I come from a family where food is what binds us together. We reminisce about food we’ve eaten, anticipate the food we’re going to eat, compare cooking methods, discuss Masterchef and take family outings to farmers markets. I think I’m very fortunate that my upbringing has taught me how food gets to my table, the value of eating well and the important role food plays as part of family, society, culture and history.
However, not all children have been brought up like me. Not all kids eat well, many are overweight and many do not seem to understand where their food comes from. In today’s busy world, families no longer seem to have time to prepare proper meals and to sit down at a table regularly to share food, thoughts and experiences.
Stephanie Alexander, a respected chef and restauranter, realised that something should be done about this, so in 2004 she established the Kitchen Garden Foundation. Like me, Stephanie feels strongly that sharing food is about comfort, intimacy, discovery and an opportunity to listen and to be heard. As part of NGV Australia’s Art Chat program, she spoke eloquently about her goal to provide pleasurable food education for children. Her core belief is that you can positively influence food choices from an early age, and the best way to inspire kids is through a school curriculum incorporating a hands-on kitchen and garden.
The point of the program is not about finger-wagging at kids to preach what is healthy and not healthy. Nor is about teaching kids middle-class food wankery. Instead, helping kids to maintain a kitchen garden and to cook their own-grown produce is an enjoyable and enriching way to teach them about the value of eating a balanced, healthy diet. The gardening and cooking tasks are also linked to the needs to the general curriculum. Measuring out a garden, designing an irrigation system, estimating water supply, learning about the properties of heat, steam, yeast and eggs, multiplying recipes and seeing the interaction of plants and seasons are all practical applications of numeracy and literacy skills. In addition, the kids have to learn how to problem-solve, how to work together and bear shared responsibility, and thus the program can enhance their social skills, patience and self-confidence.
Thanks to Federal Government funding (after Minister Nicola Roxon had lunch harvested, cooked and served by the kids at Westgarth Primary School), the scheme will now been rolled out to 190 primary schools throughout Australia. I am so inspired by the passion of Stephanie Alexander and the work of the Kitchen Garden Foundation that I’m going to investigate volunteering opportunities at the pioneering school, Collingwood College.