Biodiversity Starts in the School Garden

02 May 2007

Some of the large multinationals selling what is universally recognized as junk food are now practicing self-regulation by not promoting their products to young people under 16 years of age.

The European Union is scrutinizing the progress made by companies in this regard, and large food companies are now using this as a promotional feature when they state that they self regulate in their ads targeting children.

While the peddlers of junk food try to pass themselves off as upholders of the next generation’s health and physical appearance, those who should be educating our young people to understand the importance of taste, diet and nature, are continuing to drag their feet.

It is true that there are a few encouraging situations where individual schools have addressed the issue with creativity and courage, but there continues to be no sign of any innovative government programs tackling the crucial issue of food: there is no mention of products, raw materials, taste education, or of the connection between nature, the local area, sustainable processes and the food production chain.

Various associations are endeavoring to fill the gap and are trying out many approaches to taste education in Italy. A key basic feature is that direct experience is nearly always involved, and it is welcome news that almost 100 school gardens have now been set up around the country. School children grow their own produce, they follow the seasons, they learn to cook the products of their local area and can appreciate the differences when they compare the food to what their parents get from the supermarket.

Tasting, experience and comparison are the basis for an enriching and multidisciplinary approach to learning. This is the sort of learning that will be experienced by the students at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, when they set off on their journey along the River Po: a long bicycle trip that will enable them to more fully understand the river, to become aware of its problems and also learn about the places encountered en route through their agriculture and food.

And when it is difficult to organize direct experiences, there are games and simulations—a form of education that we will again use at Slow Fish, being held in Genoa from May 4 to 7. Fish Tales and What Fish to Catch… are educational routes for young people and adults so they can learn about the value and taste of sustainable seafood in a marine environment that is moving ever closer to an ecological crisis.

First printed in La Stampa on April 16 2007

Adapted by Ronnie Richards

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