The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-Op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
April 13, 2006
Title: Deconstructing Dinner in our Schools – Part I
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Jennifer D'Souza
Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, produced in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.
Deconstructing Dinner is a weekly one hour program that aims to discuss all there is know about our food, but most importantly, how the food choices we make impact ourselves, our communities and the planet.
With food being the foundation of our very survival, it would be logical to think that the social, political, cultural and environmental issues surrounding food would be more common of an issue discussed throughout the media, as any.
Using the topic of climate change as a perfect example, only now have networks such as ABC chosen to acknowledge that climate change is in fact a reality. But it is certainly a sad state of affairs when decades of science, debate and speculation has led to this moment in the year 2006 when climate change is finally being acknowledged on a larger scale as something real.
But was science and speculation really all that necessary? Can it not be considered common sense that the more we take resources from the earth without equally giving them back that our very environment is going to respond?
Well our food system is one of the fastest growing contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, those evil gases that are the main contributor to climate change.
So does the recent focus by ABC Television on the topic of climate change make any connections to our food choices and how these choices are key determinants of greenhouse gas emissions? Well, no, in fact not at all. Simply take a look at ABC's website feature on climate change that is accompanied by a logo that reads, Hot Zone, as though global warming is a brand name of sorts.
On that web page is a resource of print and media based articles that mention nothing of how our food choices impact the environment. But there is one mention of food that I came across on the ABC global warming web page and it was located right above an advertisement for Toyota of all things. And this food mention was a link to another ABC web page called, Consumer Mom, and that is sponsored by Knorr, the Lipton soup brand owned by global giant Unilever.
Consumer Mom is a page of resources that helps mothers make better choices when purchasing such things as food. And all of the food information suggests mothers go out and purchase the very foods that are responsible for global warming, those that are highly processed and travel thousands of miles to our kitchens.
So if this is the kind of education that parents are receiving, where the mainstream media is directing those learning about global warming to websites sponsored by car companies and multi-national food companies who are shipping and trucking food all over the planet, then what sort of education could children be receiving on this topic, this topic of climate change and our food choices.
Well, that's the topic of today's broadcast. The first of a multi-part series titled Deconstructing Dinner in Our Schools and this first broadcast will take a look at a progressive and innovative initiative that recently took place in Nelson, British Columbia, an initiative that saw children and teenagers learning about their food choices and how these choices connect to climate change. The program even saw students taken directly into grocery stores themselves, where products were pulled off of shelves and analyzed in depth. This was certainly an exciting project and this will certainly be an exciting broadcast.
Jon Steinman: The subject of food in our public schools is one that has received a notable amount of attention in recent years. But as has commonly been the case here in British Columbia and around the world, food in public schools as a topic for discussion has solely focused on the food that children are eating in schools, such as that which is available in cafeterias and vending machines. The province of British Columbia has set a goal to ban junk food in public schools by 2009.
But what about food as a topic for discussion in schools? How prevalent is this a component of school curriculums and province-wide testing? Well as we will find out from my guests on today's broadcast, not very prevalent at all.
So a Nelson, British Columbia based group took matters into their own hands and developed a program that brought food issues directly into area schools and even brought the schools directly into grocery stores. And that group is known as Earth Matters, a youth-driven environmental organization that creates education and community development programs. We will hear shortly from the two educators who conducted this program, but we will also hear from many of the students themselves and hear what they thought of the program and what they learned. You will be amazed to hear children as young as nine years old speaking to me about climate change and how they make more environmentally friendly food choices. We will also hear from two of the teachers who hosted the Earth Matters initiative and listen to what they have to say regarding food issues as a subject discussed in public schools.
Jon Steinman: My first guests that we will hear from on today's program are Colleen Matte and Su Donovaro who were both the educators behind the Earth Matters program. The program was inspired by the federally funded and countrywide, One-Tonne Challenge, which looks to Canadians to reduce their annual greenhouse gas emissions by one-tonne. Colleen and Su took this challenge, connected it to our food choices and created a multi-day program through which they could bring this all important topic into public schools. They called it the, Food-to-Table One-Tonne Challenge.
I spoke with Colleen Matte and Su Donovaro recently here in the studio and Colleen explained how the program got started. This is Deconstructing Dinner.
Colleen Matte: So we took the One-Tonne Challenge and incorporated it with how people deal with their food choices because food choices are something that every single person has to make every single day. We found it was a really powerful way, especially to reach youth, who aren't necessarily driving their own vehicles and can't make those kind of changes for their own lifestyle but they can have an influence on what they eat. So, we looked at things like how far is your food traveling to get to you, how much packaging is required, how much manufacturing and processing has gone into the food that you're eating and also looking at organic versus industrialized foods. And what the differences are not just with greenhouse gases but also for people's health and what kind of things have been going on in our food industry that we're not really aware of as consumers and also just bringing to light the power of being a consumer and how that can definitely affect the environment in which ever way you want it to.
Jon Steinman: As Earth Matters is a non-profit organization, financial assistance to get the Food-to-Table program into schools required the group to seek funding and Su Donovaro explains who helped fund this initiative.
