Last night I sat in Melbourne’s beautiful Regent Theatre to hear Jamie Oliver in discussion with Matt Preston. There is a lot of chatter about food at the moment – Jamie’s visit coincides with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. But last night, he wasn’t throwing together a cheeky risotto. He was speaking about his project The Ministry of Food.

As Jamie explained, the Ministry of Food has its roots in a campaign from the Second World War. The British Government set up a team of cooking teachers whose role was to educate the public about food and teach people to use the available rations to produce healthy meals for their families. And ensure there was still cake at birthdays! (I liked that bit.)

Today, a lot of people don’t know how to cook. Fast food is easily and readily available. For every farmers’ market selling organic apples, there are a dozen supermarkets with weekly specials of cheaply-made biscuits. Throwing together a dinner of chops and three vegies has become too hard for some. And others simply don’t have the know-how. Some kids don’t know the difference between a turnip and a tomato.

I find this staggering, but then I love to cook. I want to know where my food has come from, and there is nothing I love more than baking a cake or a batch of cookies. And I am desperately trying to instil these values about food in my daughter.

Jamie Oliver says he doesn’t have all the answers. But he does make sense when he says that there are some simple things that can be done. Whilst acknowledging a previous business partnership with a supermarket chain, he believes that if a supermarket is going to have 100 items on a ‘buy one, get one free’ deal, then be fair and make sure that half of them are fresh foods. Make it as easy for us to choose the healthy option as the pre-packaged, not-so-healthy option.

He says that every child should be able to cook five meals by the time they leave school. Five meals. When I stopped to think about this, I remembered how I learnt to cook. On Friday nights, when there wasn’t the mad rush to get to bed early, read stories and pack our bags for school the following day, the kitchen was handed over to my sister and me.

With Mum watching and helping out as required, we would prepare dinner. We started with scrambled eggs – one of the simplest recipes possible. We learnt to make crepes, beef stroganoff (hey – it was the early ‘80s!) and pasta dishes. We learnt to throw together a salad to accompany all meals. By the time I left home at 21, I could cook. It wasn’t a big deal. It was just something I could do. My sister was the same – and I’m sure that if we’d had a brother he would have been in the same boat.

Jamie also believes that there needs to be some regulation in place, but he’s absolutely not the food police. I love the fact that he’s not militant (although I could sense members of the food police in attendance – there were numerous occasions of shock and horror gasps and judgey tsk-ing). Jamie eats chips! Jamie says it’s okay to eat pizza! Jamie says burgers are fine! But what he’s saying is don’t eat it every day. And add some vegies, for goodness sake!

None of what Jamie says is rocket science and he is the first person to admit this. He also knows that he has profile, he has a platform and he has the means to make a change. He has put these issues firmly on the social agenda through his television programs and his campaigns.

Jamie also believes in the importance of people power and consumer advocacy. His call to action last night was for every member of the audience to send a one line email to their local MP with the following: All children should learn to cook.

You think it sounds simplistic? You don’t think that you sending that one email will make a difference? What about if you, all your friends and family do? What about if you put it up on your Facebook page asking your friends to tell their friends?

Yes, this is a type 1 diabetes blog. But the reason that I went to see Jamie last night, and the reason I decided to blog about it today is because I know that for every child out there who has food knowledge, there are many who don’t. And I think we all have a responsibility in this. As individuals; of course. But also as a community.

Want to be part of an online community that can and does make a difference? Check out the Parents’ Jury website and become a member.

Getting my kid cooking!

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