A small network of schools across ten European countries celebrated the steps they have made to serve healthy local food in their canteens last month, holding events to promote the vital role schools can play in changing the food culture of communities towards healthy and sustainable options and reconnecting with traditions.
United in Slow Food’s European Schools for Healthy Food program, the schools in Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Northern Ireland and Spain have been supported in their efforts over the past year through European Commission funding. Each school has made a long-term commitment to improving the food served in their canteens as well as the general food culture; promoting healthy fresh food options and increasing students’ knowledge of the origin, production methods and taste qualities of food.
Regional networking meetings and events have been held over the past few months by the schools to share their experiences and results and spread awareness of the importance of improving the food eaten each day by millions of children in schools among Europe’s education community and decision makers. The gatherings targeted educators, academics, farmers, producers, cooks, government authorities, youth and local Slow Food membership, with the dual aims of promoting best practice examples from around Europe and enlarging the European Schools for Healthy Food network within the countries.
In Poland, teachers at Wanda Chotomska Primary School organized a national meeting to discuss the project with school principals, parent groups and local authorities. Guest speaker Rita Guidetti, a local councilor from the Italian Bagno a Ripoli province, provided an inspiring example of change in which a municipality has supported the introduction of local healthy menus in 16 school canteens. Back in Italy, Rita was able to share her experience from the Polish school and present the progress of projects across the ten participating countries at an aperitivo event catered by students of the Bagno Ripoli schools using local ingredients.
Well-known chef and Slow Food Ireland leader Darina Allen introduced the project at the Northern Ireland Assembly Building in Belfast, which was followed by a series of workshops led by students of Lagan Integrated College to discuss how their schools are bringing about change. Meanwhile, another lunch was enjoyed in County Clare, Ireland, following a discussion on local food production between representatives of farmers’ markets, ecotourism and local producers as well as students and teachers from Mary Immaculate Secondary School.
In Belgium, students from the Community School of Silly presented the project and cooked a lunch for guests that included the EU Deputy Director General Lars Hoelgaard. In neighboring France, students from Jules Ferry School, which is working with a centralized kitchen run by Millau local government and Slow Food France, celebrated by taking their project a step further to build a greenhouse and prepare seedbeds for a future school garden.
In Romania, a national conference was held by the three participating schools from Brasov that brought together academics, local producers and associations to discuss taste education, healthy diets for families and the responsibility of food producers. A second event in Turda was held over an entire week, including a presenting the project at Dr Ion Ratiu Nursery and a host of activities such as cooking demonstrations and the preparation of 200 traditional dishes by 140 students.
Activities were also held over a week in Latvia, where students of 2nd Grammar School presented their findings on healthy eating and school canteen service in a conference in Riga and participated in various activities including cooking workshops and sensory activities. In Bulgaria, participants came together from the rural Georgi Benkovski and urban Petko Karavelov schools to share their achievements and challenges of the canteen projects.
Sensory awareness was the focus in Spain, where Slow Food Zaragova presented activities for students at Gaspar Remiro School to assist them to better appreciate the qualities and flavors of the good food now being served in their canteen, focusing on eating with all five senses and the relationship between health and taste.
These celebrations of ‘canteen revolutions’ happening in ordinary schools across Europe has provided further fuel for the growing interest in the project, with many more schools expressing interest in joining the network. In Poland alone, each of Slow Food convivia committed to implementing similar initiatives and will launch ten new projects by September.
European Network for Healthy Schools is a Slow Food project that received European Union project funding (AGRI.2010-127) from April 2010 – April 2011.