Saturday, 23 June 2012

Where Does Food Come From Part 2

See Part 1 here.
A big frustration of being a vegetarian in Australia was the cognitive dissonance people happily maintain about where their food comes from. I’m not an evangelical vegetarian, by the way, but being surrounded by people who eat cage farmed bacon while waxing lyrical about how terrible people who eat dolphins are did make me grind my teeth. A lot. I knew several girls in high school who wouldn’t eat meat off the bone because it upset them to eat something that resembled an animal. They were squeamish about being reminded what they were eating, not about eating it. When I was waitressing I heard a number of customers say that they couldn’t order whole fish or prawns because “you can’t eat something with a face”, as though their lamb chop had appeared magically on their plate in just that form. On one memorable occasion a neighbour paid my (at that time vegetarian) father to kill some chickens for him. Then, despite having requested the execution of said hens and subsequently eaten them, the neighbour lectured my dad about how cruel he was for being an animal killer.

Animals are an emotionally charged topic, but the same disconnect occurs with other food products as well. We expect to be able to access what we want all year round, and for our lettuce to be free of dirt and our apples to be uniformly round and shiny. We struggle to understand nutritional information labels and have no idea how, where or from what our packaged foods are made. If you try to talk about the health consequences of making poor nutritional choices you’re attacked for “causing eating disorders” (because, you know, nutrition is just a binary choice between eating chocolate ice-cream from a bucket or starving yourself). I love, love, LOVE the approach (my) Japanese elementary schools take to food. It is socially and environmentally conscious, focused on nutrition and empowers children to make informed dietary choices from a very young age.

The kids begin learning about produce from kindergarten. At four or five years old they have a great time splashing around in mud planting rice.
Kids in mud, being useful!

They release ducklings into the flooded rice fields in spring to fertilise the fields and eat insects. Then in autumn they harvest the rice by hand with their own little scythes.
Apparently no-one ever hurts themselves...
When they begin learning geography they learn the main agricultural product of each prefecture in Japan.

They visit strawberry farms and hot houses full of tomatoes. They know how much work goes into the food they eat, and they are taught to value that.

They chart the nutritional content of their school lunches and at the start of each lunch time the special qualities and production site of what they are eating is announced over the PA system.

Pick a food...
and put it on the nutrition chart
Safe storage and handling is also emphasised
Perhaps my favourite thing, though, is the way they are taught to see food as integrated into everything they study. (I should point out that I live in a fairly rural community and there may be nothing like this much of a focus on food in more urban parts of Japan.) I ate some corn on the cob with a class once and heard all about how they had grown it themselves at school.
This year we're growing tomatoes!
 In social studies they had learned about where corn originated and the historical developments that resulted in corn being introduced to Japan. They sketched the growing plants in art class, and experimented with different additives to the water for science. In health and physical education they learned about the nutritional content of corn, and then finally in home economics they cooked it in several different ways.

Made by a ten year old
Pretty cool, right?

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  1. I love how kids in Primary school in Japan learn all about this and even take responsibility in the school garden with certain veggies. A great life learning lesson.

    Japan Australia

  2. I'm not the best eater but I really like how the Japanese are taught to eat EVERYTHING from young and they appreciate nature so much. In future I want my kids to be more conscious of food source too!

  3. How wonderful! I just came here from just bento! See now this is how children should be taught! I just love how the topic is intergrated into everything!


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