On July 4, we welcomed Galicia’s first school canteen designated as “Km 0,” or zero food miles, to the Slow Food community. Of all the restaurant projects we work with, this has been one of the most exciting. It is located in a small school, Xacinto Amigo Lera, in the parish of Portomouro, Val do Dubra, a rural municipality with a population of just 5,000.
The school administration sees this rural setting as an advantage for the children’s development and strives to integrate the surrounding environment into their education. This is rare: Often the management of school canteens is outsourced to catering services, with food travelling hundreds of miles before being prepared for consumption. With the best will in the world, this still usually leads to a poor-quality diet, full of prepared products of low nutritional value, leading children to develop a relationship with food based on the sweet, artificial flavors of processed food.
Children who live close to the coast might not recognize fish as anything other than breaded fingers, while many cannot identify the vegetables or legumes that their grandparents used to grow in their home gardens just a few years ago. While the resulting distorted emotional relationship with food is worrying, the effect on the children’s health is of even greater concern. The FAO warns that by 2050 there will be more deaths from antibiotic resistance than from cancer, and this is largely attributed to the abuse of drugs in industrial agriculture. Excess antibiotics in meat, the artificial feed used to fatten cattle and pesticide residues in crops are all factors that affect our health, and particularly that of children with their undeveloped immune systems.
Recognizing the importance of good nutrition from an early age, with the help of the head of the school kitchen, Óscar Fernández Paz, the school administration has developed school meals based on almost 100% fresh, local produce. Free-range meat, seasonal fruits and vegetables, native legume varieties, locally caught fish: Not what we expect from a typical school canteen!
One of the greatest results of this change has been the children’s new close relationship with their diet. On the day the food is delivered, the deliveryman does not go straight through the back door to the kitchen storeroom, but usually goes up to the classrooms to introduce the children to what they are going to eat that week. The children also visit the local farms that produce the food on a regular basis and take cooking classes once a month with Óscar Fernández Paz, preparing the dessert (usually seasonal fruit) for that day in groups.
This wonderful project, which allows the children to learn about the social, environmental and cultural importance of their food while also giving them a healthy diet and supporting local producers, fully deserves to be recognized as a Slow Food Km 0 school canteen. We hope to see other schools adopting this commendable model, with the formation of an alliance of cooks and chefs who prepare children’s food.