do? Reader, I ate it.

Bit by retching bit, I forced that offal past the barrier of my teeth, because I concluded – and this is the point – that I had no choice. I learnt to eat that liver, nauseating as it was, and bursting with every vitamin and nutrient one could imagine; and no doubt it was that triumph of the will that made me what I am today.

And I think of that liver when I contemplate the heroics of Jamie Oliver, television’s wunderkind chef, and his struggle to make our children eat something good for them at lunchtime.

I am afraid I have seen only fragments of his programmes, but my desk is covered with letters from people who think he should be given a knighthood, or a hereditary earldom, for his campaign. As a bandwagoning politician, I am of course tempted to agree immediately. I am sure he is right, that there can be no finer investment for our society than putting the right kind of tucker on the table for our children. Arise, Sir Jamie, say I.

I just think it might be useful briefly to remind ourselves of how and why his efforts have become so vital. Whatever my childish opinion of liver, school food in the 1970s was far better all round. I talked yesterday to Clive Hallett, a distinguished primary head of more than 30 years’ experience, and together we reminisced about the splendour of school food. There was a time when every school kitchen had a special steamer, a kind of sauna device for the production of spotted dick, he said dreamily. “We had pies, and brown stew, and very well-cooked cabbage, and apple charlottes, and mashed potatoes with proper lumps in, and every school had a special staff in the kitchen preparing fresh food from scratch.”

There was none of your burgers and chips, and Turkey Twizzlers, and pizzas, and all this stuff the kiddies eat nowadays, full of salt and sugar and E numbers. The meals may have individually been a challenge, but collectively, over the week, they represented an excellent and balanced diet.

So what forces expelled us from this Eden? According to Clive, it was local management of schools, and the pressure to cut the cost of dinner ladies. It was far cheaper to buy in prepared stuff, and schools and education authorities were driven to make savings.

But there is another factor at work here, and I am conscious as I say this of the risk of arousing the wrath of parents. In my day, you were not given the choice of bringing in a packed lunch, and there, I think, we have the real problem. Given the choice between school liver and a packed lunch, I fear that most children will go for the packed lunch.

Imagine how the dinner ladies felt, on the liver days, when the whole school was able to turn its nose up at their offering! Imagine their sense of hurt and rejection. No wonder those involved in school catering tried ever harder to persuade the little blighters to eat what the school offered; and that, of course, meant chips, and pizzas, and Twizzlers, and the general collapse that Jamie Oliver has identified.

I am in favour of choice in education, if that means more choice for parents, and alleviating the burdens on teachers. But when it comes to children’s diet, I am an out-and-out paternalist. Bring back compulsory school dinners, I say, and, if that means nothing but liver, on some days, so be it. It would certainly mean less obesity.

45 thoughts on “DT comment – School Lunches and Jamie Oliver”

  1. Hurrah!

    I’m seventeen and in my last year of school. About ten minutes ago, I rushed down to the cantine to get my hands on one of the ten salads that are provided to cater for around 1000 kids. It’s a routine I follow every day, to avoid being left with a choice only of chips, gravy and similar filth.

    I only wish that this food revolution had kicked off several years ago, so that I might have been able to sustain myself on more substantial and considerably more healthy food.

    Bring on the liver!

  2. You can tell that Ali is a genuine 6th former. Note the spelling.
    Boris, I would take lessons from you on how to combat obesity, if they did not clash with my lesssons in charm from Michael Howard.

  3. Boris, with all due respect, have you gone bonkers? (Or is it some odd S&M/Dinner Lady thing you’ve got going on?) I remember the sort of school dinners you had when they were still on offer in the early 80s. Nutritious they may have been. But the taste was bloody awful. In the end, my mother had the sense to send me to school with a packed lunch. From then on, I always had food that tasted nice but was good for me too. (Mainly fruit, but a good mix of meat and dairy produce too.) Responsible parenting should be encouraged, not squashed by laws making the sludge they sell in school canteens compulsory. So why are you so keen to martyr the kids of good parents on the altar of school dinner dogma? Nutritious food that tastes awful is every bit as bad as tasty junk food with no nutrition at all: it’s just that the former is not eaten that much and the latter is eaten too often.

