It’s funny. I was about the start this post with the statement ‘I’m not usually one to delve into politics,’ but that could not be truer. I don’t think a day has gone by since I stepped foot into my first university class that I haven’t had some political discussion or another.
I have always been one for fighting about rights. Voting rights, gender rights, anything that interests me, even if it doesn’t necessarily pertain to me. I’m a strong believer in using your voice whenever you can. In fact, when I started my masters, I didn’t realise just how well I would fit in. You may never find a more anarchistic advocacy group than librarians. Fighting for equal rights and open access to literature and education. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.
But anyways, the reason I bright all this up is because of Jamie Oliver. Weird, right? Yeah well, I agree. I saw a picture of him this morning, sitting in Parliment. Not where I expected to find him, but I was seriously happy to see him there. I have always been rather passive to his existence, as I am to most famous people who are not Neil Gaiman or Lin-Manuel Miranda. Or at least I have been since high school.
I was of the era that passed through high school during Jamie Oliver’s reign of terror on school lunches. Just in time to see cheeseburgers and coke give way to dry chicken filets and bland, greasy pasta pots. It was heartbreaking. I lived on ham rolls for almost 6 years (mostly as a way to avoid pasta bakes, mind you).
I was ignorant. I wasn’t thankful for my health. Thankful for the fact that at the age of 22 I am not obese, I do no have heart problems and I still retain all of my teeth. But I was a child. I wanted to eat crap. Hell, most days I still do, but at least age comes with some increase in self-control, however small.
My point is, my passive hate for Jamie Oliver has turned into immense gratitude. As well as being the generation to kiss goodbye to lunchtime cheeseburgers, I was also the generation who benefitted from free school meals. I grew up in a household with a single mother, trying to feed both myself and my steadily-declining-in-health grandmother, while attempting to finish her own education and work alongside everything else. My mother is a superhero. It’s something I still say now, as she works two jobs seven days a week in order to make her dreams come true and help me with mine. I am eternally grateful and deeply hopeful that I will soon be the position to pay her back in every way I can.
I wasn’t born or raised in poverty. I was lucky. I was fortunate. But I never quite understood how much of that was thanks to something as simple as free school lunches. As simple as £2.50 a day. Seems small right. Barely worth registering. It adds up though. You consider that, five days a week for the, what, thirty odd weeks of school a year. That’s £12.50 a week. That’s £375 a year! If you don’t think that is a lot of money, I am happy for you. Happy you have never had to consider that amount as a blip on your radar. Happy you have never had to consider that an amount like that could feed a family of four for 3 months. And it has.
So I want to say thank you. Thank you and I’m sorry, to Jamie Oliver. Sorry I took you for granted in my youth and thank you for defending the health and wellbeing rights of children all across the UK. I truly, deeply hope you and all those who oppose this absurd manifesto are successful.