Letters: Cooking

Add a dash of reality to cooking lessons for microwave generation
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The Independent Online

Sir: Those of us who originally trained to teach home economics despaired over the constraints of food technology programmes of study. We are delighted that at long last the Government has realised that our predictions made two decades ago have materialised, and are now introducing cookery lessons for all children.

However, I fear that food celebrities may have some influence in the planning of this initiative without knowing what happens at grassroots level. This was evident in Mark Hix's article (23 January). His recipes were far too expensive for the majority of families. Fresh tuna steaks are outside most budgets, so why not produce ideas using canned tuna, which more people would feel comfortable buying and trying? Again, extra virgin oil is a luxury. We really do need people like him to understand what a battle we are fighting in schools.

Does he realise that the majority of families, from whatever social group, no longer have basic ingredients at home? The only piece of equipment most children can use with skill is a microwave to heat a ready meal. Even the use of a dishcloth to wipe a surface has to be taught.

Despite these problems and the constraints of the National Curriculum, many food technology departments manage to teach children to achieve high skills.

I urge those planning this excellent idea to involve those of us who have a realistic knowledge of the state of cookery skills at the present time, otherwise I foresee a huge amount of money being spent on ideas that will have little effect on obesity. Once the planning is complete it would be great to have the food celebrities coming into schools to both endorse and inspire. Mark Hix will be most welcome.

Angela Candy

Food Technology teacher, Romsey, Hampshire

Sir: Do I detect more joined-up government thinking here? The Home Office announces plans to extend the use of metal detectors in secondary schools, while the Education Secretary announces plans to make cookery a compulsory subject in the self-same schools. "Please sir, it's not an offensive weapon, it's part of my batterie de cuisine – honest!"

Francis Butler

London SW16

The blame for market turmoil

Sir: The obsession, in some sections of the media, with condemning Gordon Brown and New Labour for the shortcomings of free enterprise is starting to border on the ridiculous.

Government can only react to events within the constraints of regulatory legislation for which previous Conservative administrations share responsibility. For Tories to accuse the Government of failing to foresee recent fiascos in banking and lending is sheer hypocrisy.

Share prices reflect investor confidence in an enterprise. That depends on competent management. The irrational and irresponsible lending to those unlikely to be able to repay points to the real culprits, whose knees shake with fear in the boardrooms of banks and financial institutions.

To blame "fast buck" speculators in the City for the inevitable bursting bubbles of success created from hype and bad management and then attach blame to the Government is a ludicrous appraisal of realities.

John Waugh

Dalkeith, Midlothian

Sir: Recent events in financial markets lead me to conclude that widespread fraud has occurred.

Banks and other financial institutions lent rashly to high-risk clients without properly establishing their credit-worthiness, thereby knowingly putting investors' deposits at hazard. Financial institutions packaged bundles of such loans, knowing them to be potentially of little value. The worthless bundles were then sold on from institution to institution, each planning not to be in possession when the music stopped.

Presumably we can anticipate prosecutions?

Tim Cattell

Croydon, Surrey

Sir: Is there any business sector that has so lost its way as banking? It has become an ethics-free zone, bent on self-destruction.

At 17 my son opened his first bank account. He was sold personal property insurance when he was already covered and unemployment protection insurance when he didn't have a job. The bank eventually refunded all payments with a guilty apology.

A bank manager used to be a professional adviser who would help me to fund present needs out of future income but warn me when my, and therefore his, financial exposure looked excessive. Now she is rewarded by how successfully she can encourage me into a level of debt beyond my capacity to repay.

How this plays out beyond retail I don't know, but I suspect banks would rather take the risk of massive quick gains from arcane financial products than judge whether a new business might succeed with a modest injection of credit.

Keith Farman

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Sir: Jon Hawksley (letter, 23 January) rightly identifies greed and fear as powerful motives for human behaviour and the basis for market capitalism. The problem is that markets, and the banks that service them, behave like spoilt children who run to their parents (governments) to bail them out when things go wrong.

It is the job of governments to curb such youthful, and amoral, behaviour, so that market actors are reminded of the consequences of greed. This economic downturn should serve as a salutary warning that economic growth has inherent limits and we need to be addressing other issues than those pursued by Thatcher and her acolytes.

Geoffrey Payne

London W5

'Feral youths' are made, not born

Sir: Bruce Anderson writes an indignant critique of a "broken society" (Opinion, 21 January), but he cannot bring himself to acknowledge the true causes of the damage. "Feral youths" do not generate spontaneously in some noxious swamp: they were born as human as (I'm guessing) Mr Anderson's own clean and polite offspring, and given the same opportunities they might have achieved as much.

If the little Andersons had been housed in temporary accommodation after the Conservatives sold off the council houses; ill fed because the Conservatives removed the nutritional standards for school dinners; ill-educated by an underfunded state system, then rejected as failures by an endless cycle of SATS; if they had seen their employment prospects sent overseas, their libraries and youth clubs closed to reduce costs, and their playing fields and open spaces sold off to build retail parks; if they were then told that they were in this mess only because they are "feckless", who could blame them for turning to drink-fuelled aggression?

Now David Cameron has the gall to lecture on social responsibility the victims of a generation of putting profit before people.

These "ferals" are Thatcherism's true legacy. It may yet be possible to help some of them rejoin the human race as equals, but not through unenforceable restrictions on cheap alcohol or an everlasting prison-building programme. Time to think again about the things money can't buy.

Sarah Thursfield

Highmoor, Llanymynech

Threat to privatise GP services

Sir: I echo the warning raised by Dr John Grenville (letter, 15 January) on the way government policy is undermining general medical practice in England.

