In one of our recent articles we discussed biodiversity and the importance of children understanding and finding ways to support it if we are to have a healthy future. This article follows on from this and coincides with the WWF and Knorr Foods campaign Future 50 Foods - 50 Foods for Healthier People and a Healthier Planet.
In this campaign we see where we have gone wrong in the way that we produce and consume food and the damage that this has been causing our planet. The Future 50 Foods shows how we can reverse this trend and work towards a healthier future for us and a more biodiverse, sustainable future for our planet.
Why is what we eat so important for the health of our planet?
What we eat and how we produce it has huge environmental impact on our planet. As the WWF report states "75% of the food we consume comes from just 12 plant sources and five animal sources." Of the 30,000 plants that we could eat we consume only a tiny fraction 0.005%. The planet has lost thousands of varieties of foods in the last hundred years. Large-scale, mono-culture farming - the repeated harvesting of single crops, such as wheat, rice and maize - have led to a huge decline in the rich biodiversity that the health of our planet so relies on. Plus the dependence on a small number of plant species leaves crops more vulnerable to pests and diseases. This results in greater use of pesticides and fertilizers which further damages insect and wildlife - a cyclical affect which has huge environmental impact.
Our tendency in the West for meat and dairy based diets is also placing great pressure on our planet. A report recently showed that 60% of the world's biodiversity loss was due to meat production. 90% of Amazon rainforest land clearance since 1970 is used for animal grazing. The production of meat is not only not sustainable for a growing population but also has huge environmental impact - Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world's transportation systems combined.
Whilst the picture painted may be bleak, it does give us the knowledge and incentive to change our eating habits. For we now know that we cannot continue as we are if we to have a healthy future. Whilst we may not be responsible for global farming practices, we are the consumer and with that we have great power and influence over what drives production. We can also be better role-models for our children, demonstrating that we are all responsible for the health of the planet and that together we can change our ways and work to a better and more food conscious future.
Supporting a wide-diversity of foods
So what can we do? The WWF and Knorr report shows that by supporting a wide-diversity of foods we can drive the changes we need to see. The 50 alternative vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts have numerous benefits that will have a dramatic impact not only on our planet but also our health. Firstly they promote agrobiodiversity by increasing the variety and breadth of foods produced. Secondly they include many plant-based sources of protein which reduces the need for meat, dairy and fish and their negative impact on their environment. Thirdly, the greater variety of nutrient-rich produce will greatly benefit our health by providing foods rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. For currently 60% of our diet is dominated by high-calorie yet low nutrient foods such as wheat, maize and rice.
In our kindergartens we have a vegetarian and fish based menu that shows what healthy, nutritious and tasty meals you can produce without the need for meat. It is also inspiring to see what children will eat when varied pulses, grains and vegetables are served in interesting ways. Based on the WWF and Knorr report we are also starting to experiment with some new ingredients such as spelt, teff and seaweed!
Inspiring children’s interest in food
The seed to plate concept has always been one of our key principles in inspiring children's knowledge and interest in food. In the Spring the children help decide what to plant in our allotments and vegetable gardens; they sow, nurture and study the fruit, vegetables and herbs growing from seed. In the Summer they water, harvest and cook what they have grown. Though picking and eating peas, tomatoes and beans straight from the plant usually provides the most delight! Then in the Autumn children help compost and reinvigorate the beds ready for the next season. We also work in partnership with organisations such as the RHS School Gardening Awards and Sustainable Food City. For some great ideas on how to grow your own at home, even if you only have limited space this is a great resource for inspiration www.verticalveg.org.uk.
Local and sustainable sourcing
The other key factor in supporting a healthier, more sustainable planet is to develop good habits around sourcing and provisioning. Planning a menu around products that are in season, UK produced or even better local, can collectively make a big difference. In our kindergartens we work with local farms who supply our fruit and vegetables - the majority of which are also organic. Even closer to home many of our kindergartens keep chickens so children can collect and cook with their home produced eggs. Being inspired by seed to plate and homegrown foods, we believe, starts children on a journey of respecting, understanding and appreciating the wonders of nature and the food that sustains us.
Our children are a huge part of the drive for change, it is their health and the future of the next generation that depend on it. If we can plant the seeds for change now, at home and in how we live our everyday lives, then we drive a happier and healthier future for everyone. If collectively we can take those small steps to change our habits and ways of thinking about food production then together we can start to make a positive impact on the world around us. Our children are the future but we today are the role-models and the inspiration for change.