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Food sustainability education: Older is not necessarily wiser

  • Later this year a new GCSE will be introduced that covers food sustainability and the impact of food security on local and global markets. However, worrying statistics have revealed that parents don’t actually place any value in their children learning about nutrition, food origins or how what they eat will affect the planet.

    Research undertaken by the “Plate for the Planet” campaign found that only 20 per cent of adults thought it was important for schools to teach children about how current food production, especially intensive meat production, is damaging the environment.

    A Food Preparation and Nutrition GCSE will be introduced in September, open to students who opt in to study sustainable food futures. Yet only 24 per cent of adults confessed they saw a need for the next generation to be taught about where their food actually comes from.

    It seems that when it comes to what should be taught in schools parents place much more importance upon learning about money and finance with 64 per cent of adults revealing they would like to see these areas taught in school instead.

    Stephanie Wood, founder of the charity School Food Matters said: “The new GCSE in Food and Nutrition is an exciting opportunity to teach young people the essential life skills of cooking and growing food and about the health and environmental consequences of their food choices. At School Food Matters we’re on a mission to teach children where their food comes from so this is an important step to raise the profile of food education. It disappointing that the qualification hasn’t been welcomed by parents but students make great ambassadors for food education so hopefully parents will benefit from the teaching too.”

    “Our food system needs fixing. We’re eating too much meat and dairy and reports on the environmental impact of this diet make grim reading. Young people make excellent stewards of their natural world and if they understand the effects of their eating habits they can consider the changes they need to make to support a healthier food system. We welcome this new qualification and in time, parents will see the benefit too.”

    The research results are surprising when experts are continually warning that the population’s current eating habits are unsustainable and putting our planet at risk. A recent report by the Carbon Trust warned that the current demand for protein is unsustainable and will put a serious strain on agricultural resources, contributing to issues such as climate change, deforestation, freshwater availability and soil degradation.

    Tom Cumberlege of the Carbon Trust said: “One of the biggest barriers to the UK population adopting more sustainable diets is the lack of knowledge, education and skills that will enable people to prepare a greater variety of interesting meals with lower environmental impacts.
    “We know that we are going to have to hugely reduce the environmental impact of our food system in order to feed a growing global population and deal with major challenges such as climate change and water scarcity. Although there are already some very successful campaigns like Love Food, hate waste, which encourages cutting down on food waste. There are also some easy wins like changing eating behaviours and reducing meat to have a beneficial impact on our diets.
    “Better education in schools should catalyse a positive shift towards thus, particularly where it helps students to go beyond just understanding the issues and teaches them practically how they can prepare and enjoy more varied, diets that have less impact on our environment.”

    Despite the opinion of the older generation the research suggests that the younger population would welcome the inclusion of more education on food at school rather than less. When questioned 61 per cent of 16-24 year olds said they wanted to learn more about food waste and 56 per cent wanted to spend more time finding out more information about the foods they buy.

    The research also revealed that when it comes to food education in schools only 31 per cent thought it was important for children to be taught about nutrition and only 22 per cent thought that children should be taught that some foods can have the same harmful effects as consuming alcohol.