Su Donovaro: We were funded by the Youth Environmental Network. That was our primary funder and then we also got a micro-grant from the Columbia Basin Trust so that allowed us to have two educators instead of one educator which was really a big help because it's quite a large project. It's a short time span but we found that it really could have been stretched out for 3,4 or even more months because once the PR got rolling and people started hearing about the project through their friends or through other teachers or students then we had a lot of people who were interested.
Jon Steinman: The Food-to-Table program was introduced into a number of different schools, two of which will be featured on today's program. One of these classes was an elementary school class of children in grades 4 and 5, and with children of such a young age, there is certainly an amazing level of trust required by any teacher when putting such a complex issue into the hands of two people they don't know. Colleen explains the level of support her and Su received when promoting this program.
Colleen Matte: One of the first teachers that contacted us from the PSA was Marilyn from A.I. Collinson. She had actually done similar programming from her own initiative but this year wasn't able to fit it in through her own timeline so she was super excited and she was actually the first person that we did a presentation for so it was great to have someone who was super enthusiastic and really encouraged us to continue with the presentations and just really gave us a boost as we started off doing these. So that was really great.
Every teacher that we have done a presentation for has been really supportive and has really enjoyed the program and the workshops that we've put on especially the supermarket tour. It's been a huge education for them as well. A lot of the teachers were even more enthralled with the program than a lot of the students were so it was great to be able to have such energy behind it and support and to know that it was going to reinforce the ideas in classes to come.
Jon Steinman: The full two day program that comprised the Food-to-Table initiative saw one day where an in-class presentation took place, while the second day saw a more interactive approach where students were brought directly into grocery stores.
I had the recent opportunity to visit the Grade 4s and 5s at A.I. Collinson Elementary School in Nelson and I spoke with the students about what they learned during the Earth Matters presentation, but more specifically I asked the students what they learned about the food they eat and how it relates to climate change. I was shocked to hear how much they know. Take a listen.
Student 1: The stuff that's packaged, like has three layers of packaging, it uses fossil fuels to create them and then it releases the gases into the air and then creates the greenhouse effect.
Student 2: And I learned that if we use pesticides on our grains and vegetables then animals like a mouse might eat it and then the snake eats the mouse and hawk eats the snake and then the hawk gets all sick from the pesticides.
Student 3: I learned that transportation has to do a lot with the food you pick, like if you get something from B.C. like an apple, it's a lot better than something from Brazil because transportation takes a lot of fossil fuels for the gas and it's really harmful and it's really bad for the earth because it helps global warming.
Student 4: That packaging is one of the big things that's affecting the earth. Like, if we buy better food, like instead of buying a Lunchable we take an apple then all that packaging from the Lunchable wouldn't be helping global warming.
Jon Steinman: As Colleen Matte explained to me, there were a number of hands-on activities incorporated into that initial presentation and she explains one of these activities.
Colleen Matte: The next game we play is the, Bingo Game, and what that is, it's set up where the bingo spaces will say something like, someone in the class who's a vegetarian, someone who composts, someone who has a vegetable garden, someone who recycles everything they can and then the students would go around and find people in their class that fit the description and so that was a great way for the students to get to know what was already happening in their class and what their fellow students were doing and find out some things about their classmates that maybe they didn't know before. And then also it provides the support to when you realize that other people are doing things that you thought maybe were really hard to do, like always bringing your own bags when going to go shopping, maybe you thought that, that was something that's impossible, no one does that, and then you find out that five kids in your class do that.
Jon Steinman: And here is what the students told me they learned from that game.
Student 1: Well, we learned that composting and stuff like that, it would be better and how many walk to school or biked.
Student 2: I learned that quite a few people are caring for the earth by using gardens, not buying their fruit and that some people reuse their bags, they have cloth bags so they don't have to continuously throw away the plastic ones.
Student 3: I learned that there's not that many people that have compost and there's quite a few people who have gardens.
Student 4: Well, the reason we did the bingo game is because if a lot of people recycle but some people still don't then those kids that don't recycle will want to be like all the other kids that do recycle so they'll start.
Jon Steinman: If you're just tuning in this is Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly one hour program that discusses the impact our food choices have on ourselves, communities and the planet. You can find out more about the program or listen to this very broadcast at http://www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
Today's broadcast is the first of a multi-part series entitled, Deconstructing Dinner in Our Schools, and we're taking a look at how food issues make their way into school curriculums and on today's part 1 of this series, we are taking a closer look into a recent Nelson based initiative that saw a local environmental organization visit classrooms where they presented how food choices influence climate change. We were just hearing about the in-class presentations and activities that took place in a grade 4 and 5 classroom, but the second part of the program saw students take a field trip to an actual grocery store, where students were required to pull items off of shelves and discuss the history behind those items. We've been hearing from both Colleen Matte and Su Donovaro, the educators for this program, and we were most recently hearing from the students themselves. Now, given that in many cases these products during the grocery store tour were being criticized, I asked Su Donovaro how they managed to arrange such an activity in a grocery store.
Su Donovaro: We prepared a letter that we gave to Safeway and it actually was pretty smooth because Andrew, the person who did the presentation last year had used Safeway as well. So, I just gave them a letter with the dates that we had on it and I said if there's any problems contact me and they didn't contact me, it didn't seem to be a problem. At one point they saw us doing a tour and just came around and asked us what we were doing and I explained just a basic outline of what we were doing and it seemed to be okay.
