Stephanie Wood, founder of charity School Food Matters, on the importance of encouraging children to reconnect with food
Image: Gill Flett
The reality is, lots of children never see raw ingredients. I’ve heard a headteacher say his primary school children were unable to identify an onion—nothing exotic, just a basic brown onion. When we started School Food Matters in 2007, the UK consumed more ready meals than the rest of Europe combined. There is a culture of convenience, and it is this disconnect from real food that School Food Matters and the likes of Borough Market seek to address.
For there to be any real change, it must come through education. How can children make healthier choices when they haven’t got a clue what vegetables are or what to do with them?
While they have recently proposed a sugar tax, the government is still not doing enough to address childhood obesity. Food education takes place on a voluntary basis, so it falls to charities like ours to get schools to engage with it. We know there is a desire—and a need for food education—but we need government backing so that we can do more, on a larger scale.
Important social skills
It’s not just for the sake of children’s health—there are other important social skills that we learn when we cook and eat together. We run a Young Marketeers programme, where we organise for a horticulturalist to go into schools and teach the children how to grow their own fruit and veg. They then bring that produce to Borough to sell, and see a chef cook with it in the Demo Kitchen.
They see that food comes from the ground, not just a packet, and the care and skill it takes to make it. It can be so rewarding—they are always so proud and full of joy. Children who struggle with communication suddenly become these amazing stall holders, approaching people and chatting to them, because they have a story to tell.
Everybody eats. Whatever your background or situation, it’s a common denominator. It’s just a great way to start a conversation.