Eating is a political act. This is a fact the Slow Food movement has embraced from the beginning. At Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre the idea was taken further, as we looked at the political implications of what we feed our children too. The panel for the conference consisted of Carlo Petrini, Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver, three unique personalities that campaign daily so that everybody can have access to healthy and nutritious food that is cooked in an eco-sustainable way. As Alice Waters succinctly put it: “We have a moral obligation to feed children real food.”
Feeding children real food is an idea close to the heart of Alice Waters. In 1995 she set up the Edible Schoolyard program by buying a plot of land in Berkeley, California, which she transformed into an organic garden. The original plot of land has since been added to, with 5 new gardens across America that serve as educational spaces for children.
Unfortunately, current educational paradigms don’t leave much space for these ideas, even though teaching children how to scale up a recipe is merely a practical use of the skills they might have already developed in math class. Alice explained that the initial challenge was to convince adults that this kind of education was worthwhile. As for the kids: “We’re not telling them what to do. We’re putting them in a beautiful environment where they are likely to fall in love”. Alice’s latest endeavor is to campaign for school lunch reform on a national level in the USA.
Jamie Oliver is no stranger to such a campaign. In 2006 the four part documentary series: “Jamie’s School Dinners” captured the hearts and minds of the British public. Over the last 8 years since it aired, an extra one billion pounds has been invested into the school dinner system by the UK government. Initial research suggests that the project has resulted in improved the health of children, boosted exam results and improved their classroom behavior. Such results are just the beginning. The movement shows no sign of resting on its laurels. Jamie Oliver has now launched his Food Revolution, which seeks to promote food education in schools. He told the audience, in emphatic terms, the size of the challenge that lies ahead: “In America were up against 4.6 billion dollars of advertising crap to kids”, adding: “There is not one thing we can do to fix the problem, it has to be an ambush!”
Carlo Petrini told the audience about his recent work in getting councils to agree to ban the sale of fizzy drinks in schools in Italy, and about how important it was that children were not only able to eat proper food but that they were also taught about where food comes from. Petrini was in an emphatic mood and reminded the audience of the size of the battle ahead: “There is lots of work do, not just in schools, but also in other social settings like prisons and hospitals. If you are unlucky enough to be hospitalized, should you also have to eat that stuff?”
Changing the system is no easy feat. Last year, obesity and obesity-related illnesses killed more people than malnutrition according studies. Jamie Oliver reminded the audience: “The enemy is very rich and strategic, they employ the cleverest minds and they’re well dug in”.
Alice Waters called upon those present to shame their governments into action, while Carlo Petrini called upon the young members of the audience to join forces in changing the food system which he described as being “at a tipping point”.
The idea of good, clean and fair food in our institutions shouldn’t be shocking. It should be seen as an investment. Healthy school foods alongside an education that links the food we eat and the land where it grows is the point of departure for a better tomorrow. It is the first step in addressing the ticking time bombs of health and environmental problems. Jamie, Alice and Carlo have helped show us the road: now we need to convince people (and governments) to walk down it.