Food education is first priority

17 July 2008
Food education is first priority

In a special opinion for Caterer‘s Education Month, Sara Jayne-Stanes, director of the Academy of Culinary Arts, argues that "local" and "seasonal" are two luxuries that schoolchildren cannot contemplate at dinner time

Gordon Ramsay's recent edict for chefs to think seasonal and local represented a wake-up call that should exhort us all to think more about our food's provenance.

But we can't get carried away with the luxury to be able to choose local or seasonal. For many children across the land, food merely satisfies a need. Many cannot tell the difference between a carrot and a parsnip or recognise a leek, and many are genuinely frightened of trying unfamiliar foods.

Many have never sat at a table and shared the experience of eating together. Through the Academy of Culinary Arts' Chefs Adopt a School (CAAS) programme I see the weekly, first-hand stories from our dedicated chefs working in schools.

Idris Caldora, CAAS executive chef, recalls working with a class of 14-year-old girls faced with fresh mackerel with which to make an escabèche. Two burst into tears at the sight and four ran out of the classroom, threatening to be sick. It hadn't occurred to them that fish have heads, or that a human hand is the means to chop them off.

CAAS reaches more than 17,000 children every year, so we know that poor knowledge is endemic throughout a major part of the young population. We also know that we can make a difference to many young lives, albeit a small proportion in the scheme of things.

The only solution is to radically change food education thinking. Food education and cookery should be an intrinsic and regular part of the primary school curriculum. To make this happen, together with Hospitality & Leisure Manpower, the Edge Foundation, the Worshipful Company of Cooks and City University, we have just produced our first part of the Food Education At Schools Today (Feast) report, documenting the current state of food education on the curriculum and challenging the status quo.

This is only a start - but it's a strong start. This is an industry effort that will have significant benefits for all of us and I hope, therefore, that everyone reading this will support our campaign as it grows. Each one of us can make a difference.

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