Katrina & The Waifs
B U Right Back
Little Children Come
Eat Your Greens
Van Diemen's Land
Bring Me To Life
Old Whine Tastes Better
2006 09 20
School dinners have been in the news again.
In fact since the beginning of term we've been reminded of the campaign which followed Jamie Oliver's TV series on the subject and led to him receiving the award for 'Most Inspiring Political Figure' in the Channel 4 Political Awards 2006.
Responding to the public's concern, Dame Suzy Leather was tasked with drawing up proposals that have been introduced recently, banning junk food and daily servings of chips from sale in our schools.
Not everyone, it seems, thinks this is a good idea and so last Friday the media was absorbed with the story of two parents serving chips, crisps and other junk food through the fence from a shopping trolley parked up in the local graveyard! This after the Headmaster of the school had banned them from his property with their mobile tuck shop.
When challenged, they and the local chipshop owner defended their actions, claiming the children were simply being starved unless they were given frequent plates of chips.
Of course the novelty factor and exciting opportunity presented to rebel against school rules ensured the delighted kids were only too happy to align themselves with the protesting parents.
Jamie's follow-up program 'Return to School Dinners' was aired on Monday evening. Interestingly, in this too the support of the parents for the changes became the crux with one or two sharp exchanges between Jamie and reluctant parents who thought chips preferable to pasta. The responsibility of parents to be on-board and help their children change their eating habits is clear and vital.
Anyone who remembers the first series of Jamie's School Dinners will recall the journey he went on, first realising the desperate quality of nutrition in what was on offer, understanding the challenges and then developing a healthier alternative. Early in the series he worked exclusively with Nora at Kidbrooke School in Greenwich, a pioneering place which was the first Comprehensive school in the UK. This was his pilot.
It didn't go well. Apart from the financial, practical and people challenges, the changes were largely opposed by children and parents alike. There were protests, petitions and deputations to the Principle. The numbers of children eating in the canteen dropped alarmingly and Nora was distraught to see how much of what food was purchased ended up in the bin.
The first term was traumatic and painful for all concerned. The young people resisted the changes, the catering staff felt under pressure, under valued and that it was all pointless. The Headmistress came under huge pressure and the local authority and councillors must've wondered if they were doing the right thing.
Given time and persistent effort however, the children began to try and enjoy the new menu. Jamie could've become discouraged but instead chose to redouble his efforts and work even harder at educating and persuading.
He held classes and did demonstrations. He tried different ways in the dining hall to encourage the young people to try something new. There were parents' meetings and home visits to help the parents understand and be supportive of the changes.
The strain told on Jamie and his family as the workload spiralled beyond that imagined by anyone at the outset.
As the series progressed we watched the cycle repeat, first in a primary school, then as he tried to train the catering staff of the whole borough at a military camp to introduce the new menu across all their schools - even before the first school was entirely happy!
Of course hindsight is a great thing and those of us who watched through to the end of the story saw everyone turn the corner and the first shoots of success appear. We saw Jamie feed Charles Clarke a school dinner or two and challenge the Government to run with the lessons learned and apply them nation-wide.
And this is where the Rawmarsh Comprehensive parents with their shopping trolley laden with coke, crisps and bags of chips come back into focus. The shift in public policy taking note of what Jamie and others campaigned for is now being implemented throughout the land. The school in Rotherham, like all others, now in the first phase of change and experiencing the pain of that.
The familiar pattern will undoubtedly be repeated. Given a few months these young people too will gradually begin to enjoy the new menu as have those who've travelled this road before them. Ask them now and they'll demand chips. Certainly they'll accept them through the railings but their elders should be wise enough to deny them this immediate choice and instead give them the real opportunity to try something new; give them the chance to discover that something else might be better, improving their health, concentration and life expectancy.
Change doesn't just happen in school canteens of course. The pain of change isn't just experienced by young people who prefer chips to Daddy.
In churches, as in other aspects of life, we frequently come across the same dynamics. Resisting change seems to be part of the human condition. Whether it's the Vicar inching his piano from one side of the church to the other over the course of a year or Nicky Gumble's story of the octogenarian Church Warden who'd 'seen many changes and resisted every one of them', it's all too familiar.
Yet anything alive is always moving and changing. The growth pains of change will be experienced constantly if we follow the wind of the Spirit's leading into the new things that God conceives every morning (Lam 3:23). The Creator who forms not two snowflakes alike in all of time or space is the God of restless, expansive creativity who has always the new, the fresh and the abundant for us to be called forward into.
We would be mistaken if we thought the Christian life is one of progressively settling on the only way things can be done. We'd be mistaken if we thought consensus was God's plan, or democracy. We'd be mistaken if we judged that anything which upsets people or which they think isn't right for them couldn't be from God.
Jesus promised not quiet, peaceful unison but to set a man against his father and the daughter against her mother, not to bring peace but a sword (Mt 10:34-35). Jesus Himself courted controversy and was a constant challenge to the religious norms of His day as He raised a question mark against everything they thought they understood. We should expect to follow in His footsteps. The servant is certainly no greater than the Master. (Jn 15:18-21)
Perhaps we are worthy to be called to share in the fellowship of His sufferings (Php 3:10)? The power of resurrection comes only after they've put you to death. Which of us has yet struggled to the point of shedding our blood (Heb 12:1-7)? Consider Moses and understand that lead people towards freedom and a land of promise and within a few days they'd rather be slaves baking bricks.
Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, once said: 'If you want to make enemies, try to change something'. If we are to change the world we can expect to make many enemies.
We can choose whether to be leaders and prophets like Jamie Oliver or instead side with those standing in the place of the dead, feeding people what they want but don't need from trolleys filled with the worst of the past.
© cag 2006