Books and school lunches….

I´ve been quite busy the last couples of weeks.

I just published two books – one about jams – well – not just jams – all sorts of syrups, chutneys, red cabbage, vinegars, mustards,etc.
All made in a simple and straight forward manner.
It´s called “Sultur allt árið”.

It always surprises me how scared people are of experimenting in the kitchen – not the least when it comes to jams. It seems to be popular misconception that jamming is something you have to do for the whole year, and that you can´t really do anything else then putting berries or rhubarb in a pot, using a kilo of sugar against a kilo of produce. That might have been the deal decades ago, when people still had cold cellars to keep the jams, didn´t have as much access to produce throughout the year, and – well – ate more jam.

Nowadays, people have fridges and many have freezers.
The berries go into the freezers and are more likely to end up in smoothies, pancakes and cupcakes, then actually ending up in a jam. And people don´t want as much sugar as they used to.

I´ve also been busy with work around my book about lunches, called
“Hollt nesti heiman að”, which has recipes and tips about how to make the perfect lunchbox to take to school, work and as well on picnics. I did that book together with two friends of mine and it comes out of our work surrounding the horrible school lunches that are being served here in Iceland – as well as in many other countries.

We started looking into the matter more then a year ago – thinking it was a simple matter of meeting with the cook in our children’s school and asking if it could be done differently. We soon came to the understanding, that it wasn´t as simple as that – that the decisions weren´t the schools to make.

We started then looking into what was being offered for lunch in every school in the city, and were simply appalled.

A year later – after many meetings with people that are supposed to be in charge, plus endless emails of encouragement from parents, teachers – pretty much everyone – not alot has happened.

The schools are still serving “kakósúpa”(cocoa soup – yes – that´s right) and endless amounts of processed meats – stuff that often has been fried somewhere far away, frozen and then reheated – either in schools or in the catering companies that serve the schools. The children then only have roughly 15 minutes to devour the food before the next group of students arrives.

We believe it has nothing to do with budget – but more to do with the lack of interest and ambition within the system. Having to serve lunch, seems to feel a bit like something that has been forced on the schools, and that everyone would just rather be without having to deal with it.
It doesn´t matter whether it´s food being heated in the schools or being heated by catering companies and then brought to the schools – it´s all the same. Ambitionless, tasteless, soulless “feed” – not food.

We have encouraged that the decision making surrounding the school lunches, be brought back into the schools, instead of being decided by a handful of people.

The system now is very unflexible – the schools have to buy from suppliers that have been approved by city officials. Needless to say, companies often get their contracts renewed and needless to say – by the same officials. Perhaps it´s not only the food that smells a bit off here??

The only thing that seems to be looked into is price – never quality.
Therefore, naturally, a lot of the food is imported cheaply into the country – for examples fish fingers. We asked where they came from and the answer we got was
“It´s either from Alaska or China – not sure where they are coming from now”.
They didn´t even think it really mattered.
Does that sound right? Should children in one of the biggest fishing nations be eating fish fingers from Alaska or China? And should they eat processed meats and factory breads many times a week?

There is something terribly wrong in the approach surrounding school food.
And not only school food…also the food in hospitals…old age homes…pretty much everywhere that people that are not able to fend for themselves are being fed.

Saying that a meal meets “dietary requirements” doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Surely it may have reduced fat….the processed meat may have “some” nutrition, but it is mostly made up of “other things” with unpronouncable names and alot of salt.

Where does enjoyment of food come in?

If it´s all just about meeting requirements made by people who never come into the kitchens and don´t have any means of checking and making sure those requirements are met – what´s the point of having them really? Even cat food has nutrients and added vitamins – doesn´t it? Anyone up for a can of that for lunch???

We have all been children – many of us have children – if we are fortunate enough to reach old age, many of us will go into institutions where we will be fed processed, salty foods – often heated all together in specially designed trays, so that the “meat”, potatoes and frozen vegetables may all taste the same…of nothing really.

And many of us will go into hospitals – where we most likely will be served a Danish pastry and coffee right after we wake up from our heart surgery.

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