Those living outside Britain may be unaware of the recent debate about school dinners (lunches). Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been leading a campaign for children in public schools to be served more healthy food, compared to the high fat, high salt fast food that has tended to be the norm. The campaign has had some success.
But as most parents know, children are very fond of "unhealthy" foods. So are many of their parents. A backlash was to be expected. Saturday's telegraph reports how at one school a group of mothers has started delivering fast food through a school fence:
The parents claim they are taking action because pupils are turning up their noses at what they describe as "overpriced, low-fat rubbish".
Four of them are using a supermarket trolley to make daily runs with fish and chips, pies, burgers, sandwiches and fizzy drinks from local takeaways.
Staff at Rawmarsh Comprehensive School, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, have called in environmental health and education officials. They are looking into whether the women are allowed to sell food without an operating licence and whether they are covered by food hygiene regulations.
Sam Walker, 41, whose 11-year-old son John attends the school, has accused the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver of interfering with traditional menus.
She said: "I just don't like him and what he stands for. He is forcing our kids to become more picky about their food. Who does he think he is? He can feed whatever he wants to his kids but he should realise that other parents think differently."
Schools have been told to serve healthier menus including at least two servings of fruit and vegetables per day, and no more than two portions of deep-fried food each week.
The school and Jamie Oliver were unimpressed:
John Lambert, head teacher of the 1,100-pupil school, said: "I'm stunned. What these two women are doing is unbelievable. They are encouraging children whose parents give them money for a healthy, nutritious meal to spend it elsewhere.
"It is undermining something this school believes in wholeheartedly. The food these parents are handing out is not part of that healthy diet. We are determined to take a strong line over this."
A spokesman for Oliver, who is in Australia, said: "If these mums want to effectively shorten the lives of their kids and others' kids, then that's down to them. If parents are struggling to afford a school meal, then they should make the effort to construct a proper lunchbox with fruit and veg, dairy, bread, and protein — which can be done for under £1.20 — instead of taking the lazy option."
That there is a ready market for fast food is in no doubt. I recall the occasional trip down to the local fish and chip shop at lunchtime when I was at school. But I doubt whether undermining attempts to encourage healthy food choices is good from either a health or education perspective. Nonetheless, these mothers are adament about the righteousness of their cause:
Julie Critchlow, 43, started taking the food for her children Rachel, 15, and Steven, 11, and two friends before others asked to be included. There are now four mothers delivering between 50 and 60 meals a day, with orders taken during the mid-morning break.
Mrs Critchlow said: "The reason we have done this is because our kids are being served up disgusting, overpriced rubbish by the school and are not allowed out at lunchtimes to buy something they can enjoy.
"Food is cheaper and better at the local takeaways. We don't make a penny on it. We just want to make sure the kids are properly fed. They don't enjoy the school food and the end result is that they are starving."
One cannot help suspecting a key factor in parental resistance to better schoool dinners is that for many British families fast food and prepared meals are akey element of their diet. Having little Billy asking for healthy home cooked meals (as distinct from take-away or reheated crud) is a clearly an unwelcome change for some.