Jon Steinman: I was fortunate enough to have joined the Earth Matters group and the grade 4 and 5 students of A.I. Collinson Elementary School during the grocery store tour. And a selection of recordings from this very tour have been compiled to give you, the listener, a better idea as to how such an innovative approach to learning about such a complex issue was organized. And here is a sample of the first activity where students were given the task to provide the origins of a fruit. I will note that the sound quality is not ideal with some of these recordings, especially when music and refrigeration units are much louder than young children. But take a listen.
Student: We have an organic apple. It's from B.C. It didn't go through any processing. It's healthy. There was no packaging where we found it and it's an alternative, as in a healthy food.
Jon Steinman: The next activity saw students undergo a taste test to determine whether environmentally, unfriendly pesticides taste better than organic methods of agriculture. Here is a recording from that activity.
Student 1: A is good, A is a good one.
Educator: If you know which one you want to choose put your hand up. Okay, who chooses A? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Who chooses B? Alright, we've got a lot more hands for B. Why did you choose B?
Student 2: Because it's fresher.
Student 3: Sweeter.
Student 4: Juicier.
Student 5: It's tastier.
Educator: Tastier. What do you guys think is the difference between A and B? B was an organic apple and A wasn't organic.
Student 6: Yes, I Knew it.
Teacher: So more people liked and noticed, if you grow it organically it's fresher and crispier, juicer and yummier.
Educator: That's right.
Educator: Good job you guys. They are exactly the same apples. They are both Fuji Apples. They are both from B.C. but one was organic and one wasn't. And now we're going to split up into our groups again.
Jon Steinman: Su Donovaro explains the activity following the taste test.
Su Donovaro: Well, we had the kids go out and get five different products from Kraft. Kraft Dinner, Miracle Whip, Jell-O a couple other things and then when they brought them all back we told them, guess what, Kraft is actually owned by Philip Morris and Philip Morris is a tobacco company and they were really indignant, a lot of the kids. They were really amazed that this was happening.
Jon Steinman: And here are some recordings from that activity.
Educator: Second, second row there, it tells you what aisle it's in. So, group one you're going to go to aisle three right here, group two you're going to aisle three to get Kool Aid, group three you're going to aisle four to get Jell-O, group five you're going to aisle two to get Miracle Whip. When we're done we're going to meet at the end of these rows by the meat section.
Student 1: This is sort of an alternative too. It's a little bit healthy but not too, right?
Educator: What's something you could have instead of Kraft Dinner?
Student 1: You could have Spaghetti.
Educator: Ya, exactly, you could make your own pasta and make your own cheese sauce.
Student 1: I could be a lot healthier because then you'd know what's in your cheese sauce.
Educator: Okay where's group one?
Students: Right here.
Educator: Okay, what did you find and what did you find out about it?
Student 2: We found Kraft Dinner. It's from Canada. It has a little bit of processing. It is not healthy. It has two bits of packaging and it is not an alternative.
Educator: Can you think of a healthy alternative?
Student 2: Like, spaghetti and make your own sauce.
Educator: Alright, group five what did you guys get?
Student 3: We got Minute Rice and it was from Canada and there was not much processing but there's four healthy ingredients and there was only one layer of packaging and that was just a box. There could be an alternative because you could buy the whole wheat brown rice.
Educator: That's right you don't have to get the packaged stuff, with all the extra ingredients.
Jon Steinman: At this point during the climate change grocery store tour I was amazed at the level of interest these students had in learning about the food they eat and how different food items influence climate change. But with the Kraft activity being one to expose the companies behind the products, take a listen to the student's reaction when they're told what company is behind Kraft.
Educator: Okay so all of these foods Jell-O, Kool Aid, Miracle Whip, Kraft Dinner and the Minute Rice are all made by a company called Kraft and Kraft is actually owned by another company which is called Philip Morris and Philip Morris actually is a cigarette company.
Students: Ewwwwwww, aahhhhhhh.
Student 1: That's just disgusting.
Educator: Ya, all that food is made by a cigarette company.
Student 2: Now I don't want to eat Kraft Dinner anymore, ever.
Student 3: I don't like it anyways. It's disgusting.
Educator: Okay, wait, let's just give a chance for the groups to put their things back.
Jon Steinman: And here is what one student had to say after she learned that Kraft is owned by a cigarette company.
Student: I'm going to tell my Dad that I don't want to eat Kraft Dinner, I'd rather have a sandwich or something.
Jon Steinman: Hearing these kinds of comments coming from students was truly inspiring, that children as young as nine years old were learning about the real story behind the food they eat every day and as we just heard in this one case, are not supportive of it. And the grocery store tour was only just getting started and Su explains the next activity.
Su Donovaro: So, in this activity we asked one group of kids to go and find the most packaged soup product they could find and I think a lot of them were really quite stunned that there was so much packaging. The one that they did find was a little, one of those ones that you add hot water to the noodles and I think there was four layers of packaging. Styrofoam and cardboard and the little insert with the powder seasoning and they realized, a few of them, that this was because there was so much advertising on this package of soup. I think one of the kids made the comment that the ingredients took up such a small part of the actual container and the rest of it was just bright colours and you know, buy this product it's so great and it's so fast and easy, and quick.
Jon Steinman: And here is a recording of the packaging activity and the ensuing group discussion.
Educator: Who can find the most packaged soup?
