THE BLOG

From Farm to Fork - Whose Responsibility Is It?

10/02/2014 15:36 GMT | Updated 11/04/2014 10:59 BST

This post reflect my thoughts on the recent initiative by Tesco to launch The Eat Happy Project, which is aimed at helping children reconnect with food by teaching them where it comes from and the journey it takes to get to their plates.

My Trip to The Pet Farm

My first official visit to a farm was when I was six. The teacher organised a walk to our nearest farm which was all but 10 minutes away from the school. It was a grand old day, complete with petting baby lambs, riding on a tractor trailer, picking potatoes, followed by a picnic of home made cakes and sandwiches. How happy we were in the air munching the tasty picnic lovingly prepared by Mrs Lewis, the farmer's wife. Of course, there was no mention that the lambs so loved by the class of '61 might end up on our plates. Sure we were too young to appreciate the reality of farming. Or were we?

The next time education and farm food became an issue for me was in '76 when I was teaching in a middle school (11 to 15 year olds) in Kent where home economics and agricultural science were both important school subjects and very practical. Vegetables were grown and cooked by both boys and girls. And it didn't stop there; the school farm department even raised chickens and turkey during the Christmas term. Youngsters spent hours feeding the chicks and poults and it goes without saying they all were given names; a practice which was not encouraged by the teachers, for obvious reasons.

The teacher never once hid the reason for raising the birds. They would be sold and eaten at Christmas. However, despite the forewarning, there was huge protest when the birds were duly marched off to market. The girls cried, and the boys too. But the teacher was adamant that they learnt the agri business of farm to fork. Hard as it may have been for the youngsters in this school, they were deemed old enough to be taught the truth. Good farm practice and excellent animal welfare reaped rewards at the market for the farmer and also provided top class food for the nation. There was a true connection with our food chain and most of the children got over it (though I am sure one or two headed to vegetarianism).

The Eat Happy Project

38 years later, it is a sad reflection on society that we now have to rely on Tesco to reconnect children with the source of their food. What am I talking about? Well only that Tesco have decided to launch The Eat Happy Project, which is aimed at helping children reconnect with food by teaching them where it comes from and the journey it takes to get to their plates.

It is quite likely no coincidence either that Tesco opted to include the word 'Happy' in their new campaign inviting schools to 'join [them] on the start of [their] journey to tackle kids' diet-related health problems and help the next generation to have a healthier and happier relationship with food.'

The Grocer - The Teacher?

It's a great initiative and much needed in our society. However, while I commend Tesco for taking these first steps, I can't but reflect on Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards, whose wise words written a 100 years ago 'We can hardly expect our grocers to become philanthropists and teachers of the people', could come back to haunt us.

Ellen was an environmental and industrial scientist in the USA during the 19th century, whose pioneering work laid the foundation for what was the new science of home economics. In her book of Food Materials and their Adulterations (1885) she explains that as a grocer will always seek to sell their products to their consumers, perhaps they are not the best suited to be the teachers as well. Their ultimate self serving requirements (they have shareholders etc.) will mean they are not necessarily the right people to do the teaching.

Tesco say that they felt it is their duty to reconnect food for children, as 80% of parents feel that their children are not as healthy as they were when they themselves were children. However whose fault is that? The grocer? The teacher? Or the people? Who is best to turn the health of the nation around?

On reflection did my visit to the local farm, or my experience as a teacher connect me with the food I eat. Probably a little, however the biggest influence on me was at home. No matter what children learn in school or farm in this case, if it is not practised at home the lessons are soon forgotten. I would call for everyone to get involved and start teaching our children about food, where it comes from and how it is made. The onus was never on the grocer to teach about good food regardless of their reasons. The grocer only needs sell us the food we want to eat. Maybe once we get back to the farms ourselves, then we won't feel the need to eat Tesco's overly processed foods and Happy Meals will be a happy meal for all the right reasons.