  4. Happy Easter Boris and the Boz cats!
    Totally agree with both yourself and Jamie Oliver who should be knighted immediately if not sooner. What annoys me most is that the Govmt are harming the poorest families and robbing them of choice. It could be argued that a packed lunch gives those on dietry constraints a choice and all well and good. The constraints could be through health, religion or personal taste. But people on benefits, ie the poorest families, get free school dinners. They are not given the money and cannot choose a packed lunch. They get what the Govmnt decides to give them – CRAP!
    My son is very sensitive to addatives in food. I’m going to have to take him off free school meals and give him a packed lunch and he is over the moon. I’m worried ’cause I know I can’t afford it. What choice do I have? This government is forcing chemicals and rubbish down the throats of our children and it’s WRONG. At school you learn by behaviour – our kids are learning to eat junk food and it’s the government’s fault.

    I used to love school dinners. Didn’t like the liver though. Thought you were on slightly dangerous ground using yourself as an example of a sylph-like figure Boris. I mean, you are built like a charolais bull, and gorgeous with it if I may say so. Frankly I consider my attraction to someone much shorter, bald and acid tongued an affliction. I’m sure if I could only work at The Spectator and feel the full force of your charm it would be the therapy I obviously need. Sadly that cannot be and I must search for solace in chocolate and white wine. Get thee behind me Hislop you minx!!

  5. Yay! Of course I approve. And I do force liver down my kids throats now and again. It’s character building. And I agree Jamie should be given a knighthood at the very least for getting our politicians to think about it.


  6. Three cheers for the young Lochinvar of the school kitchens( Yhis is where the yawns begin) School dinners, during the war, were necessarily frugal affairs. There were two choices, eat or go hungry.There was main course and a pudding; generally some steamed confection, dampened by an ersatz custard, or white sauce. Thing is: everyone ate what was placed before them, without demur.Obesity was a non starter, and the kids were generally blessed with rude health.In today’s society, the superabundance of fat; salt and E numbers in the so called conveniece foods, has left the kids vulnerable to possible future heart, and other general health problems . Good work Jamie. We should not go the way of least resistance. Look at America’s obesity problems.
    For the kids.
    Endless stuffing of junkfood in wide open mouth
    Is a sure way to pile pound on pound.
    Where once there was muscle, are now wads of fat,
    Obesity’s fast gaining ground.
    Stop buying chocolate, cut down on the crisps;
    Try moving your butt off the couch,
    And the paunch, which is growing, will lessen
    You’ll become less and less of a grouch.
    The intake of junkfood’s not healthy,
    Which will show,if you gorge like a beast.
    If you do not take action; take your future to heart,
    You’ll end up twenty stones at the least.

  7. Would it be unfair to point out that Boris probably enjoyed slightly better tucker at Eton than the kids of our state schools currently ‘enjoy’

  8. The food may have been better at Eton, Andy, but at my state school we did not have to eat custard out of the prefect’s navel, or poor yoghourt down the Latin master’s trousers.

  9. Vicus Scurra:
    was it a must, to have the poor joghurt poured into the latin Master’s trousers, or were you, as a sixth former, merely sorry for the poor joghurt’s worse than death fate?

  10. That was a tough read! Memories of my own school dinners are suppressed into the darkest crevices of my subconscious – with the exception of ‘jugged hare’, a stew so awful, with a smell so repulsive, that I have never been able to completely put it out of my mind.

    Improving school lunches (why are they called dinners in England?) must be the biggest/easiest improvements to the collective well-being of the nation that are possible in these New Labour benighted times.

    Oliver deserves at least a dukedom. He may be young but these titles are only for tourism anyway. While the Queen is at it, she could make Boris, the Earl of Henley, and Melissa could be the Countess of Crawshay – even though she is really a princess. . . .

  11. **blushes**

    When I was young I remember writing my teacher a note (as from my mother)for black sausage day along these lines – “sorry, Melissa is unable to eat black sausage … signed parent”. The most embarrassing thing was that my mother herself stumbled across my scrappy note, folded neatly into four, in my skirt pocket one day before it got presented on the offending day! She held it up in askance … ***flushed with blushes***

  12. Having made fun of Ali for his spelling, I then make an elementary mistake myself.
    I guess I will have to stand in the corner until I have finished all of my prunes and semolina.

