Food has been put right in the centre of what we do in the Curious School of the Wild. Each session includes preparing, cooking and eating food together. I felt early on that this was important. The combination of food in Outdoor Education, as a subject is very much in the exploratory stage. Partly that could be because although many Outdoor Educators and Leaders may include food in their sessions, it can be seen as a very separate focus, almost a separate project. I'd like to argue that the issues that arise with food and outdoor education are very much
interwoven. This blog is a blob of clay, not yet a thing, it is very much the process and not the product. I am still trying to fit all of the pieces together.
The media has been discussing the breakdown of the family meal for a while now. Many factors are blamed; work patterns, lack of food understanding and cooking knowledge, fast food, pre-packaged and pre-prepared ready meals, television, social media, gaming, the list goes on. An article in the Scotsman yesterday stated:
"Nationwide research, released today, has found the extent to which modern parents are losing the battle over family mealtimes, with 60 percent of those who will not come to the table, eating on the sofa in front of a screen and almost a quarter eating ALONE in their rooms."
I noticed in my own children that once they hit secondary school, they were not able to eat together at school any longer. Meals purchased in school were those that could be taken away, chips and pastries for example. My kids reported not being able to sit at a table as those spaces were always full and there was basically not enough provision for all students to sit and eat together at lunch times. In primary schools it is common that many children eat from packed lunches that mainly involve opening packets and children with packed lunches that were even slightly to the side of pre-packaged are bullied for their unusual food. The Guardian reported in 2016 that only 1.6% of lunches in a survey met Canteen nutritional standards. Teachers report that children don't know how to use cutlery and are not used to sitting and eating together at a table. In Food technology, some students who say they forgot their ingredients, but actually can't afford them, may be given detention and not be allowed to learn to cook.
During sessions based in a school, it became clear that when we made food on the fire, many kids were really hungry. I wasn't alone in this observation. Last April 2018, the BBC reported "Pale and hungry, pupils fill their pockets with school food." The article includes quotes from heads and teaching staff who observed hunger in their schools:
"Jane Jenkins, a head teacher from Cardiff, said children in her school often only brought a slice of bread and margarine for lunch and that teachers supplemented this. 'It's really difficult and when people are asking you about standards, why we don't go up the league tables?
That's often a secondary consideration.'"
"Howard Payne, a head at an inner city school in Portsmouth, said there had been a four-fold increase in the number of children with child protection issues."Every one of these issues has had something to do with the poverty that they live in," he said."It's neglect. It's because they and their families don't have enough money to provide food, heating or even bedding."'
After my observations, I decided that Outdoor Learning was the perfect opportunity to make food and share it. I made a commitment to offering as much food and cooking as I could. I realised pretty quickly that this would have a major financial impact on me, working with two classes of 30+ kids in a day. I did a bit of research to see if I could find ways to get food for free to use with the kids so that there was more to offer. It took a while but before long we were picking up waste food from a supermarket that was destined for landfill otherwise. This has been big news lately with food giants such as Tesco pledging to stop all food waste going into landfill. This movement enabled me to access food donations and plan some sessions around the food we collected. Often, donated lots of eggs, we had many pancakes, fritters and mountains of eggy bread. This felt better but the side effect was that there was a lot of food that was not useful for all outdoor Learning sessions; pre-packaged lettuce for example was less useful as a warming food stuff from the campfire, in January. Thinking around the problem, I then started to offer boxes to the school for any families who may have found the surplus food useful. This developed into offering food to families and individuals through a community centre in the town. Having people who could use the food, then meant that we could accept more as we knew it was ALL useful to someone and there would be no waste from the waste.
We have applied for funding to run outdoor food projects in different parts of the town. Working with other community groups, we thought we could build learning to prepare and cook, into a part of how we use the food. This project is named Stone Soup, after the well known story of the village who all shared their small quantity of food so that they could all eat well. We still have our fingers crossed for this project and hope the funding is offered. In the mean time we managed to crowd fund for some outdoor cooking equipment that could be used anywhere, we did very well and with super generous donations we can now cook over fire on concrete or patios or tiny bits of grass on residential sites and in all kinds of open spaces, natural and urban. The idea of Stone Soup is essential to what we have been doing. It's about sharing, coming together and knowing that even if an individual can give a little, the group can gain a lot. It's a story that represents what we do. If you start to look at traditional stories around food, particularly those that work best around a fire, many are about famine; the Magic Porridge Pot, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Bean stalk, even Rapunzel. We are not experiencing famine in the U.K. yet these stories feel more relevant than ever.
