Let’s keep using the internet to campaign for better food

I realise most of you have heard about this, but I just want to say a few words about the food blog incident that’s been in the news, which involved a 9 year old girl named Martha being banned by her school council from posting pictures of her school dinners on her blog , and rating them according to how tasty and healthy (hint: not very) they are. For those who missed it, the ban was reversed today, with the council falling over themselves to apologise after being criticised by Jamie Oliver and the internet at large.

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So all’s fine and dandy then? Not quite. There are two issues that come to mind immediately, both of which I’m quite angry about:

1. The truly atrocious quality food tends towards in the UK. Having spent much of the past two years breathing in fat fumes at shady kebab vans throughout Leicester, it’s not a stretch to say some of the stuff is a public health disaster. What’s worse is that many people either don’t know, don’t care, or apparently don’t have much of a choice. Not surprising if you consider the price of food compared with the European mainland (good luck buying some decent chicken for two under 3 quid.), and the meals some of these kids get served at school. The result is a nation of chubby butts and deathly pale faces. In other words, utterly depressing. No wonder something has to change, but previous attempts such as those led by chef Jamie Oliver have so far only seen very modest success.

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2. Maybe the failure of these kind of campaigns are down to the fact that we apparently have to choose our words carefully on the internet at the moment, for fear of being shut down – either by school or the workplace or the government itself.  Let me say first that I do believe the same rules of conduct should apply on the internet like they do to any public statements. Verbal abuse and racism are unnecessary and to be frowned upon- I’m sure most of you will remember the buzz around the racist tweeting incidents. While I disapprove of the content of the tweets, the publicity around the event made me uneasy. Does something as banal as a twitter post really need to be taken to a Court of justice? I had my doubts.
What does this have to do with Martha, you might ask. Of course the food blog issue is not on par with racial abuse and consequently isn’t a legal issue. The point is that on reading reactions around the internet to the news about Martha and her foodblog, it’s obvious that many people are upset and annoyed about what is perecieved as another attack on freedom of expression in the country in general. Hundreds of people have apparently taken to tweeting pictures of their own school lunches and expressing support for Martha. While I think the comments on the Guardian’s website comparing Martha’s school to the Soviet Union might be exaggerating a bit, I think there is a reason to be worried as it fits a general trend towards more surveillance and censoring of people’s personal spaces on the internet where they express their opinion – such as twitter, or this blog.

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It’s time to make more of an issue about things that bother us without being shut down – by anyone – after the first few posts. I’m sick of hearing blogs (or the internet in general) “offend” people or somehow inconvenience them. Being offended is not an argument. If there’s a problem, there is nothing stopping you from replying in the same manner. The only problem is where to draw the line. As far as I’m concerned, when there’s no direct harm done (eg. in the school dinnners case no members of kitchen staff have been slandered or fired as a result), people should be allowed to freely share their opinions.

What are your thoughts on the topic? Do institutions have a right to take down members’ personal internet spaces in order to protect their reputation, even when the opinion expressed clearly does not break any laws? In cases where the law does apply, is writing something on twitter on par with saying it verbally or in print (ie newspaper)?

To return to the originial topic of food, there’s a good amount of discussion on health and interesting recipes from around the world to try around the internet. In the meantime, here are links to Martha’s original blog and Oliver’s school dinners project.

I feel tempted to write some posts on easy student cooking myself in order to find out just how much Im spending on my food and how much it can be cut down to suit a budget while still being tasty and nutritious. Maybe a good idea for a project when I return to university in September?


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One thought on “Let’s keep using the internet to campaign for better food

  1. Gwen says:

    I just read the article in the Guardian about this girl! You are so right! Typical case of ‘shooting the messenger’

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