  13. At my school if I remember rightly back in the heady days of the eighties we had a green curry. No! not Thai Green Curry…but green curry! It looked like wall slime. Yummy. Yummy. Even Yogi Bear had better meals then we did.

  14. Jeez, that was brilliant. It brought it all back – and nearly brought it all up, too.

    Mind you, you are right. Bad as it was, that stuff was better than the junk they serve now. Turkey twizzlers – mechanically-recovered meat. No thanks … nearly as bad as MacDonald’s.

    But why not go for a real target? Bill Gates, for example. Slimey Gordon Brown has got him made a knight, did you see?


    That man is dangerous – evil and clever. (Gates, I mean – Brown is evil and stupid.) He’s trying to corrupt the open protocols the Net depends on.

    Get a load of this:



    If it’s a hobby for us and a job for you, then why are you doing such a shoddy job?
    �- Linus Torvalds

  15. Vicus Scurra:

    I can spell. Really. The E-numbers just temporarily addled my brain. 🙂

    PS: For future reference, I’m female.

  16. Ahh, school dinners….actually it wasn’t the dinners I loved so much as the puddings.. Chocolate crunch with chocolate custard, treacle pudding, tapioca and jam….
    Being Jewish, and being forced to eat spam and bacon was a little hard, but I ate them so as not to appear’different’.

    While you are at it Boris, it is very important to bring back cookery lessons into schools. The present GCSE cookery is a farce. I used to teach it but lost interest when I had to teach the students how to design a cover for a packet of biscuits.

  17. I fear I’m a lone voice in the wilderness here, but I’d like to put in a good word for liver. And I speak as one who suffered the worst excesses of minor public school dinners in the dim and distant 1960s.

    The one I couldn’t stand myself was the dick. Spotted or otherwise. A foot long roll of… what? Suet? And not much else? Dozens of them, all turned our of identical foot-long aluminium trays that served no purpose other than creating dick. Every one with the texture and taste of compressed vacuum fluff and Germolene.

    I’m not sure who’s on what side of the debate with the school dinners thing. But I’d like it put on record that I’m not voting for anyone who approves of the dick. Sorry if that’s you, Boris…

  18. In the light of the revelation of another Tory sacking
    It’s essential for the Party to have your total backing
    School dinners apart
    Hand on your heart
    Don’t you think some strong leadership’s lacking

  19. Mark Gamon: ” I’d like it put on record that I’m not voting for anyone who approves of the dick. . . .”

    Right. But for green liver, dick and turkey twizzlers we could have all been as tall as the Dutch, instead of most of us being stunted under 6 foot.

    Michael: Another attack on Bill Gates? Why not put your energy into protesting the adoption of software patents by the EU? Everybody in Britain seems to be ignoring the issue.

    See http://www.skakagrall.com/archives/000346against_eu_software_patents.html

  20. Not that Bill gates, for all his enterprise and business acumen, has anything to do with school dinners; but, whenever the green-eyed monster raises its head above the parapet, it seems to be hell bent on doing the man an injury. If we were /are daft enough not to make his seemingly inevitable march toward trillionairdom more difficult, if not impossible, surely it’s our fault; not his. Opportunity’s gate(oops)was open : he merely walked in. His Windows Trojan horse has successfully spread its dung, and it has fertilised wherever it has fallen. Simon’s solution seems to be worthy of study.

  21. > whenever the green-eyed monster raises its head above the parapet …

    Speak for yourself. Envy may be a major determinant of your opinions – it’s not of mine. (There is a nice quotation in “Tom Jones” about people who attribute bad motives to others because their own souls are black, so they know no better)

    I don’t envy the slimeball, or his oafish friend Gordon Brown: I just don’t want him to corrupt the Net standards on which we all depend. That’s his aim: read the Halloween Papers:


    “… it seems to be hell bent on doing the man an injury”

    Why not inform yourself about this issue before commenting? Or is it too much effort?


    The purpose is to stop *him* injuring *us*.

    “… surely it’s our fault; not his.”

    No, it is not “our” fault. Don’t speak for me. I’m not stupid enough to run his software.

    “… he merely walked in.”

    Why not take refuge in metaphor when you don’t understand the issue and are too lazy to research it? Yes, why not?