Student 1: This comes from Vancouver. It has really high processing. Not much healthy ingredients. It has four packaging on it, four layers of packaging. An alternative is probably homemade soup.
Student 2: One of the healthy ingredients is actually that they chopped fresh parsley into it but that's it.
Student 3: There's twenty-two ingredients.
Educator: Twenty-two ingredients.
Student 2: And there's the bottle and the label of the packaging and an alternative would probably be some homemade soup that your mother made.
Educator: What are some of the ingredients?
Student 2: There's soya bean oil, water, sugar, salt, white vinegar, bacon, buttermilk powder, frozen yolk.
Student 4: The healthy ingredients are wheat and water. The packaging has tin and paper and the alternatives you could just use fresh chicken or pork from a local farmer.
Educator: Good job.
Student 5: It comes from Thailand and there's lots of processing and there's five healthy ingredients and there's seven layers of packaging (background student, seven layers of packaging?).
Jon Steinman: When I invited the organizers and educators for this grocery store tour into the studio, we took a listen to many of these recordings, and Colleen Matte further commented on this last clip.
Colleen Matte: With the packaging aspect of the tour we looked at a lot of why do we have all this packaging and the big part of that is because we are transporting the food so far. Another big part of it is, a huge percentage of what goes into our landfill is packaging from our food because everyone has to eat every single day. So, it's a huge way to cut down on what goes into our landfills and also a huge way that we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Jon Steinman: The next activity that was organized during the grocery store tour involved peanut butter and take a listen to what the students found out.
Educator: Okay, group one what have you got?
Student 1: Peanut butter and organic peanut butter.
Educator: And how hard was it to find the organic peanut butter?
Student 1: Pretty hard. It was pushed to the back. There was only one type of organic peanut butter.
Teacher: So let me understand this. You mean the organic peanut butter was hard to find but it's made in Canada and that one was right there at eye level.
Student 2: Just for a fact, this one is more runny than this one, so we predict that they added something to make this one more sticky.
Educator: Ya, there's a whole bunch of ingredients in that one, right?
Student 3: This one, there's only three ingredients. Only dry roasted organic peanuts. That's all it is.
Jon Steinman: If you're just tuning in this is Deconstructing Dinner where we are taking a look at how food issues make their way into school curriculums. We are currently taking a closer look into a recent Nelson based initiative that saw a local environmental organization take students into a grocery store where food choices were discussed and how these choices influence climate change. Truly an innovative approach to tackling an issue that is not discussed in our schools. We are presently hearing recordings from that very grocery store tour and having had both the organizers of this program Colleen Matte and Su Donovaro in the studio, Su explains the banana activity that we will shortly hear a recording of.
Su Donovaro: Well, we gave the kids a little sheet with a picture of a banana on it and we said imagine that you are spending a dollar on bananas at the store. How much of the money do you think goes to the farmer, how much do you think goes to the grocery store, how much goes to Dole or Chiquita or the company that's manufacturing the bananas and how much goes to transportation and taxes. Then we had them brake up into groups and figure out what they thought would be the right percentage, how much each person should get.
Jon Steinman: And here is the recording of that activity.
Male Voice: What have you figured out so far?
Student 1: We think the farmer gets about .25 cents for each banana.
Male Voice: Yep.
Student 1: And then the wholesaler gets about .30 cents for each banana that the farmers give them.
Male Voice: So now you have to figure out the grocery store. What does the grocery store get?
Student 2: I think .20.
Student 1: Okay for transporting and taxes. (Students - Well, we don't have much left).
Educator: Okay, the actual answer is .5 cents (Background students - oooooooohhhh, we were right the first time).
Teacher: He has the land, he has to look after the land, he has to hire workers to help him to plant the crop and harvest it but he only makes .5 cents.
Educator: .5 cents out of a dollar, to pay all the workers (Background student - that's not fair, that's a rip off). Okay let's do the rest of them. How much do you think the banana company gets? Remember what we were talking about the transportation industry and what that causes.
Student 3: It costs too much money and causes too much pollution and wastes too much fossil fuels.
Jon Steinman: As that last recording marked the end of the grocery store tour, I was very interested to find out whether all of this very complex information about our food was going to remain in the heads of these grade 4 and 5 students. So, I visited their school and I inquired into what they learned during the tour and here is what they said.
Student 1: Well, I learned that some of the water that's bottled is just tap water.
Student 2: In a lot of the packaged food, that has a lot of packaging, there's a lot of ingredients that are, I can't even pronounce.
Student 3: We found a sliced up mango that said it was from Canada but really it was from a far away country. It was just processed and packaged in Canada.
Student 4: And we learned about how food, it can have a lot of ingredients on the back and that you should buy food that shouldn't have as many ingredients. That if you buy food with ingredients that you can't pronounce there might be something bad in there that you just don't want to eat.
Student 5: I learned that food has to travel more miles to get to the Safeway and stuff than they usually should.
Student 6: I learned things like, if you buy food from far away places the person who actually produces it, the farmer, only gets a few pennies out of a dollar. He gets very little and the people who get probably the most money are the people who transported it, the people who packaged it and stuff, and the store that sells it. The farmer get very few money out of it all. That's why I try to get fruit from B.C. and like things from around here more and that's why I got my mom to start growing things in her garden.