I began to feel that we could bring people together more when we delivered surplus food boxes to people. I wanted to bring the social and sharing element back into this part of the process, the "stone soup" bit. Many people were keen to stop and chat a while when they picked up food. Building on that, we now plan to have regular food pick ups that also include a soup cooked over fire. We can use some of the surplus food to also share a hot cooked meal together. Recently, a fellow outdoor leader, Dave, shared a clip from Stephen Fry talking about the hearth and why it is important to us. This bolstered my instinct that actually food and fire are best friends and that all of that serves to bring people together in a way that is being lost. We have all of the kit, the food, the expertise, experience, the insurance and most certainly the need. It has begun to look like a "no brainer" and something that could be offered by others who also do the outdoor work that I do, as they will also have the same set of basic credentials to make it happen.
Currently, we are looking at how we can make food available to those who need it in the easiest way possible. We are working on getting Community Fridges in the town and are being supported by Cultivate Cornwall on this. They work with waste Fabric and are community focused. They have been legendary in their support of what we do. They understand how we all are interwoven.
Recently, I have become aware of and been offered waste food from other sources and have just accepted it gratefully and now am trying to work out how all of this knits together and what structures we need in place, to accept and use it all. I have been told pretty clearly by a few, that I need to remember my original focus- the Outdoor Education. There was no doubt for me though. I was going to accept this food and make it a part of what we do. I knew eventually, with some creative thinking, I would just find the solutions and the connections and work out how this was all very much a part of the same system.
This week I have been told about the Global Goals for sustainability, more than once. I attended a workshop at a conference about the Love Living Goals, developed by Dr. Paul Warwick, based on the UN Global Goals. UN politics aside, the Global Goals opened up a way for me to understand how what we do, all links and fits together. It represented a model or structure that helped to explain and understand that functioning systems do not operate in isolation and are a part of a whole. Just last night my daughter Jay told me about a lecture that she went to about Geo science and the lecturer used the structure of the Global Goals to explain why it is crucial to understand the earth, its systems and cycles in order to understand people. Another piece of the jigsaw, fell into place. In valuing the well known benefits of Outdoor Education, we have learned about food, saved food from Landfill and started to work on food and childhood poverty in our tiny corner of the globe. To help us to do this well we have made valuable partnerships as we could not do it all on our own. That's about 11 of the 17 global goals right there, probably more, if I really looked at it.
This ties into my last blog about outdoors as privilege; as many people do not have enough food to eat, and can't consider being able to be included in many aspects of everyday life. There have been several reports recently due to the current political climate, that more than ever children are living in poverty, stealing from packed lunch boxes or taking food from bins and just plain, going hungry in school holidays. Teachers and schools have needed to respond to this without government support, with teachers themselves supplementing pupils meals from their own pocket. Lack of food is a barrier to many things not just outdoor education or outdoor experiences. I'm not 100% clear on how it all works together as a system but common sense tells me it all overlaps and one issue just can not be viewed in isolation from another. When I discover data stating children and adults living in poverty, statistically, have less friends, find friendships harder to maintain and that family relationship are often difficult or non existent, it tells me that there is much more to understand. We may link poverty to health, housing, work, education and food but who instinctively links it to lack of friendships? I don't think I need to "know" everything about how the complex web of what we do, all works together, I just need to trust that like the systems of the earth are all intricately woven together and effect each other, the same is true of people. By getting people outside, can we have a positive impact on physical and mental heath, education and also maybe food waste, hunger and friendships? We are told so often that we should specialise and focus in, have a USP, be individual, look at the detail, the micro. As my disclaimer states from the outset, I am still trying to put the pieces together but I fear, if we forget how to zoom out and see things as part of a whole, with crucial connections, then we may lose our ability to find solutions to local and global problems.
Start a "stone Soup" project of your own alongside what you already do. No- Brainer!