Food for Life began as the personal mission of school cook Jeanette Orrey. Her ‘beef’ with turkey twizzlers made national news back at the end of the 1990’s. This inspired Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners. Jeanette’s priority was serving children real food, cooked from scratch, using local ingredients. Her approach boosted school meal uptake and transformed the catering operation. With support from Lord Peter Melchett and a pot of National Lottery funding, Food for Life was born in 2007.
When this funding ended, Food for Life was taken on by the Soil Association, as part of its Good Food for All ethos. To start off with, Food for Life was simply about feeding hungry children real food instead of ultra-processed junk. Then the project started evolving.
You’d hope that all schools were financially supported to provide only top-quality meals, but sadly this is not the case. And, shocking as it may seem, good food is not seen as a priority by everyone - even with compelling evidence that bad diets lead to poor outcomes, especially for the most disadvantaged children. At Food for Life we believe you need to start from where you are, not where you’d like to be.
Food for Life puts children at the heart of transforming their school’s food culture. In our schools awards we ask them to make the connection between growing, cooking and eating sustainably by getting their hands dirty and doing it themselves. Organic isn’t just the Soil Association logo on a product, it’s a way of life.
But isn’t organic the ‘gold standard’ of food quality? Shouldn’t we aspire to feed our children with the best natural ingredients? Absolutely. And that’s exactly what we do. Which is why at the Gold award level, Food for Life schools use more organic and sustainably certified ingredients.
Our awards help chefs change their menus to include better quality ingredients, and support children to try new foods. By the end of their Bronze award, more children eat a healthier fresh school lunch, and that lowers costs for the kitchen.
At Silver award level, schools will be able to boost their supplies with fruit and veg they’ve grown from their own organic gardens. We ask them to use more certified ingredients too. This often means using less but better meat and increasing the amount of protein from pulses.
By Gold, schools have embedded a fantastic food culture. They prioritise and promote organic. Sustainability will be at the heart of the whole school ethos. They’ll be a hub for their local community. Gold schools are enabled to raise funds with food events and sell their produce. They can use this to subsidise their increased organic spend.
The same standards are applied in Food for Life Served Here for commercial caterers to prove their commitment to health and planet alike.
Marcus Rashford’s summer 2020 campaign shot school meals up the media agenda. Meanwhile the terrifying rate of species demise has been highlighted by many including recently, the BBC. Food for Life is where these essential priorities become one. We don’t have time to wait for schools to get funding to provide a fully organic meal for all children every day – as much as we would love that. Food for Life is about taking every action you can, right now. We’re helping a generation of children understand that the choices we make about food not only shape our own lives, but that of every species on earth, and Earth itself.