Lunchtime was on the agenda when representatives from schools participating in Slow Food’s European Schools for Healthy Food project met in Italy in July for the first time since its launch. Teachers, headmasters, students and convivium leaders, united through their goals of improving their school canteens, met to find creative solutions to some of the common problems surrounding the provision of seasonal, nutritious and pleasurable food for school children.
Twelve schools from ten European countries – Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Poland, Spain and Romania – have so far joined the European-funded project, each working on various aspects of improving their canteen service: reviewing tenders, shortening the food chain to use fresher, seasonal local food, addressing waste management and promoting healthy food, as well as integrating food and taste education into their classrooms.
“The project is important to show that a different way is possible – a different way of providing food for our children, of running our cities and towns and managing our valuable countryside,” said Annette Caule, representative of Ecole Jules Ferry School, Millau France. “It is also important to help children make more informed choices about what they eat. Through exposing them to diversity – in taste, culture etc- they can make better choices.”
Networking with other schools allowed participants to voice some of the problems they face and to draw from the diverse experiences that exist within the collective, while creating a support system that each school can draw on in the future. The afternoon workshops on education and waste management offered a chance to delve into the deeper issues. When workshop participants raised the familiar issue of how to deter students from going to the nearby McDonald’s, the Wanda Chotomska Primary School was able to offer advice. “We wanted to discourage our students from going to the local McDonald’s for lunch so we decided to do an experiment. We put a McDonald’s meal in one lunch box and a homemade made lunch in another lunch box and left them on display for three months. At the end the ‘real’ lunch was completely green, covered in mould, and the McDonald’s meal still looked like it was ready to eat. We were able to demonstrate to the students just how artificial and full of preservatives a McDonalds meal is.”
Participants also had the chance try Slow Food’s taste education kit, The Origin of Taste, for themselves, available to each school to assist in developing educational activities that stimulate the senses and encourage students and adults alike to better understand their food, from it’s taste qualities, to it’s origin and production methods. Participants interacted with these sensory activities as students would – participating in activities of identifying the five basic tastes (bitter, sweet, salty, sour and umami) through a blind tasting; naming aromas and their intensity; distinguishing subtle colour and shade differences that can be used to tell apart subtleties in the appearance of foods; identifying tactile differences in organic and non organic matter; and listening to audio recordings of sounds related to food and its preparation.
“Just being here has been inspirational,” said Orlagh Thompson a student from Langan Integrated College, Northern Ireland. “We’ve been able to meet other schools in the same situation and bond with them. Now we have people we can contact to ask for ideas and solutions because they are going through it too.”
The European Commission finances a part of the development of the Slow Food European network of canteens, with the project “European Schools for Healthy Eating”, of which Slow Food is the principal partner.