Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Little Battler

I was amused by an article which appeared in the Sun-Herald of Sydney over the weekend. The title was The humble lamington fought back yesterday.

For those unfamiliar with Aussie culture, lamingtons consist of a square piece of sponge cake (usually at least a day old) which is cut in half and layered, very thinly, with whipped cream. Both pieces are sandwiched, then dipped in a chocolate ganache and coated in desiccated coconut. (see picture)

This national symbol had a very humble beginning; essentially it was invented to use up leftover sponge cake which was a common item back in the early 1900s when people had more time to sit around and sip tea.

The Healthy School Canteen Strategy was launched in 2003, in the state of New South Wales, Australia, in a drive to promote healthier eating in the younger generation. It eradicated junk food such as cakes, confectionaries, American-style muffins, and "red foods" (food containing E-additives, the most common form being artificial colouring) from school tuck shops (kioscos) except for two times a term.

This strategy also encourages the school canteens to offer mostly "green" foods such as wholegrain breads, rice, vegetables and fruits. It is not unlike what English chef, Jamie Oliver, is promoting across schools in the UK through his "Jamie's School Dinner" programme.

The Sydney-based Federation of Parents and Citizens which is behind this strategy then went a step further in proposing to extend the healthy canteens food guidelines to apply to all school activities, even those outside of school hours. Had it succeeded; traditional fund-raising activities such as lamington drives, chocolate wheels, fetes and sausage sizzles (asados) would have been restricted.

Reportedly, these school organised events, only counting those held within the state of New South Wales, had collectively raised a cool $50 million Australian dollars (about 100 million pesos) in the past year alone. The money went mostly towards up-grading computers for the kids and refurbishment of the schools, and then to various public charities.

Fortunately the proposal was defeated. The Education Minister said that the parents had the prime responsibility for teaching their children about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Touché!

I read this article with mixed feelings. I totally agree with the outcome and I think good habits, be it food related or not, begin with the parents. However, here lies the conundrum...if the parents are not capable of setting good examples, it is unfair to expect their children to do so in their own accord, at least not at that age.

I had been to too many parties in BA where kids as young as one were bottle fed coca-cola or other gaseosas by their parents or relatives. These frizzy drinks are known to be bad for teeth, liver, kidneys and bones in adults, not to mention the yet to be fully developed organs in young children. Most often, there was no healthier option at these parties. I later realised that frizzy drinks were not just for special occasions, but, commonly, the daily beverage of choice for the whole family.

Not long after I arrived here, I received an email from a mother with school-aged kids. She lamented the canteen situation at her kids' old school, one very prestigious private school in the northern suburbs. She found the canteen situation no better after she moved her kids to a more liberal and even more expensive private school. It was the same at this new school; unhealthy food, no one wanted to hear about initiating a change, no one wanted to change.

This courageous lady, who suffered much discouragement from fellow parents and staff, all the way up to the head master, was determined to see the next generation eat and grow healthier.

After a couple of long years and much struggle, she and two fellow mums are finally seeing fruits from their effort. She should be proud of her sheer determination and achievement, yet she sighed "sometimes one wonders why it is so hard to introduce change that is good for everyone".

Aside from the lack of initiative to introduce good nutrition to the next generation, I am always sad to see parents, sometimes even grandparents, littering in front of their impressionable young cubs. While I recognise these are not my battles to fight; I can't help but think about what this implies for the other habitants of this city, not only for now but in the future if these adorable angels grow up adopting their elders' habits.

I cannot see any rainbow at the end of this particular tunnel right now but I still have faith that things will get better. I don't have to look far, my husband and our close Argentine friends give me a glimmer of hope that the good and sensible will prevail.

I am going to introduce another Aussie culinary symbol, the ANZAC biscuits. These chewy biscuits, packed with wholesome goodness, were first invented in the trenches of WWI, on the Gallipoli front, by the brave young men in the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who went to unfamiliar Europe to fight naked aggression. The biscuits were distributed as army rations in WWII when the boys, again, went all the way over to Europe and Asia to fight the war of principle. These battlers were the unsung heros of both World Wars.

1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
2/3 cup brown sugar
125g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp boiling water

Preheat oven to 160C.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Melt the syrup and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Place bicarbonate of soda and water in a small bowl, mix well.

Add the bicarbonate mixture to the saucepan and stir. Pour the dry mixture into the saucepan. Stir to combine.

Roll teaspoonful of dough into balls and place them on a greased and lined baking tray. Leave at least 3 cm between each for spreading. Now flatten the balls with the tines for a fork.

Bake for 15-20 min. or until the biscuits are golden brown at the edges. At that stage, the biscuits are cooked, they are suppose to remain soft and chewy in the middle. Makes 20.

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