Chips with everything? Time to take a stand
Do I care what my students eat? Should I? Isn't it enough that I turn up and teach them, without worrying what they might be shovelling down their gullets?
Shamelessly jumping on the youth diet bandwagon, I went last year to a London college and talked to students in the canteen to gather material for an article. I also watched them piling into the fast-food outlets just down the road.
It was clear straight away that the students fell into two distinct categories. Category one consisted of those who knew about current dietary orthodoxy and made healthy choices at least some of the time. Category two were the refuseniks, who didn't care what they ate so long as it tasted good. One lad I spoke to told me he had a burger and chips at least once every day of his life.
What also struck me was the obvious difference in the way the two groups perceived the world generally. The chips-with-everything brigade tended to be on lower-level courses and from poorer, less enlightened homes. In short, there was a degree of ignorance behind the choices they were making.
The issue came to mind again recently when passing some pizza and fried chicken joints near my home. For most of the day they have few takers, but walk past at lunchtime and they are heaving with teenagers. Just up the road is a sixth-form college where, no doubt, the canteen manager regularly looks around at all the empty seats and ponders which healthy option he might push that day.
Do we, as trainers and educators in colleges, also have a responsibility for the wider welfare of our students? In schools, this isn't up for debate. For all the good it does, they teach citizenship, personal, social and health education, and the curiously named "food technology". For us, though, it is less clear cut. Should I be standing outside the finger lickin' chicken shop with a "Just say no" placard? Or should I just continue to pass by on the other side?