January 2015. Written for a series on Edible Education for Lexicon of Sustainability.
In a recent Q&A session with The Pew Charitable Trust, leading food providers across America’s school districts discussed the issues surrounding plate waste in cafeterias. While the inevitable learning curve of shifting dietary requirements accounts for some of the increased waste, the case can also be made for another culprit: lack of time.
In the majority of schools today, the average lunch period, based on rotational schedules, is 20 minutes. This includes the time necessary to go through the buffet line and find a seat in an often busy dining area. Since the invention of so-called ‘fast foods’ in the mid-20th century, the time people spend eating their food has decreased significantly as more hand-held foods find space on our plates. However, as the move towards reintroducing more whole foods to our diets gains traction, the question of time must be addressed once more.
In recent years, Jamie Oliver has been a massive proponent of changing the dietary landscape of schools in the UK and America. With this message, he has also stressed the importance of children learning how to eat with utensils once more. In a cafeteria filled with burgers and fries, children lost the need – and consequentially the ability – to use cutlery. As menus change and less modified foods show up on our children’s plates once more, it’s important to understand how the model for eating must also change.
Of course some implementations can be made to ease the transition: one educator suggested providing precut fruit rather than whole pieces. This decreases time without losing nutritional value. Some schools have also started offering veg+dip cups with precut vegetables sitting atop a serving of hummus or other nutritional condiments. While these innovative options can streamline to some extent, the very nature of whole foods requires more time spent breaking it into parts before it can be ingested. While giving our children the space to embrace healthier food choices, it is equally important to give them time.