Food for Life National Conference addresses issues of health and sustainability

Last Thursday the Food for Life National Conference took place in central London to discuss issues across the food and health spectrum

Last Thursday the Food for Life National Conference took place in central London, a day rich with discussion and insight from influential leaders and pioneers from across the food and health spectrum.

The legendary Food for Life co-founder Jeanette Orrey MBE opened the conference, calling for a joined-up approach to improve children’s food, whilst also addressing the interlinked issues of climate, health and sustainability.

Henry Dimbleby MBE, independent lead for the National Food Strategy, expertly kicked off the morning’s focus on local and national food strategy and the role of procurement and standards in getting the best for children’s food in schools. He challenged everyone in the room to participate in the National Food Strategy and be a part of the conversation about what we want our future food system to look like.

Henry led a thought-provoking debate, with panellists including Sue Pritchard, director of The RSA Food, Farming & Countryside Commission and Line Rise Nielsen, food policy director from Copenhagen Food System Centre. Line revealed how Copenhagen schools made the staggering transition to serving freshly prepared, 90% organic food, without a rise in costs. Illustrating the importance of such an approach, she said: “Sustainability and health are not two separate things. What’s good for the planet is also good for the body: it’s very interlinked.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was an energising guest speaker, sharing his thoughts about the top priorities for the future of children’s food and leading a passionate discussion with panellists including Sharon Hodgson MP and Kristin Bash, Honorary Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Sheffield. The panel shared their challenges, successes and visions for food education and for changing the culture around school meals.

Along with the speakers, temporary and modular kitchen infrastructure provider PKL, released a short teaser of the film “Food for Life: Building the Future of School Meals”, which the company has provided to support The Soil Association.

The National Conference focused on the Nation’s ongoing crises surrounding childhood health and food systems, as well as discussing how local and national food strategy and public procurement can radically alter the landscape for sustainable, healthy diets.

“Everything we’ve heard today, from across the entire spectrum of the food system, has reaffirmed the urgency with which we need to act on children’s food,” says James Cashmore, Deputy CEO of Soil Association. “This is the year of climate, nature and health, and of joining the dots between these inter-connected crises that have food sitting at their very heart.”

Interactive voting sessions captured the mood from the room with the audience of 150 senior decision-makers in public health, education and local government standing united on certain key topics: delegates ranked Ofsted regulation and inspection of school meals as the most important measures to help ensure that school meals are consistently better for health and sustainability. An overwhelming majority (88%) voted in favour of a campaign for getting a national Food Education subject on the schools and early years curriculum. Most delegates “strongly agreed” that funding allocation for school meals should be reviewed to ensure quality and sustainability remain priorities, and that the National Food Strategy should set ambitious targets for healthy and sustainable food, including organic, in public procurement.

“It shouldn’t be down to a Headteacher’s personal passion, schools should be held to account on good food in the same way we are for health and safety,” says Elizabeth Whetham, headteacher of Holy Trinity Primary School in Halifax.

Food for Life took the opportunity to celebrate the ongoing, positive work happening in Food for Life schools across the country. This year, the inaugural Peter Melchett Award was presented to Blackawton Primary School in Totnes. The award celebrates exemplary Food for Life schools which have made an outstanding contribution through food to nurture the health and wellbeing of their pupils. Blackawton were recognised for their fantastic all-round commitment to Food for Life principles and their outstanding contribution through food to nurture the health and wellbeing of their pupils.

A freshly prepared, seasonal and sustainable menu was served to the Food for Life Served Here Gold standard by the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms’ catering team. The lunch demonstrated how healthy food can be made delicious, and showcased the great food served to such a high standard every day across Food for Life Served here catering teams.