Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Deep sea fishing for a fillet steak? Why we need to feed the minds of youngsters

On the face of it, learning about food – where it comes from, how it’s produced and how to cook it – would seem like the one of the more enjoyable and easier to grasp challenges in our educational lives.

With the seemingly relentless conveyor belt of food and cookery programmes bombarding the airwaves – not to mention the obligatory books as an accompaniment – it would appear that there’s never been a better time to learn about where your food comes from and how best to cook it, irrespective of age.

Or so you’d think. A recent survey for the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) revealed that almost a third of UK primary school pupils thought cheese was made from plants, while a quarter thought fish fingers came from chicken or pigs.

A third is not an insignificant figure. What next? A spot of deep sea fishing for a nice fillet steak or leg of lamb?

But let’s not dwell on the negatives. Far more encouraging was another stand-out figure from the research which showed that children would like to cook more, with 85 per cent across primary and secondary age groups saying they liked cooking. Farm visits had also been attended by 73 per cent of five to eight-year-olds, with the figure rising to 80 per cent for older children.

Curriculum reforms are also afoot to make food and nutrition compulsory for eight to 14-year-olds with an emphasis on encouraging children to develop not only a love of food and cooking now, but one which will stay with them in adulthood.

Educating and encouraging youngsters to cook and find out more about where their food comes from has been and continues to be one of the cornerstones of EBLEX’s work. While we’re certainly not alone in our desire to teach youngsters about food production, preparation and nutrition, we continue to promote the educational message.

Our 5by25 campaign, for example, continues to help people to learn to cook at least five dishes by the age of 25, providing an array of recipes to tempt would be cooks into the kitchen. As with anything new to the uninitiated, being let loose in the kitchen can be a daunting prospect, which is why the website also gives some hand hints on food buying, storage, cooking methods, time management and preparation and knife skills.

Similarly, the Red Tractor Make it with Mince Young Chef Challenge also proactively encourages youngsters to come up with an original beef or lamb dish as part of a national completion and have the chance cook in front of celebrity chef James Martin.  Not only does it provide useful resources for students, but also resources for teachers to use as part of their lesson plans for key stage three and four.

The Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) also supports and delivers a range of curriculum-based food, farming, growing and the environment education programmes for primary and secondary schools across the UK.

Our rain-fed pasture production system means we have one of the most efficient livestock production systems in the world. Cooking is an essential part of life. While not everyone will become, or even want to become a ‘foodie’, nurturing the most rudimentary appreciation of where our produce comes from and what to do with it is likely stay high on the political agenda. With that in mind, we will continue to play our part in teaching youngsters about the importance of food and its provenance.