x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Health is a small price to pay to save the planet

For the past few weeks, to try to make us eat more healthily, the school has been herding us all into a room with a big screen and is making us watch episodes of Jamie's School Dinners.

For the past few weeks, to try to make us eat more healthily, the school has been herding us all into a room with a big screen and is making us watch episodes of Jamie's School Dinners. It tracks the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in his attempt to bring about healthier school dinners in schools in the UK. This has, funnily enough, not driven any of us to switch from lunches comprising chips doused in salt and oil to lettuce leaves. Neither has it decreased the tuck shop's ice cream sales.

I have noticed that these half-hour weekly sessions are increasingly being devoted to silent games of rock, paper, scissors, a sign of students' mounting desperation to be allowed to spend their prep lessons in class as usual. Prep lessons are supposed to be used productively doing homework or revising, but are treated as free time, only under classroom arrest. We are watching the "expletives deleted" version, so instead of listening to anything that Jamie actually has to say, we are rather paying closer attention to the beeps.

The schools Jamie has targeted in his show seem to be the exceptions rather than the rule, with kids being unable to tell the difference between a celery stick and a potato. However, even teenagers I know often suffer from gastronomical ignorance. I remember all too clearly when someone trotted back from the canteen gingerly holding a plate of pasta squirted with red and exclaimed: "Eww, there's a big lump in my sauce." When informed that it was a piece of tomato, she looked astonished and said: "They make sauce out of tomatoes? I thought it came from a bottle!" I'm not entirely sure that she was joking.

Although knowing your basic fruit and vegetables is not a skill as common as it used to be, an overwhelming percentage of teenagers, at least the ones I frequently see, are still, surprisingly enough, consumed by a desire to eat healthily. This may only be so they can shed the pounds quicker to gain that stick-insect figure, but it is nevertheless encouraging. In response, the school has turned the canteen into a foodie haven, stocked up with power foods like hummus and pitta bread, pasta, spag bol, sautéed vegetables and the like. I have never been able to pay for my pitta bread without having to wait in a 50-strong queue of veggie-wielding sixth formers either.

At a previous school in the UK, the Greek salads and olive quesadillas provided by the school were quietly shunned by the hordes of schoolchildren in favour of the overpriced Mr P's across the road. Mr P's was a minute confectionery shop half the size of my room into which most of the school would crowd in the hope of securing a pack of gummy worms before they were all sold out. The healthy-eating trend does not explain why anyone would want to live on nothing but wholemeal cucumber sandwiches, milk and water - and literally nothing else, which is a diet a certain acquaintance of mine tried but had to give up after two days.

She then came up with a new theory that eating anything for three days will render the eater incapable of ever eating that food ever again. Following this, she has embarked on a new trial diet where she will eat nothing but McDonald's fare until she grows utterly and completely sick of it. It was only slightly awkward assuring her over the phone that the weighing scales are probably messed up and a week of burgers could not possibly cause an increase in weight.

Spotting the business section of this newspaper lying open at a page announcing the opening of a Mars bar factory in Dubai, I am not ashamed to say that I read the business pages for once in my life. But all the killjoys who waste no time in telling me exactly what that teeny sweet is likely to do to my heart will be pleased to know that now I have a valid reason to indulge. Mars bars, for consumers in the UAE, will have a far smaller carbon footprint - they will be locally grown, unlike any leeks we are likely to consume in the near future. And we're not putting our needs over the environment now, are we?

Lavanya Malhotra is a 14-year-old student in Dubai.