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[YRP Students' Essays] The Consumption of Food in a British Youth Community

* In 1956 Horace Miner published the oft reprinted essay, "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema" in the academic journal American Anthropologist. In it, he examined North American healthcare from the prospective of an outsider, renaming the United States as "Nacirema," or America spelled backwards. Young people were invited to write their own version of his essay about a culture they had lived in, adopting the voice of an outside observer and perhaps hiding the name of the country for the reader to guess....

In the society today, school meals are generally understood as being significantly important in physically and even mentally developing the children. Using the vast scientific data, many governments have calculated, planned and regulated what they each consider as a suitable school meal for the children in their countries.

One such country is Britain, an island country situated just off the coast of the European Continent. In particular, England has some unique features of school meals. Firstly, as a common characteristic around the globe, the type of school reflects the food quality. The prestigious and ostentatious private schools are well known to supply food of superb excellence. No doubt, this illustrates that the quality of the food is proportional to the cost of school fees ? the more the parents pay, the better the food becomes.

In comparing the two groups of schools ? in other words, the public and private ? the differences are evident. Private schools that were originated from upper-class society still hold the former customs and traditions, such as to have the meal served by the 'kitchen ladies' whilst the children silently wait in their chairs; children are forbidden to speak while eating, and table manners are naturally expected even from the youngest primary school year.

The use of cutlery is particularly worth mentioning, since in all types of school many of the students use knives and forks so well that there is virtually nothing they cannot eat, with the exception of soup. There is even a trend in British students depending on their economic backgrounds: rich children would happily use cutlery even to eat fast foods like hamburgers and pizzas, whereas more economically disadvantaged children eat more with their hands especially when their home is not a haven. Thus the value placed on school meals varies from household to household. Some see it as pointless, but for some others, it is actually their main source of much needed nutrients.

However, the quality of the food itself is rather dubious. Much of the food is cooked by the kitchen ladies ? yet hardly any school demands real skill or experience, and as a consequence, unfortunately, some lax staff prefer to have a cigarette while cooking, regardless of the harm to the children. Subsequently, at lunch times, hungry children are given the option of: A. saturated pasta that has been over-boiled with meat sauce that has puddles of orange oils floating on top of it, or B. water-thinned lamb curry with virtually uncooked rice sprinkled vigorously over it, and if lucky, a unsavoury nun bread. Potato chips (universally known as fried potatoes or French Fries) appear three times a week, and every Friday the majority of the schools offer fried cod and chips, known as 'fish and chips' ? perhaps one of the few dishes that is acknowledged as 'British'. As for desserts, ice-creams and brownies (chocolate flat cakes) mark the highest frequency, followed by yogurt and biscuits, according to the statistics collected by Professor Benedict Miller of King's College. According to his paper, the calculation of nutrients indicates that British children are under-fed vitamins and minerals that could be easily compensated for with sufficient fruits and vegetables.

Much of the food is transported from extrinsic kitchens or factories, and the ingredients are not publicly known. Rumours are constantly spreading amongst the students that various chemicals like plastics and crude oil are mixed in, and all students agree that school meals are 'disgusting'.

Yet concluding that school meals are incompetent seems too biased. For some number of students, a youth without school lunch will be grave: eating junk food day and night will inevitably cause health problems in the near future. Simpler still is the value of school meals through the act of 'eating together'. It develops the children's primary skill to live in a society where the system does not work for their own benefit but forces them to learn the meaning of patience, alongside with an easy start of a conversation, of say, how sickening the food tastes.

Child Research Net would like to thank the Doshisha International Junior/Senior High School and Nanako Kurioka, student and author, for permitting reproduction of this article on the CRN web site.
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