“The Scottish Government is interested in changing the way that children connect with food and understand where food comes from,” Vivian explains. “Regaining cooking skills is a key element too – it’s a life skill that we need to put back again. Many parents don’t cook anymore and we are trying to really give this confidence back to the children, and involve the parents where we can.
“Sustainability is a real concern for schools, the community and the Government too so we’re looking at increasing awareness among children about food waste and food provenance – showing why it’s better to eat local and seasonal.”
To date, the project has worked with over 1,210 nurseries and schools in 28 out of the 32 Scottish local authorities. Pupils find out about sustainable food production from growing their own produce and also trying out recipes.
It’s an interdisciplinary approach that not only connects pupils with food but develops numeracy and communication skills.
A key focus of Vivian’s work is to connect businesses with schools, from small scale suppliers to well-known high street brands. “My role is to provide skills and build bridges between the local businesses and the schools. That covers everything from the local butchers to supermarkets like Waitrose.”
It’s not just food suppliers that get involved – numerical and entrepreneurial skills are important and Vivian has worked with the likes of Lloyds Bank and Clydesdale Bank to bring different aspects of food education into the classroom.
I don’t think I was making the connection between production and consumption at that age.
“I had a school which wanted to create an enterprise project,” she explains. “They were growing food and wanted to sell the produce to local restaurants to shorten the supply chain and create an income. We provided a finance masterclass for them with a bank to make sure it was financially sound.”
While the schools benefit from the partnerships, it’s not just a one-way street. Businesses reap rewards too. According to Business in the Community Scotland (who run the Food for Thought project) 100 per cent of the businesses involved have had a ‘positive experience in the school’ and participating businesses have gained opportunities such as networking, increasing the customer base, equipping staff with increased communication and leadership skills and an ‘affirmative recognition amongst the local community’.
One example that Vivian gives shows that the message is getting through to young people: “I was working with a class and while we were waiting for a dish to be ready, I asked them why it was important to reduce food waste,” she says. “One eight-year-old child told me: ‘Well, look at this carrot – it took a lot of work for the farmer to grow this and we can’t just throw it in the bin if we don’t eat it’. I don’t think I was making the connection between production and consumption at that age.”
Vivian Maeda, MBA 2010