Friday, 13 February 2009

"Mick the miner" as Jamie Oliver dubbed him on TV in last years Channel 4 programme, came to Trinity & All Saints College in Leeds last week to share the secrets that the celebrity chef had taught him with over 40 students.

The campaign which this demonstration was part of was called "pass it on" and was Jamie Olivers response to the increasing inability of the British population to cook even the most basic meals.

Instead there is a growing prevalence of mothers who through ignorance, or inability to cook, choose to feed their children a potentially lethal cocktail of take-away food every day.

One of the most enduring images of the campaign that shocked and shamed Britain in equal measure was a clearly distressed Jamie Oliver lost for words after witnessing Natasha, one of the mums featured in the programme feeding her child cheesy-chips and kebab meat, whilst confessing her child had never eaten a home cooked meal.

Jamie's response was to set up a modern day Ministry of Food in an echo of the government department set up in WWII. Back then the aim was to teach the British population how to cook healthy, and nutritious meals during the enforced period of rationing.

Natasha became one of the success stories of the programme, taking the help and patient guidance of Oliver, and learning how to cook for her child, eventually improving her own life and that of the local community by passing on her new skills as the initiative demanded.

Many people felt Olivers ambitious scheme was dead in the water in the early days, as the initial enthusiasms began to ebb away from the local South Yorkshire community. This was unsurprising under the barage of scepticism and scorn initially poured on the project by Julie Critchlow. Images on the news of Critchlow passing burgers to children through school railings, to help them avoid healthier school fayre were widely condemned by health campaigners and were a catalyst inspiring the campaign initially.

Perhaps the turning point in the process was the involvement of "Mick the Miner" real name: Mick Trueman. His enthusiasm for the project stood out the moment he got involved. Trueman, still a supervisor today at Maltby colliery showed his terrific leadership qualities to re-enthuse the other members of the group, and for the first time it seemed somebody finally understood clearly that Oliver was not teaching the participants to cook, but also to spread the word. A man who confessed he had never so much as boiled an egg in his life was making a real difference to the wider community with his new skills.

It was fitting then to see that the message is still spreading far and wide with the cookery demonstration Mick the Miner gave to the Leeds undergraduates. Students are a notoriously difficult audience to impress but you could sense the respect that was shown to the man, not just for what he was trying to do, but also for his humility and excitement as he professed his astonishment at being given an award for his outstanding contribution at the Ministry of Food christmas party.

You sense that Mick the Miner has all the rewards he needs however as his class were then turned loose in the Trinity food labs to re-create the meal he had demonstrated for them. The twinkle in his eye was tangible as all the students without exception, surprised themselves with the quality of their dishes .

Perhaps "Mick the Miner" was also thinking back to when he outcooked Jamie Oliver the first time he cooked the dish, back then he said "its unbelievable, me cooking it better than him."
There are probably thousands of Mick the Miners out there who have never cooked before but have the potential to be great cooks who can pass on their skills. If you want to get involved with the campaign why not get in touch with Jamie Oliver at:

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A Social Eating Approach, Back to the Future Solutions for Health

January is firmly behind us, and the traditional Christmas day lunch is just a happy memory receding comfortably into the background to be replaced by a whole raft of resolutions some of which have been broken, such as: losing weight, going to the gym, and finally getting the eight hours sleep you have promised yourself since this time last year.

Research shows however that we are missing a trick, and we should be eating more. More? Yes, more often as a family, more often with friends, and more often around other people generally.

Eating, studies have found, confers pleasure, not just as one would expect, from the sensory aspects of taste and smell, but from the social aspects. These aspects which are heavily determined by those present, set the mood and atmosphere, allowing a range of social and psychological benefits to be derived. In short the message from this is: for good mental health eat with others present.

If we examine why this should be, the advantages of this approach become so obvious that one can be forgiven for feeling a little foolish for not recognising the benefits earlier as our eating regimen compete for space within our busy modern lives. It seems that as with so many things we can learn from echoes of the past. Over 150 years ago the first “celebrity chef” Mrs Beeton was expressing the view that dining is the privilege of civilisation. A case perhaps of: your grandmother teaching you to suck eggs.

Another reason why it is important to practice social eating is that socialisation of children through habits ingrained in childhood often determine their future eating behaviour. Healthy patterns of food consumption therefore at this stage, learned around the family table, can have a massive positive impact on an individual throughout their lives.

The tendency to eat vegetables and foods containing Essential fatty acids amongst other things can help protect one against the onset of many insidious diseases such as cancers, heart disease, and the growing scourge of obesity related diseases, like type 2 diabetes. With all these facts at our disposal then it is worrying that the charity “raising kids” found that of the families in the study they conducted, only 20% ate together once a week. 25% of families did not even own a dining table.

It is clear then from all the evidence available that the most important New Years resolution any of us can make, is to spend some time enjoying the preparation and consumption of food with people around us; and best of all it’s a little bit easier to keep to than the one about pounding away at the gym.