A GP for 25 years, I work in a small practice in rural Northumberland. In November, the local PCT proposed cutting our budget by almost 25 per cent. After discussions, a reviewed proposal will cap the cuts at 3 per cent for two years, but with a string of additional commitments for the practice to undertake. The PCT is also developing a contingency plan involving commercial providers of primary care who will, in theory, be ready to step into the breach if we refuse to sign our contract.

A commercially driven provider will be hard-pushed to provide the level of primary health care we achieve; we find it impossible ourselves to earn an "average" GP salary. It is very likely that provision would decline and yet again rural communities find themselves at the wrong end of the inequality graph for service provision, as with public transport, post offices, and education.

This issue has the potential to undermine general practice provision everywhere. What is the Government trying to achieve?

Dr Lesley Duke

Bellingham, Northumberland

Useless to accuse drivers over CO2

Sir: The fact that only a minority of the people who realise that cars are having a serious effect on the environment say they are willing to reduce the amount they drive is as much to do with confusion about CO2 emissions as with the vagaries of man (leading article, 23 January).

Accounting for about one in five of all trips under one mile, it is clear that our use of the car is excessive, but its constant portrayal as environmental whipping boy distorts popular opinion and takes the focus away from what is required to tackle climate change. Until we have an equitable across-the-board carbon tax, which would apply as much to growing food as travelling by car, train or bus, is it realistic to expect people to identify, let alone act upon, the most environmentally-detrimental aspects of their lives?

Andrew Davis

Director, The Environmental Transport Association, Weybridge, Surrey

How to give power to the voters

Sir: Once again a politician, in this case Chris Grayling (You Ask the Questions, 21 January) invokes the sacred bond between MP and constituency, waving it like a bleeding stump to stifle debate on reform of our voting system.

As a voter, I don't think very much of this link. "My" MP is a timeserving nonentity, a Labour backbencher whose one "rebellion" against the Government was to try to vote himself a bigger pay rise. I do not feel that he in any way represents me, and I certainly did not vote for him. Despite voting in every election since 1974, in several different places, I have never been represented by the MP of my choice.

Grayling claims that the only possible change might be to the Alternative Vote (AV) system, with regional top-ups from party lists, which would only increase the power of the central party machines. In my view the answer is multi-member constituencies, using the Single Transferable Vote.

As a voter in the five-member constituency of Warrington, or North Cheshire, I would almost certainly find that one of "my" MPs matched my sympathies much more closely. My vote, along with those of all the other voters, would have had a significant chance of changing the eventual result.

Voters would be able to make known their preferences as between candidates of the same party – in the 2005 election I would have backed those of any party who had opposed the Iraq war.

Of course this means that the final make-up of Parliament would much more closely represent the wishes of the electorate, and would be much less under the control of the central party machines. So it's not going to happen, is it?

John Secker

Daresbury, Cheshire

Sir: Alex Folkes is wrong to say that in European elections "the parties pick who is elected" (letter, 22 January). Parties propose candidates, as in all elections, and the electorate decides.

The only difference is that parties must put up a team of several candidates instead of a team of one, as they do for Westminster constituencies. They must also put them in a ranking order, so the electorate can see in advance which members of their team will be elected if they win one, two, or three seats.

Being first on the list for a major party is akin to being candidate in a "safe" seat for Westminster, but that is the only sense in which parties, in both systems, can "choose" who will be elected, subject to confirmation by voters.

Richard Corbett MEP

Labour, Yorkshire & Humber, Leeds


Elizabeth's speech

Sir: I don't know why the film-makers omitted the wonderful quotation from Elizabeth I's Tilbury speech (Robert Fisk, 19 January), although I bemoan it, but I am a feminist and I can assure you all, very strongly, that film-makers do not care about upsetting feminists – any more than they care about historical accuracy.

Henrietta Cubitt


Crowd control

Sir: According to the Police Federation 17,000 attended their rally calling for their 2.5 per cent wage rise to be backdated to September. Seventeen thousand? I don't think so. Using the same methods by which the police have estimated the size of every demonstration I've ever been on – CND marches, rallies in support of striking miners, poll tax march, demonstrations against the war in Iraq – all I counted was a man and a dog. And the dog didn't really want to be there.

Sasha Simic

London N16

Revolutionary idea

Sir: I was surprised by Terence Hollingworth's letter (22 January) when I read that he has been disenfranchised because he does not live in the UK, despite the fact that he still pays UK taxes. I am an American who also holds British citizenship. I pay taxes in the UK and the US. I have voting privileges in the UK and the US. I am reminded that the American revolution was ignited by the issue of "taxation without representation". Shouldn't the British government remember this?

L E Shubert

London SE9

White man's election

Sir: For Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's information, this is not the third time that the top candidates for the London Mayor's job are all "white middle-class men" (Comment, 21 January). The first time the contest was run, the candidate for the Liberal Democrats was a woman, Susan Kramer. She also fails to mention that the Liberal Democrat candidate on this occasion is gay. I'm delighted Ms Alibhai-Brown is going to support Brian Paddick, but I'm disappointed that she appears to think sexual orientation doesn't count as part of London's "much-lauded modern metropolis".

Cllr Wayne Casey

(Liberal Democrat, Barnet) London NW7

Rare breeds

Sir: Your report "Farewell to the fox terrier?" (23 January) reports a marked drop in the number of Kennel Club registrations of "fox terrier cubs". Perhaps foxes should start registering their pups to make up the numbers?

Carrie Balfour

Kelso, Scottish Borders