10 Things We Should Teach Every Kid About Food

Food is essential to our survival.
It impacts our health and wellbeing. It has the power to bring people

Food can be manipulated in many ways,
from cooking to processing to using it as fuel. It provides tremendous
opportunities to create value, and, as such, food is big business.

Much of the food we eat starts as a
simple seed, or one that has been genetically manipulated to achieve
some desired objective. From there, food can be growing in any number
of ways, from conventional to organic and beyond, before it finds its
way to our plates.

Food touches nearly every aspect of
live, so it is essential that we understand it in the fullest context
possible to ensure we, as consumers, make well-informed, everyday decisions.
Unfortunately, for many of us our days of being educated and/or changing
our ways are mostly behind us.

That is why we must focus on our children
by finding creative ways to reintroduce food in its broadest sense into
their everyday activities, starting with school, in order to close the knowledge gap between farm and plate.

Here are the 10 things I would integrate
into our children's educational curriculum to give them a fighting
chance at making the joys of sustainable food central in their lives.

  1. The Food We Eat -
    Since most kids have little knowledge of where the food they eat comes
    from, we start with an understanding of what we eat as a society. Showing
    them a simple breakdown of consumer food expenditures, e.g., 25% on
    fast food, will give them a sense of our food priorities. As kids mature,
    discussions about how our food choices impact other thing would evolve
    into a new Sustainable Economics (SE) track in middle and high
    schools. Sustainable Economics, in my mind, is the replacement for the
    traditional Home Economics, which carries too much baggage. As you will
    read below, SE shows up in a number of places.
  2. Farming in America
    & Abroad
    - If you are active in discussions regarding sustainable
    food, you have repeatedly heard about the knowledge gap that has grown
    over the years between consumers and where their food comes from. Ideally,
    kids at a young age should take field trips to diverse, working farms
    to see first-hand what goes on day after day on a farm. From there the
    discussion should turn to the history of farming in America, current
    trends, how farms are financed, what they grow/raise and so on. Along
    the way, kids should also be introduced to the idea of farming as a
    career, something that I can never recall hearing during my childhood.
  3. Plant Biology -
    Since kids love getting dirty, this might be one of the more popular
    topics during the elementary school years - playing in the dirt (soil).
    In addition to studying soil and its different compositions, every kid
    should witness firsthand the magic contained within a simple seed. Watching
    seeds germinate and grow into plants, bear fruit, die and return to
    the soil will help them understand one of the more important circles
    of life. With more basic science under their belts, attention can be
    turned to heirloom, hybrid and genetically modified seeds to expand
    their understanding of ways man manipulates seeds and why, as well as
    fertilizers and pesticides and their impacts on the water we drink,
    air we breathe and food we eat.
  4. Gardening - While
    understanding larger-scale farming operations is important, kids should
    also be taught the possibilities of human-scale gardening, something
    they can practice throughout their lives. This topic represents a cornerstone
    of my proposed Sustainable Economics curriculum since it gives
    kids the power to control where some of their food comes from, whether
    that food is used at school or taken home.
  5. Cooking - Another
    cornerstone of Sustainable Economics would be instruction on
    cooking, something that should be required just like physical education
    given the importance it plays in our health and wellbeing. Topics that
    can be superficially explored at the younger ages before more in-depth
    dives in middle and high schools might include techniques, tools, recipes,
    flavors, sensory experiences, chemistry, seasonal menus and more.
  6. Composting - Food
    waste is created throughout the food cycle, so teaching kids about the
    importance of composting is a final cornerstone of Sustainable
    . Using Will Allen of Growing
    as an example, kids
    should be encouraged to embrace composting soil, dig their hands in
    it and get to know worms and other creatures working hard to break down
    our food waste. They should also learn the proper ways to use compost
    to help nourish the soil and help certain plants grow stronger and produce
    more tasty food.
  7. Industrial Food System
    - Moving into middle school, the emphasis on getting their hands dirty
    and familiarizing themselves with kitchens and cooking should be gradually
    replaced with expanding their understanding of food systems, i.e., how
    food is grown, processed and delivered to consumers. America's industrialized
    food system could be nicely integrated into macro and micro economic
    studies, covering such topics as economies of scale, regional to global
    economies, industry
    , monopolies,
    process uniformity, etc. Kids should also be taught to contrast this
    dominate food system with historic systems, as well as (re)emerging
    regional food economies.
  8. Food Advertising
    - The food industry spends tens
    of billions of dollars

    every year promoting its food products. The level of sophistication
    used in food advertisements and marketing methodologies cannot be understated.
    Nor can its effectiveness at influencing choices people make about what,
    when and where they eat. Developing classroom exercises to help kids
    understand advertising techniques would go a long way toward ensuring
    that this highly targeted demographic learns to read between the lines.
  9. Government Programs
    - While it may seem a little dry on the surface, studying the changing
    role of our government in the food system could be turned into some
    pretty entertaining and impactful materials. Just look at some of the
    more popular food documentaries that have come out in the last couple
    of years, especially ones like King
    . It may be difficult
    for kids to think about ways to influence government programs, but without
    a base of knowledge they won't even bother trying.
  10. Food Entrepreneurship
    - When it comes to innovations in food, especially with regard to
    sustainable food, I have a strong bias toward teaching kids about the Pro Food framework I developed. Pro Food focuses primarily
    on regional food economies, so kids should also be exposed to entrepreneurs
    that are working to change the larger industrial food system mentioned
    above, since it will likely continue to be the primary source of food
    during their lifetimes. Like farming, there are many career opportunities
    in and around the food we eat, so it is important that we encourage
    young people to consider careers in sustainable food.

In the end, knowledge is power, and
giving successive generations the power to demand fresh, environmentally
sustainable and tasty food offers a glimmer of hope for the many advocates
in the trenches today working to revolutionize our food systems.

Of course, like so many other things,
getting sustainable food into school curriculums may be very difficult
given many entrenched and powerful interests. The good news is that
everything on this list can be adapted to our home lives. It will take
a commitment of time, energy and probably a little money, but the results
will be priceless.

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