School caterers must unite and make political gain out of the obesity health crisis affecting Britain if they want more cash for school meals.
Speaking at the Local Authority Caterers Association's 2004 annual conference in Birmingham, Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at City University in London, said: "The health crisis may seem threatening to you, but it's your friend and key to unlocking more money for better services."
Lang, who has advised the Government about the obesity epidemic, argued that after years of trying to cut costs and squeeze catering budgets, politicians, teachers and parents were finally questioning the cost of such a policy. "The documented problems of the school meal system are part of a much bigger problem in Britain," said Lang. "You're not on your own - you have allies coming out of the woodwork."
He added that with Britain's economy now shouldering a £2b burden from obesity-related diseases and reduced productivity, the Government could no longer afford to ignore school meals as a way of tackling the nation's growing levels of obesity.
n Neil Porter, former vice-chairman of the Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) has been elected chairman. Porter, who is catering, cleaning and print services manager at Central Support Services in Brislington, Bristol, has been part of LACA's national executive council since 2001.
Commenting on his new role, he said: "LACA must continue to encourage greater investment in school meal provision, influence the introduction of change in a realistic and practical manner, and underpin the change with the appropriate levels of support for all those engaged in school meal provision." Porter replaces Vivianne Buller.
What the panel said
The LACA Great Food Debate featured health professionals, food campaigners and consumers.
Although the responses varied, the consensus was that school caterers were not exclusively to blame for rising levels of obesity, but had a part to play in a national strategy to combat it. The panel's thoughts included:
Joe Harvey, director of the Health Education Trust: "Vending in schools must change. It can remain profitable, and isn't necessarily bad - it's what you put in it that matters."
Luci Daniels, a dietitian: "We need to stop blaming everyone else and take responsibility. We need a clear national message from the Government."
Peter Kopelman, a professor of clinical medicine at Barts Hospital, London: "You, the LACA, need to ask yourselves what you want food service to be. You need to start lobbying for the future, clear in what you wish to achieve. You are potentially the most powerful organisation out there other than government departments."
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 22 July 2004