Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners are the Root of my Disordered Eating

Trigger warning: disordered eating, Jamie Oliver, fatphobia.

In the spring of 2005, Jamie Oliver began his war on British school dinners, and children across the country were forced to try and eat a bit healthier, whether they wanted to or not.

I was 12 at the time, and yeah – I probably did need a bit of help with healthy eating. I’d stopped eating meat less than a year previously, and replaced the meat largely with carbs and cheese. Which is tasty, but not great for growing children. My school had already stopped letting us fill our Pot Noodles in the canteens before Jamie got involved, but he went one step further. He took our chips.

“The problem is that Jamie’s brand new school dinners just didn’t replace the old ones well enough.”

I’ll forever be bitter about this. I know chips aren’t the healthiest of foods and I know that they shouldn’t have been my midday sustenance for the best part of two years. But the main problem with Jamie’s war on school dinners isn’t that he took away turkey twizzlers and my beloved fried potato products. The problem is that Jamie’s brand new school dinners just didn’t replace the old ones well enough.

Right as I was about to become a teenager, The Naked Chef made his move to help fight the obesity epidemic, and pulled my staple food out from under me for all but one day per week. And what appeared in its place? Not much. The breaded and fried meat products went to grilled ones, but all I was left with was poorly drained soggy pasta in disgusting sauce.

This meant that, at the ripe old age of twelve, for four days each week, I would skip lunch. I left my free school meal entitlement unfulfilled and took my 40 minute lunch break anywhere other than the dining hall.

“The one constant is that I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food.”

In the ten years that followed, I went from a reasonably unhealthily eating but thin and somewhat athletic pre-teen to an early 20s disabled and chronically ill fat person. But the one constant across those years and the other half a decade since, is that I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food. When I feel as though my depression is getting on top of me, I just stop eating.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been motivated by the urge to be thin — I was thin up until I started university. I’m a body positive fat person now. But Jamie’s War on School Dinners taught me that it’s just easier to not eat – and that is incredibly problematic.

Not eating can be as bad for your health as eating too much, or the wrong thing. I’ve certainly found that my disordered eating has had more effect on my health (mentally) than being fat has (physically or mentally!).

When I see the latest thing that Jamie wants to ban in the name of healthy eating, I’m thrown back to being 12-years-old and being told that chips are only for Fridays. I’m left standing on a Monday morning, holding up the queue while I try and decide between a disgusting but marginally ‘healthier’ meal, or nothing at all.

And for me, that choice existed. Lately, Oliver has gone after 2 for 1 deals on takeaway pizzas, which if you’re a working class family with little money, might be the only way you can feed the whole family if you don’t have the time or ability to slave over the cooker. I’m imagining 12-year-old girls in Generation Z who are faced with a similar situation to me, but whereas I had one poor option, they’ve got nothing. And if I stopped eating when there was an alternative, what are they going to do?

“Now it’s not just school dinners, he seems to be going after everything that the working class rely on in the name of the ‘War on Obesity’.”

I’m also from a working class family who had little money growing up – I already said that we claimed free school meals. But in the mid 2000s, Jamie Oliver hadn’t managed to sink his claws into as much high carb, high fat, high sugar food as he has now. I realise now, as an adult, that it’s because my parents made sacrifices, but I didn’t go without an evening meal. Even as a vegetarian, when we went shopping my mum would pick me up the various options that only I would eat so I could be fed. I was very fortunate. And yet, I still have a problem with food. Now it’s not just school dinners, he seems to be going after everything that the working class rely on in the name of the ‘War on Obesity’.

And, yes, I guess, there is likely to be less obesity. But if that’s at the cost of kids literally not eating, developing disordered eating patterns and suffering mentally – is it worth it? Hell no.

F*ck off Jamie. It’s too late for me, I’ve had 15 years of your bullsh*t. Stop trading one food problem for another and calling it progress.

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