From California’s iconic Edible Schoolyard project to a highly successful school garden program in Australia and an education in wild foods for Indonesian children. Cooks, educators and Slow Food leaders from around the world showed that food is the perfect medium for teaching children the values needed for a sustainable future at a Salone Del Gusto and Terra Madre conference: “The Grassroots of the Revolution: Edible Education.”
Alice Waters, Slow Food vice-president, chef and pioneer of the “edible education” concept, founded the Edible Schoolyard Project to promote an approach that embraces pleasure and access for all to good food. It is in this way, she says, that we can find a democratic solution to the “intense indoctrination of fast food nation, which started in North America and goes everywhere, like a poison.”
Developed over 16 years at Berkeley Middle School, the project brings students into the garden and kitchen classroom, putting food at the center of the curriculum. “When kids grow food, they want to eat it… the idea is to empower kids through an interactive education to make their own decisions about what they’re eating, highlighting the beauty of nature and produce, and bringing children back to their senses.”
Similarly, Stephanie Alexander, Australian chef and founder of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, said her motivation comes from a strong belief in the power of pleasure, texture and experience of food. Starting from a pilot garden in 2001, to date the program has received around 20 million dollars in government funding and currently there are 270 participating schools. The Foundation has just secured enough money to take the program to 10% of all Australian schools within the next 2.5 years.
Each school is supported to establish a food garden as well as a well-equipped kitchen and provides trained staff to deliver a curriculum that is integrated into the general program. “The foundation puts equal focus on growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing and the children are involved in all aspects of the garden and preparation,” said Stephanie. “Afterwards everyone sits together to share the food, served always on platters, so they learn about sharing and appropriate portions.”
Promoting a diet based on healthy food was a key concern of all projects presented, as the western world and growing urban populations in developing nations face rapidly increasing epidemics in obesity, diabetes and allergies.
On the flip side, in Indonesia, where 80% of children are undernourished, wild-food school gardens are being used as a way to teach students and families to use locally available food resources to improve diets and food sovereignty. “Many people are turning to modern products such as vitamin-fortified instant noodles which they believe can replace a diet that includes a wide variety of foods,” said Hayu Dyah Patria, director of the Mantasa research institute. Hayu decided to focus on wild foods, aiming to encourage a return to traditional foods that are ironically nutrient rich, widely available but considered the ‘food of the poor’.
In Uganda, teacher and national coordinator of Slow Food’s Thousand Gardens in Africa project, Noel Nanyunja, said their focus is on stopping the use of agricultural education as punishment in schools and supporting a new generation of farmers and policy makers. “A garden doesn’t have to be huge, it can start with the size of a window. Any place can be a garden, a tin can be a garden. Gardens are also helping us resolve conflict. Everyone needs to eat. We are practical – to get rid of hunger, we need a practical approach.”
Amongst the diverse contexts, the focus on pleasure and taste in successfully creating a positive change in food behavior and attitudes among young generations is stimulating a revolution in the future of our food system.