Jon Steinman: One important concern that remained in my mind during the course of this program, where food choices were discussed in the context of climate change, was the concern that these children are not the ones purchasing food, so how is this important information making its way to the family members that are, the parents. And here is how the students brought these issues home.
Student 1: I told my mom that we learned at the grocery store that in one year Americans spend more money on fast food than on their kids' education.
Student 2: Well, I told them that if we keep buying and producing this much garbage than we'll need four more planets to live on so that we can keep on living this way.
Student 3: I told my granddad not to buy this, there was so much packaging on this one thing, I told him not to buy it for me and I said, I don't want that next time.
Student 4: I learned also that packaging, like when I went home I told my mom, my dad and my grandma that packaging and food choices is one of the biggest things that are harming the earth.
Student 5: I asked my mom if we could start using our backpacks and bags we could reuse and now we're using those kind of things so it's way better for the environment.
Student 6: I was trying to get my parents to stop buying TV dinners and stuff like that with really lots of packaging, cause' its got the cover that goes over top and the box and the box that holds it.
Student 7: I told my mom that it would be better if we ate less meat instead of more meat because then we would have a healthier diet and stuff. Also we learned that cattle, they have to cut down rainforests to make more room for them for grazing and stuff, and also they are stuck in small pens and they had to be fed antibiotics and stuff.
Student 8: I got my mom to start giving me more garbage free lunches so I don't produce as much garbage anymore.
Student 9: I told my mom to buy more fruits and vegetables from B.C. and she's doing that so she's getting more healthy stuff for us.
Jon Steinman: And again we have been listening to the grade 4 and 5 students of A.I. Collinson Elementary School located in Nelson as they explained how the important issues they learned about food choices and climate change were brought home to their parents. These issues were presented to them by the Nelson based, Earth Matters organization.
So often in public schools students are fed information that holds very little relevance to their daily lives. The topic of food and how food choices relate to climate change is not a topic that is commonly found discussed in classrooms. But the relevance of such a topic was best illustrated by the ways in which these students brought what they learned home to their parents. But this enthusiasm did not stop there and I had the students explain to me some of the initiatives they have launched since they participated in the Earth Matters program.
Student 1: Well, after Colleen and Su did the presentation we did a play about all this and we did it for all the classes and we've been doing garbage free lunches and been picking up garbage around the school and stuff.
Student 2: And we have smaller garbage cans, like those ones over there, like ice cream buckets instead of the big, giant garbage can now so that people can't throw away as much stuff, even if they want to.
Student 3: Some of the grade 5's they've been doing the garbage free lunch and they put warning signs up about every once in awhile they'll do a garbage free lunch but you won't really know about so forces kids to everyday do it and then they can get house team points so then they don't have garbage free lunch.
Student 4: People have begun nagging their friends about not having a garbage free lunch so they just may get a garbage free lunch because they don't like being nagged anymore.
Student 5: When we picked up garbage we found a whole bunch of reusable sandwich bags that could be reused instead of just throwing them on the ground.
Student 6: That garbage that we found was just what we littered so if we imagined how much we actually throw into the garbage then it's a lot.
Jon Steinman: And my last question that I presented to some of the students before I left was that all-important question to have them deconstruct their lunch, and here are two students doing just that.
Student 1: I believe I have a sandwich in a reusable bag and some crackers and cheese in a reusable bag.
Student 2: I have a sandwich in a plastic container and some fruit in a plastic container and some water in a plastic container.
Jon Steinman: I concluded my visit to A.I. Collinson Elementary School by briefly speaking with Marilyn Lawrence, the teacher for the class that participated in the Earth Matters Food-to-Table program, and she explains what she thought.
Marilyn Lawrence: The students responded terrifically to these two young women and their activities were interactive, they were relevant. They left the students with a plan for action which is always, of course, the next step we can give the students all the knowledge about it but what now are they going to do with the knowledge and they had built that into their presentation.
Jon Steinman: Marilyn concludes by making a very important observation regarding the effectiveness of such an innovative program.
Marilyn Lawrence: It was all very relevant to them, what they have never done before is go to the supermarket and I think that was a very powerful part of it because this age group has huge power with their parents as far as shopping goes. They still shop with their mom and dad, whereas older students don't. So the impact that they have when their parents go to the shopping stores is probably huge.
Jon Steinman: I would like to remind listeners that if you have missed any of today's program or want to find out more about today's topic, you can visit the Deconstructing Dinner website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner, where a link to the recently launched podcast of this program can also be found.
For those of you who are perhaps just tuning in to Deconstructing Dinner, today's broadcast is the first of multi-part series, entitled Deconstructing Dinner in Our Schools, where we will investigate how food issues make their way into classrooms, issues that focus on how our food choices impact ourselves, our communities and the planet.
On today's broadcast we've been taking a closer look into a program that was recently conducted here in Nelson, British Columbia that was developed by the Earth Matters organization in conjunction with the country-wide, One-Tonne Challenge. The innovative program saw students learning about how their food choices influence climate change, a topic that you will hear just shortly is not discussed in public schools.
The first half of today's broadcast has focused on one class that participated in the Earth Matters program, and those were the Grade 4s and 5s that we were just hearing from. But yet another class that participated in this program was a group of Grade 12 students who are enrolled in an Environmental Science class at L.V. Rogers Secondary School, also located in Nelson.