    He didn’t “walk” anywhere. He engaged in illegal secret deals and anti-competitive practises. Read up on it before commenting:


    Oh, and this one:


    As a leading industry programmer wrote me:

    “Since Gates is the head of a company that has been convicted in both
    the US and the EU of monopolistic abuses, it is extremely
    inappropriate for any government to give him a special reward.
    Maybe you could use that as the basis of a campaign.”

    Naturally, it doesn’t worry this terminally corrupt government – and certainly not Gordon Brown who arranged the knighthood.

    But then Brown has just described Muslins as “heroic” at a time when they are slaughtering people:


    Sleazeballs like Brown will do anything to get votes. Like Gates, no morals at all.

  22. Ignoring your barbed remarks:-
    I’m not a fish you might lure with the bait
    Of a specialist, internet Windows debate
    There’s Brown,there’s Gates , and others as well
    Might end up some day in the Internet Hell
    So, give Boris’s Party your vote and you’ll see
    Your wish partly granted: you’ll end up Scot free

  23. Another disaffected sixth-former here (well S6 actually, I’m Scottish). My school lacks the space for everyone to sit and eat a packed lunch- you don’t get to use the cafeteria facilities paid for by the school unless you’re buying food from the (private company) cafeteria. So what does a large majority of the student body do? Head out the door to the local chip shop! Making school dinners compulsory will make this automatic in every school in the country- compulsory school dinners will be avoided by anyone with the money for a takeaway because most school’s physically do not have the space to keep every pupil indoors at lunchtime to force them to eat a school dinner.

  24. Tell it like it is , David: making school meals compulsory is no solution ; nonetheless, healthier eating is a must,so as to protect from the dreaded sight of huge backsides, waddling into the school hall, wearing XXS trousers , or even worse; skirts. Not a pretty sight you must agree. Alas , this is the projected vista for the future, if dietry self discipline is not practised.
    Meanwhile , , power to the healthy food movement.

  25. …and power to you too Macarnie- ( I hope you have a good portion of meat and two veg every day!)

    totally agree with you m8!

  26. Comming up on Saturday..

    TheDr:”Do you want to go forwards or backwards….”

    Sidekick: “Forwards”

    A thinly veiled dig at labours campaign slogan?

  27. Black, scaryduck – spookily and eerily so…..still haunting…and eeyucky to the nth degree

  28. To dampen Scaryduck’s licentious thoughts, I believe she meant:- ( the other is too devious for M) ——————————————————————————-
    The Humble but Proud Black Pudding.
    It’s the pride of the whole blooming county, with Bury the top of the tree
    There are butchers throughout all the regions, but no one can make them as we.
    Fresh blood is delivered each morning, it comes in its own special vat
    Then comes the choicest pearl barley,and the pieces of milk fed pork fat
    Toflavour this delicate concoction, we take seventeen spices and herbs.
    It’s like making a right proper sentence, with nouns; semi-colons and verbs .
    With skins from the best sheep’s intestine, which is filled with the ready mixed stuff,
    Then we sell it on old Bury market,and the punters just can’t get enough.
    We’re famous for our best black puddings; we’re known for them, both near and far:
    This year from the French we’d a Knighthood , L’ordre de Chevalier Boudin Noir!!


  29. Boris, this time you go to far. Banning packed lunches, I bet even the worst dictators in history would not consider such a thing. I would personally rather starve and take a beating than eat offal, especially green, knobbly offal which I presume has altered your brain function negatively.

  30. It’s far too long since I’ve had a “good” portion of meat and two veg, but if Ian Hislop’s willing…..

  31. Jaq – Ian Hislop’s a good thing isn’t he Jaq!

    Make sure you have your meat (iron) and two veg (vit c) Jaq, otherwise you’ll exhaust yourself before you know it …

  32. Too late Melissa, mum took my blood pressure at the weekend and it’s 76 over 45. So-o, I could not only do with being wined and dined by someone rich, fascinating and easy to look at but who can raise my blood pressure. As we all know, Hislop can bitch with the best of them and could be just the best gossip. It’s been reported that he also looks after a lady, whether he knows her or not.

    I agree, Hizzy’s a very good thing. He wouldn’t like me though, I didn’t go to oxford and I haven’t ‘friends’ in high places. You’d have better luck!

  33. Jaq – we have mooted the idea of your coming to Westminster and I’ll then take you to where the best is served to ensure you relax and stoke up…

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