Real Food Education
In the UK, many people lack basic food skills. Children need to receive proper food education to ensure that they are able to choose and prepare a healthy diet, and this must be incorporated into the school curriculum. The reintroduction of practical cooking lessons in secondary schools is a step in the right direction, but needs to be expanded to include wider knowledge and skills, including food growing.
One out of every two young women aged 17-24 do not cook anything from scratch. (Joanna Blythman (2006) Bad Food Britain. How a nation ruined its appetite)
What's the problem?
In the UK, there are a large number of individuals who lack basic food skills and education. People are unaware of where their food comes from and how it is produced, what constitutes a balanced diet, and are unable to prepare healthy food for themselves. For example, a 2005 survey by the British Heart Foundation found that 37% of children aged 8-14 did not know that cheese was made from milk, and that 36% could not identify the main ingredient in chips, with answers including oil, egg and apples.
Since cooking was taken off the school curriculum and became “food technology “ with the emphasis on designing food packing and food processing in place of cooking skills and food handling it is not surprising many parents find themselves unable to cook. Jamie Oliver highlighted this problem in his Ministry of Food series insert quote
There is a real danger that the current generation of children will grow up with no understanding of where our food comes from and without the skills to choose and prepare a healthy diet.
A 1999 survey by the NFU found that nearly half of children thought that margarine came from cows, a third believed that oranges grew in Britain and nearly a quarter did not know that the main ingredient in bread was flour. (Joanna Blythman (2006) Bad Food Britain. How a nation ruined its appetite)
Why is this important?
As a literature review on teaching of cooking skills by Professor Martin Caraher from the Centre for Food Policy at City University found that practical cooking skills are vital to ensure understanding of what constitutes a healthy life, and important to ensure that individuals are able to exercise control over their diet and food intake, whether by cooking and preparing their own food or by understanding the processes that go into ready prepared foods.
Prof. Caraher states that: “Cooking skills prepare people to make choices in a fast changing food world. Without the skills, choice and control are diminished and a dependency culture emerges. Poor cooking skills could be a barrier to widening food choice in later life and thus reduce the chance of eating healthily. Indeed a study from Consumer Focus reported respondents on low incomes identified the barriers to a healthy diet as being too tired to cook and not being able to cook.”
Caraher reported that a number of studies have shown increased fruit and vegetable consumption among child and adult participants in food skills clubs/classes. Though few effective studies have been completed, food skills lessons do have an apparent effect in improving the diets of participants.
Practical food growing, through school gardens or window boxes, helps reinforce teaching about healthy diet, introducing children to new types of fruit and vegetables, and encourages outdoor activity and environmental awareness. Jonathon Porritt, former Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission states that there is a “real need for schools to respond to environmental concerns”, but points to developing gardens and growing food as one of the positive steps that can be taken by schools .
In 2005, a survey by the British Heart Foundation found that 37% of children aged 8-14 did not know that cheese was made from milk, and that 36% could not identify the main ingredient in chips, with answers including oil, egg and apples. (Joanna Blythman (2006) Bad Food Britain. How a nation ruined its appetite)
What's the solution?
All schools need to be helped to develop their food education. This will involve all students having the opportunity to:
- take part in growing projects;
- visit local allotments/food producers and farms;
- learn cooking skills;
- study food and farming issues and consider global perspectives;
- make links with Personal and Social Health Education targets.
This will enable pupils to produce healthy meals for themselves and families and consequently allow them real control over their diets. In the long tem it will also raise the food IQ of the nation.
A survey by the British Potato Council found that 60% of school children thought that potatoes grew on trees. (Joanna Blythman (2006) Bad Food Britain. How a nation ruined its appetite)
Progress so far
In January 2008, following a decade of campaigning by Sustain, the Government announced that they plan to reintroduce compulsory cookery lessons for secondary school pupils. The 85 per cent of schools with the facilities to do so are already expected to offer practical cooking lessons to 11-14 year olds, with this being compulsory in all schools by 2011.
This is excellent progress, but the Children's Food Campaign would like to see these plans to be expanded so that pupils are taught wider “food skills”, including food growing, which has been shown to have wide ranging health, environmental and social benefits.
What can I do?
Get involved in a food growing project that works with children. For help setting up a school garden or persuading your child's school to make food skills more central to the curriculum, join our online network where you can pick up tips from others around the country.
A 2001 MORI survey of the UK's eating habits concluded: “Most adults of today learnt to cook from their parents, however parents of today are passing less of their cooking skills on. Findings also indicate that the school currently plays a small role in teaching children to cook.” (Joanna Blythman (2006) Bad Food Britain. How a nation ruined its appetite)]
Frequently Asked Questions
Isn't the school curriculum is already too crowded?
Many aspects of food education can be taught as a way of achieving current targets, for example under science, PSHE and citizenship. By teaching this in a practical way there is every chance the children will become more engaged and involved than attempting to learn this through a worksheet/text book approach.
But how can schools find the funds?
Proper food education doesn't have to be expensive – for example, once set up, school gardens can cost very little to run. However, where extra funds are needed they can be found: shools didn't have the funds to buy computer suites but once it was decided that this was a priority the money was found. Lack of funds is sometimes used as an excuse to avoid making changes.
The following organisations and websites provide more information about this issue.
Food growing with children
Federation of City Farms and Community Garden
Farming and Countryside Education
RHS Campaign for School Gardening
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2009) Sustainable Development in Action. A curriculum planning guide for schools