Editor-At-Large: Children should get to know the food on their plate

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One in four kids under the age of 16 thinks that bacon comes from sheep. To be blunt, most young people seem to have no idea where food comes from and how to cook it. It's just something they stuff in their mouths at too-frequent intervals, and the more sugary and fatty the better. No wonder they're turning out to be a generation of indolent, blubbery fatties. And the Government seems powerless to do much about it.

The Food Standards Agency has just admitted that a decade of spending millions promoting healthy eating has been a washout. Our diet is virtually unchanged. In spite of all the catchy phrases, the trendy websites and colour-coded labelling, we eat too much processed food, not enough fruit and vegetables, and twice as many sausages as white fish. Nearly two-thirds of us are overweight, and diet-related illness will kill 70,000 of us this year.

If government campaigns fail to get the right messages across, what better place to teach children about food than school? Andrea Charman, a headmistress, thought so, and decided to set up a farm at her primary school in Lydd, rural Kent. The children voted to rear a lamb and then send it to slaughter, raising money to buy piglets by selling freezer packs of the meat in a raffle. What Mrs Charman did not factor in, however, was the behaviour of bullies. Not playground bullies but grown-ups who set up two Facebook groups campaigning to save Marcus the sheep, even though the school council (which included pupils), the staff and most parents had voted for the cull.

One group was called Ban Andrea Charman From Teaching Anywhere. How this was allowed to flourish without police intervention, I don't know. All together, the petitions attracted 2,500 signatures, and various threats were made. Parents moaned to the media, and the comedian Paul O'Grady, who lives near by, offered to give Marcus a sanctuary, in his menagerie of pigs, ducks and geese. Sadly, the bullies won the day and last week Mrs Charman announced she was resigning. Michael Howard, her MP, called it "a sad day".

Last year, I raised rare breed pigs, chickens and Dexter cattle for The F Word, in a smallholding near my home in North Yorkshire. Children from the local primary school visited, helped me make cheese with milk from the cows and, when the chickens were slaughtered, helped pluck them. This is a farming area, and they are used to the notion that animals end up being eaten. They understood that as long as animals have a dignified and healthy life, it isn't a criminal act to slaughter them. Surely it's better to know where your meat and poultry lived and what it ate, than consume factory-reared stuff that has been fed additives and forced to stand in a confined space.

We eat too much meat, and most of it is produced in unacceptable conditions. Food Inc is a powerful documentary which has just opened, lifting the lid on America's food industry. It shows how food production there uses intensive methods that result in horrible conditions for the animals.

As a nation, we sentimentalise animals: we give millions to the RSPCA, we fund donkey sanctuaries and dog homes. But we are happy to eat meat that probably had a miserable life. We won't eat a better diet until we readjust our relationship with food. At this rate that will take some time.

Living dolls: Pushy parents are abusing their daughters

Child neglect isn't just about physical abuse. Turning your small daughter into a miniature version of a sexually active young woman is just as evil, denying a child the right to be innocent and uncorrupted. We talk about failing mothers who feed their kids takeaways and ignore them, but what about pushy mums who turn their daughters into miniature Lolitas? Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, is only three – but she's been photographed choosing cosmetics, wearing high heels and sporting designer clothes that cost a fortune. Suri wore bright red lipstick to accompany her mother to the theatre recently; Holmes says the little girl can wear what she likes. Katie Price has equally strange values, regularly using her children as part of her relentless self-promotion, even though they are too young to have any say in the matter. Now she's stuck pictures of her daughter, Princess Tiaamii, on Facebook, showing the two-year-old wearing false eyelashes and lip gloss. The "makeover" was allegedly filmed as a stunt for Katie's new reality television series, and the proud mum has been straightening her daughter's hair to remove its natural curls. Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, a family court judge has just ruled that a seven-year-old, Julia Lira, can lead the city's festivities today as Carnival Queen, along with Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. Children's rights campaigners had fought to prevent the little girl from taking part – instead, she'll be prancing about in front of thousands of scantily dressed participants in a stadium well after midnight. Her parents might be proud, but is this really the right place for a little girl? All these mums think they're doing a great job, but the truth is, they aren't good at saying no. Sometimes parents have to be unpopular.

McQueen – a generous one-off

I sold a couple of my McQueen jackets recently. I was sad to see them go, but they'll be much appreciated by someone two sizes smaller. Alexander McQueen clothes have always been avidly collected; he created modern artwork for the female body. Put them on, and you feel powerful. Sadly, I bought less in the past couple of years because I couldn't get into a lot of his designs: Lee didn't do baggy. He gave me one of his floor-length leather coats a few years ago, and I wore it to a wedding before Christmas; and on the cover of my last book I'm wearing a fabulous purple satin McQueen dress. Lee was hardcore; there was no predicting what he'd say. He could be funny, cruel, even pathetic, but he was a one-off and his death is such a waste.

Stick to the day job, Dylan

Michael Landy has built a large "Art Bin" at the South London Gallery, inviting members of the public and artists to dump artworks they classify as failures. Damien Hirst has donated a couple, but can I suggest an entire exhibition? The Halcyon Gallery in the West End of London is holding the first UK show of paintings by the living legend Bob Dylan. Prices range from £85,000 to an eye-watering £450,000 – a lot of money to spend on a third-rate oil by a first-rate musician. The singer also plans to exhibit new work shortly in Copenhagen. His images of railway lines, big-bottomed women and vases of yellow flowers seem inspired by Dufy and Matisse, but ultimately they are feeble jottings and, if Dylan wasn't such a celebrated figure, they wouldn't look out of place at a Sunday flea market.