I had the opportunity to speak with the teacher of this class, Karl Machado, who I invited into the studio to speak with me about the program his students participated in. This was the second year that Karl hosted the Earth Matters Food-to-Table program as he believes the content fuses with that of his Environmental Science class.
Karl Machado: It's called Environmental Science and specifically it's wildlife and the environment so how wildlife is affected but climate change is sort of scattered through the curriculum. They do climate change in some science classes sort of 7, 8 and 9 science classes they'll touch on climate change. They might do it in Social Studies as well. In the senior classes, in Geography 12 they'll talk about climate change. In the physical principles of climate changes like the Albedo Effect and things like that but climate change is, from a biological perspective, is the biggest issue right now. So that's why we took a course and half the course is devoted to climate change.
Jon Steinman: Karl explains whether the topic of food choices in relation to climate change and politics is ever discussed in schools.
Karl Machado: No it isn't, no. That connection is inferred but it's not developed, at least I don't think it's developed in my scope, of what I've seen and students are really interested in food choices. When I went to school you would just eat what your parents ate basically and now when I look at my Environmental Science class out of twenty students we have about eight of them that are vegetarian and then some of them are specialized vegetarian. They take a lot more empowerment of what their eating and they know more about it then we ever did and they're interested in it.
Jon Steinman: I asked Karl to comment on the initial presentation that both Colleen Matte and Su Donovaro conducted as part of the Earth Matters program, and he explains the itinerary of the program.
Karl Machado: It was great because I could present on climate change but when you have young people coming in and presenting the students are much more stimulated, much more open and receptive.
So, they initially came in and did a Power Point presentation, which was a general broad presentation that gave the components of climate change and then they began to focus on the food choices and that went really well as an opener and a stimulator. Then from there, the next day, we went to Safeway and we did a walk through Safeway and it was very hands on and there were a lot of activities for the kids to actually pick up products and look at them in a different way and critic food products and look at alternatives and students really enjoyed that.
From there, the Earth Matters people came back into the classroom and the students were involved with a debate, a classroom-wide debate, and it was very stimulating. Kids had to choose either, on seven different topics that had to do with climate change, if they were for or against it and debate against each other.
Jon Steinman: I had the opportunity to record the very presentation that was conducted at L.V. Rogers Secondary School so we can better understand the scope of this program and here is a clip of Colleen Matte explaining the basics of greenhouse gases and climate change.
Colleen Matte: The greenhouse effect is something that naturally occurs. This is how we got our atmosphere in the first place. Before we were basically like the moon we were just a big rock and then volcanoes started erupting and releasing CO2 and from those gases we started getting this layer over the earth and that is basically how life was able to be sustained on earth. Because having this blanket around allowed it to be warmer on the surface of the earth, so allowed things to start happening and gases to start morphing into plant matter and water and all those things and eventually here we are today.
So the greenhouse effect is very important but what's happening with what we're doing is adding more and more gases that cause the greenhouse effect. So, before when it may have been a light sheet over the earth keeping it at this good temperature that we need it to be at, we're now putting a whole wool blanket over the earth so we're really trapping in that heat and none of it is escaping back into the universe.
Jon Steinman: As was the main focus of the program, one of the fastest growing contributors of greenhouse gases is our transportation and intensive agriculture dependent food system. And Colleen and Su made the connection in their presentation.
Colleen Matte: Another thing about that too, is big business is going into communities where they did have the old type of farming happening, where they had the markets and everybody brought their own little bit of produce in. They're going into those farms that may have been able to produce ten different kinds of food and saying okay we need coffee beans, we want your farm to be coffee beans and we're going to pay you for that. So then their entire land becomes homogenized and they just end up growing the one thing and then in turn the farmer isn't able to feed his family because before they had ten different kinds of food that they would also sell at the markets but that what they ate as well and now they just have this whole crop of beans that they can't doing anything with as far as feeding themselves. So it's a big issue.
Su Donovaro: It's a shocking loss of biodiversity too when you look at the foods that we rely on. We rely on about 10 or 12 major crops for most of our food. When I was farming on Salt Spring, just to give you a brief story, I was working with a man who did seed saving and he had so many varieties of tomatoes, like 400 different varieties of tomatoes, 200 varieties of lettuce. I was just astounded. When you go into the grocery store you just see your Iceberg lettuce, your Romaine lettuce that's come from wherever, somewhere thousands of kilometres away. That's what we've been programmed to believe, that we don't have this choice.
Jon Steinman: As was recently heard during the beginning of this broadcast, the second part of the Earth Matters program involved a grocery store tour, where students were given the task of pulling items off of grocery store shelves and discussing their origins and methods of production. During my conversation with Karl Machado, the teacher for the class that participated in the program, I asked him to comment on the tour
Karl Machado: I find that in the curriculum and mainstream curriculum, it's so much more difficult to have kids out of the school. There's much more parameters holding them in there. There's curriculum pressure but when you create your own curriculum you can get them out. The further away, at times, that you can get them from the school, the much more open they are to learning and the more simulated they are. In both cases you could see that happening, you could see the wheels turning and they're bright eyed and they're not just glazing over and falling asleep and they're asking questions mostly.
Jon Steinman: And here is one quick clip from that grocery store tour.
