“I’ve thought about what you said Rob and I’ve changed my mind. I get it!” said one child to me last week. I was pretty shocked. Such an open admission within a couple of hours of him arguing passionately for the other side is something I have rarely experienced in the four years I have been working as the food and horticulture manager for Jamie’s Farm.
We had been discussing whether there was any point in making food from scratch during a cookery session making doughnuts and fish fingers. “Why not just go and buy this stuff from the supermarket?” It’s a pretty reasonable question when you think about it. Supermarkets are more prevalent than ever and open longer hours so you really can buy ready-made food whenever and almost wherever you want it.
For me, the answer comes down to three main reasons:
The first is flavour. This is ultimately the most important thing about food for herein lies its joy, and without it, you will never switch anyone onto the benefits of cookery and healthy eating. It’s the thing that inspired me to cook and the thing that has led to a current national obsession with gastronomy. Food has got to be delicious and delight the senses.
Secondly, I love the creative process. At Jamie’s Farm we believe in the therapeutic value of all our activities. Cooking is so much more than about the end result. It enables us to share our cultures, develop our creativity, work as a team, and build confidence. Our cooking sessions start with a trip to the organic garden where we pick armfuls of produce before taking it back to the barn where we decide what to make. This helps to give young people a better understanding of where their food comes from, links their diet to the seasons, and makes for fresher, tastier meals. We try to involve the young people in this creative process as much as possible and use their ideas to develop dishes they can feel proud of. This has led to Iranian salads, Moroccan couscous, and Bobbi’s mushrooms, all of which have been enjoyed by the groups and given young people the warm glow of being able to nourish their peers.
Finally, there is the health aspect. Many of the young people who visit the farm have diets that are high in sugar, salt and other ingredients common in processed and fast food, including preservatives, artificial flavourings and E- numbers. These have a number of negative health implications both physically and mentally, and can result in attitudes and behaviours counter to the best versions of these young people. These symptoms have been highlighted in the government’s recent Childhood Obesity Strategy, which states that:
- Nearly a third of children aged 2-15 are obese or overweight.
- Not only are obese people more likely to get physical health conditions like heart disease, they are also more likely to be living with conditions like depression.
- We spend more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we do on the police, fire service and judicial system combined (around £5.1 billion).
I recently attended a talk by the brilliant writer Yuval Harari who discussed the significance of this dietary crisis. He said over three million people now die every year from obesity (more than the number who die from starvation). In comparison, terrorism killed about eight thousand people in 2012.
By eating a healthy diet, low in these ingredients, many of the young people who visit have been transformed, not only in the colour in their faces, but also in the calmness of their demeanour. This change occurs not over a period of months or weeks, but just in the space of a few days. Despite the negative impacts of a poor diet, we try not to be preachy about food, or tell children what they should or shouldn’t eat. Instead we try to influence diets by making healthy food fun to make, beautiful to look at, and wonderful to eat.
With the release of our new cookbook that all young people get to take home, they can continue to cook some of the dishes they eat here back with their families. We hope that during their time at Jamie’s Farm young people get to see the benefits of a nutritious home-cooked meal so we can help tackle the obesity crisis in our own unique way.
Written by Rob Lewis (Farm Foods and Events Manager)
Rob holds an MSc in sustainable development and worked in the sector for six years, including two years at the Energy Saving Trust, before throwing in his sensible office job and taking off into the great unknown on his bicycle. After a year of cycle touring and working on organic farms in New Zealand, Italy and Thailand, Rob decided to pursue his love for food and worked as a chef in two award winning restaurants in Bristol. He also completed a Permaculture Design Course and an Organic Gardening course with Bristol City College. Rob is responsible for overseeing the cooking and growing of food at Jamie’s Farm.