Viewpoint: the therapy of food

09 October 2020
Viewpoint: the therapy of food

Many young people do not always know where their food comes from or how to prepare it. Chef-lecturer Ashley Marsh is aiming to equip children with these crucial life skills through Adopt a School.

I am a chef lecturer at the University of West London and they sponsor me to work part-time for the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts' charity, Adopt a School, delivering food education to children and young people in and around London.

In the last year, I have been working with Chelsea Community Hospital School's adolescent mental health unit, the Hospital School at Lavender Walk, which supports young people aged 13-18 coping with a range of severe and complex mental health illnesses and disorders such as anxiety and depression psychosis, family relationship issues, hyperactivity or poor concentration, and school non-attendance.

We have been providing food education lessons and encouraging the children to learn about the tastes, senses, seasonality, food groups, knife skills and provenance. Some of the practical sessions have included risotto, salmon tarts, numerous seasonal soups, bread and smoothies. We also talk about food safety and any prior knowledge that the children may have had from school or visiting restaurants. The aim of the sessions is predominantly to educate, but we have realised quite quickly that the practical sessions have also been helping them with their therapy.

Some of the children have said that they feel more relaxed during the Adopt a School sessions. We design the sessions to make sure they are engaging and enjoyable and really push the fact that food knowledge is a life skill, and we carry out thorough risk assessments and inventories as there is equipment used that could be hidden away and used to self-harm.

When teaching the students I get them to think about food and the way we use it and how it affects our everyday life. As you can imagine the class has a very rich and diverse composition of young people aged 13-18 and can change from week to week and lesson to lesson. When teaching I try to link what we are doing with some of the students' past experience of food that may be from home, school or going down to the chip shop, it doesn't really matter as the students get a feel and understanding for the subject, which in turn generates interest, enthusiasm and motivation.

Many young people do not always know where their food comes from or how to prepare it and this leaves a huge gap in their learning and skills development. Through Adopt a School, we aim to equip children with crucial life skills in order to enable them to grow into self-confident, independent and healthy adults. Learning how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating enables pupils to feed themselves and others affordably and well, now and in later life.

Adopt a School chefs and hospitality professionals ignite children's enthusiasm and interest in food and the hospitality industry, by imparting their knowledge and extensive experience. The highly interactive, hands-on and tactile activity gives each child a purpose and an opportunity to develop their skills and I would urge any chef interested in giving something back to the next generation and becoming involved with the Adopt a School programme to get in touch with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

Ashley Marsh is a chef-lecturer at the University of West London

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