Student 1: Ya, we've got sliced apples in packages. It comes with packaged caramel dip. I guess they're trying to get little kids to eat their fruits but it's obviously, pretty overkill.
Student 2: And also the apples are staying white, they're not browning, so I don't think they're using lemon, so I'm guessing they're using some sort of preservative to keep it looking its natural colour after it's cut.
Jon Steinman: Having had the opportunity to record the grocery store tour that we just heard a clip from and sit in on the classroom presentation, I was amazed at how the topic of food choices and their relation to climate change could be presented in such a meaningful and effective way. I was further amazed to learn that this form of education is not a part of standard public school curriculum as it should be. And I invited two of the students from L.V. Rogers Secondary School into the studio to discuss this. I spoke with both Amber Johnson and Sarah Miles, and right off the bat I asked Amber whether food issues were ever a topic throughout her 14 years of schooling.
Amber Johnson: Food was never really incorporated into any of my classes except for in PE 10 we kind of went over diet issues more but not really healthy food choices, no. In cooking class we made food but it wasn't anything like healthy organic or anything.
Jon Steinman: So, I asked Amber if she already knew about how food choices impact our environment and contribute to climate change.
Amber Johnson: A bit, ya. I knew about the healthy aspect of it, like organic, but I didn't know so much about how it contributes to the level of fossil fuels and stuff like that in the environment. So, that was good to know and help me choose healthier and better choices for the environment.
Jon Steinman: Sarah Miles explains what she thought of the Earth Matters presentation.
Sarah Miles: A lot of it was stuff I'd heard about and had an understanding of slightly but they went into more depth and connected things a little more for me. I found some of it was hard to believe but it was really good to get the connections between food and, like, I've never looked at climate change affecting my food choices and food choices affecting climate change.
Jon Steinman: Amber explains whether she thought the second component of the Food-to-Table program, the grocery store tour, was effective.
Amber Johnson: I thought it was very effective to be able to see the names behind the corporations they were talking about, but in the Safeway, I kind of felt it was very negative. There was no positive aspects to the presentation and it would have been nice to have a little bit of positive because not everyone can afford to go to the co-op, maybe.
Jon Steinman: If you're just tuning in, this is, Deconstructing Dinner, where we just heard a clip from a grocery store field trip that Grade 12 students at L.V. Rogers Secondary School participated in as part of a program that discussed how food choices are connected to climate change. The program was created by the Nelson based, Earth Matters organization and focused on a topic that is not covered in public schools. So this truly was an innovative and unique program.
Amber Johnson explains what else she learned during the tour.
Amber Johnson: For example, they just got an organic produce section and Colleen and Su told us that out of the 28 items only 2 were grown in Canada. So it would be, probably good to choose those 2 items. More leaning away from the big corporation stuff and to the stuff that supports local. Safeway doesn't have a lot or much of it but leaning towards that.
Jon Steinman: One of the most interesting moments during the grocery store tour was standing in these aisles and deconstructing the very food on the shelves. The store was of course open to the public and many customers would reach by the students and grab the very products that were being discussed.
Sarah Miles explains.
Sarah Miles: Well, when we were actually examining products and people would come up looking for those products I wanted to tell them what we were doing. We were looking at Jell-O, or something, and this lady came up and picked the most grotesque pink and green and blue Jell-O and we were just talking about that and how Philip Morris owns Kraft and all this and she went and bought that.
Jon Steinman: I asked Sarah what she would have said to that woman if she had the chance.
Sarah Miles: Maybe just, did you know that these people are behind it and let her make her choice either way because I don't want to make people's choices for them.
Jon Steinman: I will note that for sake of time, we won't be able to explore the final two components of the Food-to-Table program which consisted of an in-class debate as well as a secondary grocery store tour of a local natural food store, which I will add was a tour that was initiated by the students themselves with the hope that alternatives to large-scale food production could then be explored.
But with all of the many components to the Food-to-Table program, the real question then becomes how this education has impacted the students' lifestyles. So, I asked Sarah whether the program has changed her approach to purchasing food.
Sarah Miles: Consciously when I'm purchasing food, shopping or looking at food I look at where it comes from and who's making it and who owns it and I've started to pay more attention since then I've been really interested in it and been researching the big corporations and what they own and what products they have and I've been trying to avoid those as much as possible.
Jon Steinman: Sarah then responded to my question of whether or not she thought food issues should be incorporated into school curriculums.
Sarah Miles: Well, there are so many classes that could deal with food. There's Social Studies that could deal with the transportation and the human stuff and then there's food courses that could think about healthy choices instead of just how to cook. There's so many courses that could have a segment on food and dealing with the misuse of our food.
Jon Steinman: This subject of how such an important issue, the issue of food, and how it makes its way into our public schools is really the main question mark that still sits above my head. Here was this innovative approach to learning something that students can connect with on a daily basis, yet we don't find it at all in schools. It's shocking. But coincidentally enough, the very class that participated in this Food-to-Table program, the Environmental Science class, is a class that is not part of the standard province-wide curriculum. In fact Karl Machado, the class's teacher, created the course from scratch. And he explains how he went about doing so.
Karl Machado: Right now the graduation program at the high school has been changed and it's been opened so that it allows teachers to develop their own courses but those courses have to be, there're called, ba courses, they have to be Board authorized courses. Once they are authorized they go to the Ministry and the Ministry with authorize them and then any teacher in the province can actually take that curriculum and teach it.
