It is strange that there has been so little public comment about Tesco’s Eat Happy project. Yet a recent report about Tesco’s abuse of its own suppliers makes very uncomfortable reading in the light of the ongoing partnership between Tesco and so many of our schools.
Tesco’s Eat Happy project introduces children to their ‘happy’ suppliers via online conversations, takes children round stores and runs cooking classes, all apparently in the name of encouraging healthy eating. The process does, of course, also colonise the minds of children with the Tesco brand, subtly teaching them that this good food they are learning about comes from Tesco stores.
This is embarrassing, given the report of the Groceries Code adjudicator this week, which details how Tesco have deliberately mistreated their suppliers by withholding money and unilaterally deducting amounts from invoices in order to meet their own financial targets. Tesco say that these practices have now come to an end, but George Dunn of the Tenant Farmers Association says that these criticisms have barely scratched the surface of what is really going on.
It clearly does not have to be this way. Influential people in Scotland combined together to oppose the Tesco initiative in schools. There are also plenty of ways of linking schools with local farmers without using supermarkets. Government advice actually recommends local sourcing, but Tesco’s online conversations with suppliers are frequently with farmers overseas.
Tesco’s Eat Happy project is partnered with the Children’s Food Trust, which has set up ‘Let’s Get Cooking’ classes in thousands of schools across the country and was funded with £20m of public money in the shape of a Big Lottery Grant after a government sponsored investigation of food in schools. It seems that as this grant money ran down, so Tesco stepped in and offered its own programme. This may sound all very laudable on the surface, but Tesco clearly has a commercial interest here and it begs the question as to whether Tesco might be benefiting from the significant amount of public money that went into kickstarting this process.
It is becoming more and more clear by the day that we need to encourage healthy eating in our society and that obesity and heart disease could have a devastating impact on our NHS in the future- but there are better ways to address this important problem than Tesco’s Eat Happy project.