I’ve just spent the weekend at Savour Kilkenny food festival which isn’t just a celebration of all things food, it’s about listening and learning.
As well as supporting the KLP community garden project on The Parade, I spent Saturday at Kilkenny’s Food Camp which has become an annual opportunity to share thoughts and learn about the many elements that umbrella the term Food.
This year the theme was ‘We are What we Eat, Fact or Fiction’ and as a result the terms obesity, nutrition and food awareness somehow managed to wind their way into every talk and topic of conversation, whether it was in Marion Hearne’s session about the difficulties faced by people eating extreme diets (by choice or forced) or Elena Piana’s on fish farming versus wild sea catches.
It wasn’t until Suzanna Campbell mentioned the new TV campaign aimed at raising public awareness about obesity and how she’d heard the controversial Professor Mike Gibney’s shocking talk about our eating habits that many of us became quite alarmed. It really struck me during the panelled discussion that followed, where statistics were shared with us about the implications of our food choices, just how URGENTLY more money needs to be found and spent on food education, both for ADULTS and CHILDREN.
Working with various groups on the ground and talking with people about their experiences, I can see first hand the damage that’s been done by removing home economics from school curriculums. I’ve talked to adults that don’t recognise basic vegetables when they’re plucked out of the ground and answered questions they’ve asked me about how to cook them. I’m not judging anybody, this is the reality.
Is it laziness, busyness or lack of education that stops us cooking from scratch? Time certainly plays a huge part in the food we choose to cook as well as tiredness after a busy working day, especially when freezer foods are so cheap and effortless.
It’s very easy to empty a packet of peas into a microwave dish, grab a bag of fish in breadcrumbs out of the freezer and throw it into the oven along with a bag of ready cut chips.
How long does it take to flash fry some trout fillets, chop up a couple of potatoes, lightly sauté them in olive oil and serve them up with a quick salad? Our healthy supper would be warmly sitting inside our tummies before the oven has even reached temperature, yet we think the first option is a quick one, and yes, I’m guilty of it myself at times.
Given the two choices, which one will our children benefit the most from seeing, tasting and learning from? What habits are we passing down to them?
In order for many of us to make those healthier food choices, we need to be reminded or taught why and how we should be doing things differently. Whilst recipe books and cards are cheap and handy, many of us physically need to see and smell food being cooked in front of us, by a real person who’s weighing and chopping and stirring. Preferably, we need to be doing it with them…
“Tell me and I forget
Teach me and I learn
Involve me and I remember”
Cooking isn’t instinctive but eating is.
If we haven’t been TAUGHT to cook from scratch, unless we have a passion for it, who wouldn’t take the easy option? Unless we’re shown over and over by people with enthusiasm and knowledge, we’re not likely to make those changes either.
Two billion euro is the cost to the HSE of diet related illness (that’s two thousand millions for anyone like me who’s heard that figure so many times it’s almost lost its meaning).
23% of children aren’t eating any fruit and veg at all. Top of the list of Irish foods sold are cakes, confectionary, sweets, crisps, butter and we all know how difficult it is to break the sugar cycle, whether we’re informed or not.
We urgently need to dispel the myths about what healthy food is, we need to be convinced that food that doesn’t contain added sugars and sweeteners is tasty, that it makes us feel good and gives us more energy and we need to do so in an engaging way. We have to learn to find alternatives for our sugar addictions and we need financial help to do this from the government in terms of grants and funding.
Most people who need this food education can’t afford to pay for private cookery lessons yet I know from personal experience how effective even simple demonstrations can be on my own food education.
What better way to change our behaviour than to offer affordable (or free for some) cookery lessons combined with the basic life skills of growing the food. Just look around at cookery demos next time you have the opportunity (and Savour Kilkenny was a case in point where they were all free this year.) They’re popular, well attended and the seats are almost always full. People want to learn, want to see, want to make changes. We’re getting really cross about the lack of education, confused by the mixed messages about what’s good or not, what should or shouldn’t we eat. We want to know where food comes from, how it’s processed and with what (wood pulp in cheese and ice cream, seriously?!?!?).
Sarah Baker of the Cloughjordan House Cookery School is doing great work with school children where they head out to the fields, pick the vegetables then come back and cook them. But she’s one woman in one village with one cookery school. This should be the norm, it should be happening everywhere.
During the Focus on Fish Day at Goatsbridge Trout Farm I asked a food distributor why supermarkets don’t offer food cookery demos as a way of teaching shoppers how to cook fish in particular, to encourage us to buy and eat more of it. Fish is a healthy and plentiful food source but younger generations have stopped adding it to their weekly menus. His reply was simply “demonstrations are too expensive to put on”.
Some would argue that government doesn’t have the funding for food education, yet TWO BILLION euros of taxpayers money is being spent on healthcare for food related illness because people have made bad, or more likely, uneducated health choices….
I’m not alone with these thoughts. Dorcas Barry wrote an excellent blog post here about how she would address the issues.
Why aren’t Ministers listening? How long will it take for changes to take place? What do you think?