Championing children to reduce food waste

Championing children to reduce food waste

Stories/366 , Issues/Youth , Issues/Sustainability
OzHarvest, Alexandria NSW 2015, Australia
10th Oct 2018
Championing children to reduce food waste
With OzHarvest's FEAST program, primary school children learn how to reduce their food waste and become "food fighters".

If you were to visit a primary school in Sydney's Canterbury-Bankstown area, be careful not to throw a half-eaten apple or banana away. You might be reprimanded by a "food fighter" - one of 350 students from four schools who this year piloted a new program, the brainchild of Ronni Kahn's OzHarvest, to reduce food waste.

The program - FEAST - provides education on food, nutrition and sustainability. And, "like any good FEAST," the organisers proclaim, "it's designed to be fun, engaging, and filled with good food." Perhaps more importantly, the program aspires to champion a generation of Australian children to be change makers in the community.

Pictured: FEAST participant.
Pictured: A smiling FEAST participant. Credit: Vanessa Rowe.

Food waste and sustainability comprises 80 percent of the program's focus. Students learn about the food system, food waste as an environmental issue on a local and global level, and how to address it at school and at home.

It's an enlightening experience for them, according to FEAST program manager Amelia Berner. Most students started out with no clue about food waste, or even where their food comes from. They couldn't identify vegetables like celery or beetroot or use basic cooking utensils.

"One of the children thought that by planting a piece of bread into the ground it will grow into a bread tree," Berner says. "It's that disconnect," she explains. Once they learn about the energy, water and resources that go into producing food, the children develop a greater appreciation for it.

One of the questions Berner asks the class is how long it takes a head of lettuce to break down if thrown into a bin. "They all put up their hands and say a week, two weeks, and I say actually 25 years because when you tie the plastic bag up, there's no air for the lettuce to break down, and they all go 'wow'."

Pictured: FEAST participants.
Pictured: FEAST participants. Credit: Vanessa Rowe.

Food waste also aligns with healthy eating. "You can't have one without the other," Berner explains, adding that fruit and vegetables are a key focus. Children learn to prepare them in cooking groups with parent or caregiver volunteers.

Parents of picky eaters will be pleased. Students reported eating more fruit and vegetables and greater confidence following a recipe. They were also excited about experimenting with new recipes and were open to eating anything from greens with sweet potatoes to a crunchy noodle rainbow salad including herbs and grated carrots.

The experimentation derives from the program's tips to reduce food waste. Focusing on the top five wasted foods, children are encouraged to use the whole food and substitute others that need to be used up. A fritter recipe, for example, includes frozen corn and peas. However, enterprising students from Beverly Hills North substituted the peas and corn with warrigal greens and grated sweet potato from their school garden.

Prior to the practical cooking sessions, students are educated about where their food comes from. Before making fruit skewers and yoghurt, for instance, they watched a short film about how yoghurt is made and how different fruits are grown.

Pictured: FEAST participant.
Pictured: Smiling FEAST participant. Credit: Vanessa Rowe.

Initial evaluations are very positive. Berner reports that all students gave it a 100 percent rating. Teachers said they would recommend it to other schools and teachers. Berner was delighted by meeting teachers afterwards who were "able to name students who have actually become change makers in their own home and in their community, that they've really become food fighters."

In another memorable moment for Berner, a child at Beverly Hills approached them at the end crying and saying, "I don't want OzHarvest to go. I don't want this program to end."

Berner reports other students visiting her office saying they want to become chefs or nutritionists, or work for OzHarvest. The teachers also "really embraced the program and made it their own," planning to continue it after its completion by using the teaching kits to create an outdoor kitchen, for instance. Some schools have started their own compost.

To commemorate their recipes and activities, the students and teachers produced cookbooks. They are planning a book launch which will be attended by other participating schools and community members ranging from the local sports team to members of council and the education department.

"FEAST has created this community change that I've found to be fantastic," Berner says. The kids are proud to become published authors, giving them an enhanced sense of purpose, and teachers report noticing greater student confidence and self-esteem.

Khan Asfour, mayor of the City of Canterbury Bankstown, was pleased to see local schools involved. "As a father, I know how important it is to instil healthy eating habits and the idea of wasting less into our children at a young age."

Teacher John Galea delivered the pilot program to his class at Belmore South. "My students have had great fun learning about food waste, creating their own recipes and getting stuck into the hands-on cooking activities. Interaction is a great way to get results."

But with schools struggling under the burden of curriculum demands, how feasible is it for them to take on another course?

The 10-week program aligns with the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) curriculum as well as the CROSS-curriculum priority in sustainability. It employs a process called Solution Fluency, an enquiry-based learning process for solving real-world problems.

Supplementing her nutrition background and knowledge of environmental sustainability, Berner is a former teacher and understands the importance of easy program delivery. FEAST is an accredited teacher trainer provider, so teachers can add the six-hour training to their accreditation. Now the team is developing an online teacher training platform so that, with funding support, they can access rural and remote areas around NSW in 2019, and roll the program out nationally in 2020.

The initiative extends Kahn's ambitious goal to help the government halve Australia's $20 billion annual food waste by 2030. Each week, OzHarvest rescues over 180 tonnes of surplus food from over 3,000 food outlets. Since its inception, the organisation has salvaged 30,000 tonnes of food from landfill and delivered more than 90 million meals in its trademark yellow vans to over a thousand charities that feed hungry Australians.

But, "whilst food rescue fills bellies, education can transform lives," Kahn says. "Children are the future to saving the planet and this program is about inspiring them to make a difference."

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