Celebrity chef and baby-faced culinary crusader Jamie Oliver recently challenged Canadian politicians on an issue that gets far too little attention these days: food education.
The best-selling author has taken his international campaign urging compulsory diet education in schools to those at the top of the economic food chain: the G20, and Canada was not safe from his criticisms.
"The biggest killer in your country is diet-related disease. It's not guns, it's not armed robbery," Oliver said last month in an exclusive interview from Australia, where he launched his global campaign. "When it has a dramatic cost to public health, which it does in Canada ... you really need to do something much more long term, much more strategic."
Although Oliver isn't exactly correct here — cancer is actually the country's No. 1 killer, according to StatsCan figures — heart disease and stroke aren't that far behind, accounting for nearly 61,000 deaths in 2011.
And rather than try and teach old, obese dogs new tricks and break the eating patterns of thousands of Canadian adults, Oliver wants to reach a younger segment of the population at a time when kids are just developing their ideas about food.
A long-time champion of health food options in schools, Oliver is right in thinking that it's ultimately cheaper and more effective to target children with a curriculum that teaches them where their food comes from, how to grow it and prepare it.
"Compulsory food education for every Canadian kid has not been promised, and that to me is immoral," Oliver said. "It's time for the Canadian government to draw a line in the sand and say we need to support teachers. When kids come to school with no breakfasts... when the food in lunch boxes is inappropriate, this is not helping teachers do their jobs."
It's a simple idea that has, for whatever reason, been largely dismissed at the federal level. But Harper and his Tory cronies would do well to heed Oliver's urgings; Imagine the potential billions in savings on annual health care costs if we managed to shift the culture around what kids eat at an early stage.
There's so much emphasis in schools to create well-rounded students using a broad curriculum that we often forget to teach the most basic lessons that would have very real, very practical impacts on their day-to-day lives. What use is particle physics if kids don't know how to cook an omelet?
Not only that but educators could expand their lessons on food to hit a wide range of related topics, like the "geography, the history, the science, the maths behind it all," as Oliver noted.
British Columbia has in fact taken important steps to address nutrition in schools. The BC School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program provides fresh fruit and vegetable snacks 13 times during the academic year to over 489,000 students.
Locally, Whistler students start taking food and nutrition courses in Grade 8, and sugary sodas are banned from vending machines — a prime example of what could be achieved nationwide.
Oliver's crusade has garnered a lot of support so far, with his Change.org petition to G20 nations already hitting over 800,000 signatures.
To view the petition, visit tinyurl.com/OliverChange.