Shokuiku, “Food Education”

March 03, 2011

Mandatory school food curriculums? Is this what we need in the US to beat the bulge?

Improving child nutrition is top of mind across the board these days. Schools are stepping up the health ratings of breakfast and lunch options - the government is enforcing this; CPGs are reformulating and being more careful with products claims - under the FTC’s close watch; and parents and kids (who are old enough) are taking a deeper interest in food and where their meals and ingredients are coming from.  
Most of these initiatives have been in the works for the past few years but have been brought to the forefront, in the US, by First Lady Michelle Obama. The passage of the Child Nutrition bill has brought much satisfaction and the reassurance that kids are going to be fed a little better while at school - hopefully soon we’ll see a reversal of the staggeringly poor health statistics of America’s future.
Take a look around the globe, and it seems that other countries strongly rooted in food and culture have been revamping their school lunches with more nutritious as well as sustainable foods for the past several years. In 2005, Japan passed the Basic Law of Shokuiku, “food education,” a law that requires kids to receive nutrition and food origin education at all public schools; the effectiveness of the program is also being studied.  
The concept was initiated by the famous military doctor and pioneer of the macrobiotic diet, Sagen Ishizuka. Concerned about the way his fellow Japanese were prioritizing other activities over meal times (school children were skipping breakfast, kids were purchasing meals at a convenience stores instead of eating with their parents, etc.), Ishizuka felt it necessary to implement a mandatory food curriculum in schools; one of the main goals being the ability to make appropriate decisions through practical experience with food, with the aim of developing an ability to live on a healthy diet. This program is certainly not about hiding the veggies. 
In East Ayrshire, Scotland (years before Mr. Oliver made his mark in the UK) a program called Hungry for Success was trialed.  It went beyond boosting nutrition and also focused on education, training cooks, using local and organic ingredients as well as making food “cool” again. Since its launch the UK has continued to improve foods for kids as well as education surrounding foods and meal times. 
If the US is to succeed in improving the health of our youngest generation, we must go beyond making changes to the cafeteria foods and educate children and young adults about the importance of making healthy choices at every meal. There are plenty of math, science and even history lessons to be learned from foods, cooking and farming methods. Food is an integral part of our lives and should be treated as such.