It gives a lot of power to teachers to create curriculum and interest that students love to be involved with and I found when I was teaching some of the mainstream biology they were interesting but they didn't touch kids as much as some of these global issues and these local issues and I've had a lot of interest when that's happened and there are a lot of new courses that are being opened up right now through this initiative, through this new graduation program change.
Jon Steinman: Well, if a class can be created as easily as Karl just explained, then maybe it's not so far off that a class that focuses on food issues can be created. Karl describes whether this would be an easy process.
Karl Machado: It's an easy process and it's not such an easy process at the same time. The documentation takes awhile to go through, I mean there's detailed documentation, you need to prove that you've got educationally sound objectives, that you're going to be meeting those objectives, that you have resources to meet those objectives so you've got to pull a lot together to have it approved. Once it's approved you can go where ever you need to with it.
So, what are the barriers that exist right now? The barriers that are existing are a lot of courses have become provincial examable. So, what that means is that they are very curriculum driven. You have to complete the curriculum so the students are prepared to write the provincial exam. Those provincial exams, there's administrators and Ministry people look at those numbers, your district people and administrators look at those numbers so it's very number driven and it takes it away from the love of learning. You have to learn to get these marks in place so you can move into your future direction and get accepted into these different programs.
And teachers, you need to have time and space to develop these and then you can develop them and, of course, because of the declining enrolment issues that are happening in the district and around the province you might loose that. You might spend a lot of time doing it and not get anything back from it.
Jon Steinman: This issue of not being able to fit such important education into school curriculums has been discussed on this program, Deconstructing Dinner, before. It was brought up when one of my guests indicated how difficult it is to incorporate the subject of gardening and growing one's own food into the already congested curriculum in Ontario schools. With forward-thinking teachers, such as, Karl Machado, who are so inspired to alter the standard curriculum and create a class from scratch, it still remains difficult to do so. And one of the most interesting points made during my conversation with Karl, was when he used one example of how Ministry set policies posed a hindrance to him incorporating a subject into the curriculum he created.
Karl Machado: So for instance in the Bio 12 course there's a section, it's biochemistry and physiology and there used to be a section on cancer and I wanted to present more on food choices and anti-cancer agents and foods and students were very stimulated by that. You know it's very depressing about cancer statistics but at the same time realizing that the food choices that you make as a young person and the anti-cancer agents in them how that can mitigate them, the effects of carcinogenesis. That cancer section was cut out because it wasn't hard science so the food choice section got cut out as well. So there was an interesting section that could be expanded but again you had to come back to tight curriculum.
At the lower grades you have much more space. That's why kids I find, the younger kids, are so excited and optimistic and open and innocent to pick up anything and later on they become very focused in the outcomes of courses rather than the interest in themselves in learning.
Jon Steinman: I asked Karl to further explain whether food issues should be discussed in schools at a younger age.
Karl Machado: You know you're guided by your parents and you can be guided in different ways. As time goes by it's nice when students become a little more critical and realize that they can make choices themselves. These students, their parents might, for instance, eat one thing at the table and they'll prepare something else, so it's much more complex.
Should students be learning about food choices at a younger age? I think they should because I think they are going to be interested in it and as they go into higher and higher grades I think they can be presented with much more complex information and if they already have a grounding and understanding about food choices they'll be able to be much more receptive and go into further depth at higher levels.
Jon Steinman: I will remind listeners that today's broadcast has been the first of a multi-part series that will take a closer look at how food issues are making their way into public schools. It may seem as though the Ministry of Education is making little effort to incorporate such an important and relevant topic, but there is one initiative that will be the focus of an upcoming broadcast and that is the Ministry of Agricultures, Agriculture in the Classroom program, that has been designed to bring farming and food production education into classrooms throughout the province and resources are provided for teachers to do so. But it seems that perhaps awareness of this program is not making its way to the most important people. And I asked Karl if he knows about the Agriculture in the Classroom initiative.
Karl Machado: It isn't, I don't know so much about it. I'd be very interested to find out more about it and use it as a resource because I want to run the course in a way so that it's student driven. If students want to go further with the section then we can expand it and go to something like this and if they find they know enough about it, they've got a good grip of it and want to go to another section then we can move that way. It leads to much more exciting classrooms when students decide and choose where they want to go, rather than exterior outputs and curriculum pressures that way. I'd be welcome to take a look at it, as well as, a Foods 12 teacher, who's actually cooking the foods and it could be incorporated there as well.
Jon Steinman: And that was Karl Machado a teacher at L.V. Rogers Secondary School in Nelson, British Columbia. For any of you interested in finding out a little bit more about the Earth Matters program you can visit the Earth Matters website at www.earthmatters.ca. There's a wealth of information on the Food to Table program including Power Point presentations and various resources.
Jon Steinman: That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant Dianne Matenko. All of those affiliated with this station are volunteers and financial support for this station is received through membership, donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations. For more information on the station or to become a member, you can visit http:www.cjly.net or dial 250-352-9600. And should you have any comments about tonight's show, want to learn more about topics covered or want to listen to additional audio clips from today's guests that were not heard on the broadcast, you can visit the website for Deconstructing Dinner at http://www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.