In my view food literacy is a key element of improved health outcomes, reduced waste, and a stronger connection to where food comes from and how it is produced. A deeper understanding of production, processing, the whole value chain, will also likely help foster the conversation on production technologies that is so absent from the food system dialogue today. Food literacy develops in different ways. Our home experiences shape both our preferences and our competencies. The foundation of my food perspective was built in my parent’s home. We learned to cook and tried everything. My parents were food insecure after World War II and, therefore, food waste was simply not tolerated. My sons’ developed their food perspectives Through a hybrid of traditions and experiences of my wife and I. My older son spent a summer working in a restaurant kitchen which dramatically changed his attitude towards and confidence with food and its preparation. My younger son marvels at recipes and techniques he can learn on YouTube. They both send me pictures of their latest creations regularly and I am delighted at how well (and healthily) they eat.
Recently I had the opportunity to participate as a helper in a Garden to Table Event. This food literacy program targeted at elementary school children is led by my friend and colleague Bruce McAdams. Garden to Table brings elementary classes to the University of Guelph. They usually visit either the UofG Organic Garden or the Honey Bee Lab (depending on the season). At the garden they plant and/or harvest products and see how things grow. They learn about soil health and photosynthesis. Afterwards the classes go to a kitchen on campus to prepare some of the food they have harvested – making a direct connection from the garden to food they prepare and eat. On the day I volunteered I worked with two groups of students (one group of two boys and a group of three girls) from a grade 4 class. We made a rhubarb strawberry sauce that we had over ice cream. The kids also made granola bars that they could wrap and take home. The objective is to get the kids to engage their parents in a discussion. The process is amazing. These kids had fun, learned some basic skills and gained confidence reading and executing a recipe. A striking sign of the impact is that two 10 year old boys asked me for the recipes to take home. It is also remarkable that this program is delivered by a new group of students under Bruce’s guidance every year. The program is funded by a gift from the Harshman Foundation and has been delivered to over 2,000 elementary school children since its inception. The impact is great and the potential is greater.
While Bruce and I were in Copenhagen for a food conference this summer, we stumbled upon an initiative called Borenes Madhus. This is essentially Garden to Table on steroids. A combination of public and private funding supports three kitchens which bring in school children (over 400 classes a year) to learn food skills. Martin, one of the chefs who leads the program gave us a tour of one of their kitchens. A group of kids were in learning about food history as part of a summer camp. We happened to drop in on Hans Christian Anderson day. During his lifetime food preparation went from cooking with fire to stoves and the kids learned the implications of this technological revolution while learning to prepare food that they eat together after clean up is finished. It is amazing to see these sorts of programs all over the place making a difference in food literacy at an early age.