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Putting food back in focus;Focus on Food campaign

The other F-word, food, is the subject of a campaign that aims to promote healthier eating. Ian Nash reports

IT IS the basic skills training that makes the French superior to the British. They take a pride in performance and have a studied approach with no room for loutish behaviour.

Their best performers can go anywhere in the world. When it comes to the "F" word that is on everyone's lips this month, it is not just a French boast - even the Chinese concede the point.

Yes, food is the big issue this week as the British mount a sterling fightback. The consensus among eight top chefs writing in The TES is that the subject has lost its way in schools and colleges, partly because it has been squeezed to the edge of the curriculum. Also, the best graduates are snatched for well-paid jobs in the industry before you can say "teach".

The chefs are backing the biggest-ever push on food education - the RSA Focus on Food campaign. They are also behind renewed government efforts to improve nutrition, food education and healthy eating in schools.

Top Chinese chef Ken Hom is concerned that British education turns out "robots rather than someone with a passion" as opposed to the French, who enthuse young people and start with the basics.

Gary Rhodes wants to make cooking in schools "compulsory" from the age of seven. For him it is a matter of cracking the whip, then whipping the crepe.

The RSA campaign is the latest in a series of measures to stimulate interest in food education and even to change eating habits. Project director Anita Cormac laments the death of the collective English meal and with it one of the main places where people learn to socialise.

Attention in schools has shifted from the joy of cooking to considerations of food technology, and from preparing basic meals and appreciating good food to learning about industrial processes.

Food has low status in the home and low pay in industry as we increasingly opt for fast food and frozen meals. The leading figures behind Focus on Food are not rubbishing ready-made meals, but ask whether we understand what it is that we eat and what makes a healthy balanced diet.

Waitrose is backing the campaign by funding a food research fellowship, which will examine the impact of food education and track the effects on the eating habits of children in 20 primary schools.

Research highlights six reasons for good food education. It:

* is a basic survival skill; * gives consumers control over what food they buy and eat; * develops awareness of quality; * improves understanding of health issues; * raises ethical issues about food production; * fosters a healthier lifestyle.

Five-page food education special, pages 45-49

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