Teach children to cook and eat healthily, says think-tank
Food Tank advocates back-to-basics approach to food security, emphasising home economics classes and city food gardens to foster healthy habits and prevent waste
WITH nearly 1-billion people still going to bed hungry, while more than a billion are suffering from the effects of being overweight and obese, an agricultural think-tank has called on governments and business to reintroduce home economics classes to teach children how to cook healthy and nutritious meals.
This is one of 13 recommendations that governments, policy makers, farmers and consumers are being asked to include in their 2013 priority resolutions as ways to help change the food system for the better in 2013.
Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of the Food Tank, an agricultural think-tank, says that as urbanisation accelerates, and with it the consumption of fast foods, it is unfortunate that governments have allowed home economics classes to fall away in schools, with young people increasingly lacking basic cooking skills.
To address this, top chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters and Bill Telepan are working with schools in the UK and the US to teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.
The Food Tank has also urged governments, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and funders, which have focused their efforts on increasing production and improving yields to feed the world population of 7-billion, rather to invest in improving nutrition and protecting the environment. “Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods,” the organisation says.
It is asking governments and NGOs to vigorously encourage the growing of food in cities. “Food production does not only happen in fields or factories. Nearly 1-billion people worldwide produce food in cities,” Ms Nierenberg says.
For example, in Africa’s largest slum — Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya — farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. A famous restaurant in New York is serving rosemary, cherry tomatoes and other produce grown from its rooftop garden to customers.
The Food Tank says such resolutions could facilitate real, long-term changes in fields, boardrooms and on the plates of consumers all over the world.
Other recommendations include a call on both agribusiness and retailers to try to create better access to healthy food by providing customers with affordable organic produce, not typically available in poorer communities, to give low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices.
Acknowledging that farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions, it says the protection of farm workers is essential and buyers should pay appropriately.
However, it is important to strike a balance as farmers are an important part of the equation and should be recognised as “businesswomen and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities”. Policy makers need to work with farmers and recognise their importance to preserve biodiversity and culture, the organisation says.
“Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food,” Ms Nierenberg says.
Food writer Michael Pollan has advised consumers “not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognise”. They need to try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.
Nearly 2-billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, leading to poor development, according to the World Vegetable Centre. The centre has recommended that farmers start growing high-value, nutrient-rich vegetables, especially in Africa and Asia, in a bid to improve health and increase incomes.
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), roughly one-third of all food is wasted in fields, during transport, in storage and in homes. The Food Thank says there are easier and less expensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives like Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips on portion control and recipes for leftovers, while farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.
The youth also need to be engaged, to make farming both intellectually and economically stimulating to help make the food system an attractive career option.
Ms Nierenberg says that across sub-Saharan Africa, cellphones and the internet are now connecting farmers to information about weather and markets. Food Corps in the US is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.